Do Fitness Trackers Really Work for Weight Loss?

Results from a new survey provide insight into which aspects are most helpful and effective

As ACE certified group fitness instructor Julz Arney points out, wearable devices like the Fitbit or Jawbone have the potential to be effective, no matter what your goals are, but they aren’t going to do the work for you.

You can’t expect to get fit just by wearing one.

However, the creators of the Lose It! weight loss app wanted to find out just how effective fitness trackers can be when it comes to losing weight. Of course they can’t directly help you to reduce the number on the scale, but to what extent are they helpful?

To find out, they conducted a survey which polled 5,000 of the app’s users and found that 60 percent lost more weight as a result of using a fitness tracker.

Charles Teague, CEO of Lose It!, said that while the results didn’t specifically explain how the users found their devices to be helpful, they did provide valuable insight that helped to highlight specific factors that weight loss candidates found most supportive.

“By having an activity tracker integrated with a program like Lose It!, they are constantly reminded to stick to the program to achieve their weight-loss goals,” Teague explained.

He said that the survey’s findings helped to explain what types of tools are most effective for weight loss success.

“First, the program must be easy and intuitive to use. Complicated interfaces or strict program rules tend to shake members quickly,” Teague said. “Second, it must have an element of accountability. Accountability motivates members to engage in positive habit change, while also steering them away from negative patterns.”

And according to the survey’s results, social interaction is the third most important factor when it comes to weight loss motivation.

“Weight loss is not easy, but when you can get support, encouragement and comradery from a group of like-minded people, it suddenly becomes a much more manageable task,” Teague said.

So yes, activity trackers can be helpful if you want to lose weight, but how exactly should you be using yours if you want to ensure success?

Teague offered the following tips based on what the survey results revealed:

  • Pair your activity tracker with a more comprehensive program. “An activity tracker alone is only one dimension,” Teague said. “For example, it's tough to translate steps into weight loss.”
  • Pay attention to all aspects of your health. “One-third of Americans abandon their activity trackers after six months, according to a report by Endeavor Partners,” Teague explained. “That’s a huge drop off. But through our member survey, we found that 87 percent of respondents wear their tracker every day, and 78 percent have used an activity tracker for a year or more. This leads us to believe that people seeking to track the entire picture of their activity levels and eating habits will stick with their wearables longer than the general public.”
  • He said to make sure that you’re using your tracker and any corresponding apps to their fullest capabilities. “Track hydration, steps taken, calories consumed, exercises, sleep, etc. This overall picture gives someone trying to lose weight more insight and data to help them adjust their behaviors— for example, reducing the number of carbs, eating smaller meals, increasing daily exercise, or even decreasing daily sodium levels.”
  • Be social. Teague explained that their survey showed that making use of the social aspects of fitness trackers and apps like Lose It! encourage people to stick with their activity trackers because it provides support along with an overview of daily activity.

Ultimately, 92 percent of the survey’s respondents said that they felt their activity trackers helped them stay motivated to lose weight, so they can certainly be effective when used the right way.

“That said, being more active and tracking fitness activity is only half of the picture when you’re trying to lose weight,” Teague explained. “Your eating choices are incredibly important to helping achieve your health goals.”

This is why it’s important to pair your tracker with a helpful app that can help paint a full picture of your health and wellness, including your eating habits. 

To sum it all up Teague said, "Activity trackers offer an easier, automated way for weight-loss participants to have this activity data at their fingertips to make weight loss more successful."