What is the focus?: A review of a fitness app

This particular post has been brewing in the back of my mind for a while. It’s something I’ve been wanting to write about for a long time but kept thinking that it wasn’t directly linked to education so I shouldn’t put it on my education blog, but at the same time, life is education and I’ve learned something about myself so it’s still related to education.

A couple of months ago I stepped on a scale for the first time in a while and was shocked by the numbers I saw. I’m one of those very lucky people (and yes, I know how lucky I am) whose weight hasn’t changed much since I was a teenager. It goes up and down throughout the day like everyone else’s and goes up and down each month as well, but other than that it’s pretty steady. I don’t “watch what I eat”. I don’t have a set exercise schedule, though I wish I did. I don’t belong to a gym though I’ve been tempted. But I do eat pretty good food most of the time and I am moderately active. I like to walk and I dance when I have a show to dance in. That said, I’ve let things slip a little especially this year. I’ve been eating out more and eating more convenience foods. I haven’t been walking as much and, until recently, I was stage managing shows and in a play with no dance so I wasn’t being very active. That plus the extra time it was taking me to get to and from school, well, I put on a little weight, more than I ever had before and I freaked out a little.

A few of my friends had recently gone on a healthy living kick and one of them recommended an app that he was using called My Fitness Pal. I thought it would be a good idea to try it out as well. To me, the word “fitness” means exercise. I had another app that I used to track workouts and I’d tried Fitocracy and really enjoyed it, but they still didn’t have an app for android so I wanted to try something new. Even the icon for the app appealed to me. A person doing a lovely grand jeté across a blue background called to my inner dancer. This would help me get back into being active and help me track what I was eating as well.

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The first week or so with the app was okay. A little eye opening to how much food I eat, but okay. There were times when trying to stay under the proscribed 1200 calories a day (unless I exercised, then I could eat more) was difficult and left me hungry. I liked being able to see how much of each vitamin and mineral I was getting. Was I eating enough protein? As a vegetarian this can be a challenge, especially since I can’t eat nuts at school. Was I getting enough iron? Surprisingly, the thing I seemed to be the lowest on was salt! I was generally only getting about half my recommended intake! (Apparently not on the days I had pad thai from the mall but that’s another story)

As the weeks went on, and I only stayed with it for maybe a month or so, I noticed that I was “cheating” in different ways. I would look at two choices of meals and rather than considering what I would like better in terms of taste or which has more nutritional value, I would choose the one with fewer calories or the one that was easier to enter into the app. For instance, there was a night I choose to eat Kraft Dinner over homemade pasta with a 8 vegetable sauce because there are fewer calories in KD. And looking at two salads, the one made with iceberg lettuce has fewer calories than the one made with spinach. But which meal is more nutritious? 

So finally I stopped and thought about what I was doing and realized I was being foolish. This is not the way to be healthy and being healthy is way more important than numbers on a scale. The problem I was having with this app was it was motivating me towards the wrong goal. The focus of the app is not fitness, it’s calorie counting. Yes, you can track your workouts and you can see all the great nutrition information about the food you’re eating, but the focus is on calories. When you complete a journal entry, what pops up is not “Congratulations, you worked out for 30 minutes again today!” it’s “This is how many calories you consumed today”. You have to go searching for the rest of the information. It’s the same reason I stopped using the WiiFit in favor of Wii Active. The focus of WiiFit is weight loss. While you can go and just use it and ignore the weight tracking part, when that’s the goal, the part that either gives you a dopamine rush for completing a task successfully, or motivates you to try harder to get that carrot in the future, when you just ignore that then it loses it’s ability to motivate.

I think it’s the same with school. While we want our students to be focused on learning for the sake of learning and becoming better citizens, we’re still putting too much emphasis on marks and grades. So even if a student makes progress, learns something new, if they’re still getting C’s then where’s the motivation to keep trying?

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