Study: Fitness Trackers Don't Help with Long-Term Weight Loss

The brain control everything. It needs to change, not your wearable device


One in six Americans wears fitness trackers or other devices on regular basis to help them manage their weight, according to Forrester Research.

A recent medical study shows that people are actually wasting their money. The apps on your smartphone do a better job in terms of measuring your steps and your calories. Consumers who didn’t wear a fitness tracker actually lost more weight than those who did wear the device.

But wearable devices not work when it comes to managing weight over the long-term. The author of a new weight study published in the British Medical Journal says they are missing a crucial connection with the brain – changing the mind leads to better results.

People seem to have become obsessed with wearable fitness technology, “because they think it’s a quick fix,” Dr. Andreas Michaelides, practicing psychologist and chief of psychology at Noom, says. “They think they feel better because they pay money for the service and think it will substitute hard work.” It doesn’t work that way. A person buying a fancy book won’t learn the material he or she actually reads the book.

The biggest factor in keeping the weight off is people struggling with changing of long-term habits. “Learning a new way of life makes all the difference,” Dr. Michaelides adds. Increased mindfulness, which means understanding why something is important, not just being given information – will lead to new and lasting behaviors, Dr. Michaelides says.

The study tested the CDC-approved Diabetes Prevention Program, which is the gold standard in treating pre-diabetics. Researchers based a mobile platform on it and added human coaching. Wearable devices may show accurate numbers but this is not the important part, Dr. Michaelides adds. “Sustained interest is.” This is where mindfulness – being present in the moment, logging food, and positive reinforcement – plays a role.

It led 64 percent of the study participants to lose more than 5 percent of their body weight– and they kept it off for more than 6 months. The average weight-loss was 7.5 percent of body weight. Loss of 5 to 7 percent significantly reduces the risk of developing diabetes, according to the CDC.

“The mind controls everything,” Dr. Michaelides says. “The mind has to change for sustainable weight loss; the device may only help.”

One reason why wearable technology doesn’t work in the long-term is that it moves unbelievably fast, he adds. “By the time you are done studying a product the proper way – involve a lot of people, observe for months, then analyze results and reach a conclusion – something new is already out and people are buying it.

This was a single-arm study. Only people who used the app were examined. “This was a pilot study in many ways,” Dr. Michaelides, says. “The natural second step now is to test it on a large randomized group of people using a control group.”

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