Was my sports watch worth it?

My overall experience of owning a sports watch

First it was a Galaxy smart watch, followed by another, fancier one, then a Garmin Venu, which was, as watches go, brilliant. I had a sports watch for around five years altogether. I was a runner with two marathons under my belt who still did plenty of events, trained long and often, and liked the stats. I used the Garmin to check my mile on mile pace, heart rate, elevation and mileage. It linked automatically to Strava where I enjoyed looking at other people’s routes and activities as well as sharing mine. My Garmin Venu showed me a gradual increase in heart rate that culminated in a diagnosis of overactive thyroid, which took me to the GP early and caught the condition early. It had a really cool screen and was comfortable to wear. These are the pros.

The cons are more complex and individual. When I started wearing sports watches it was harmless and helpful. By 2020 my Garmin Venu was a noose tightening around my thoughts as my 38 year long eating disorder took ownership of it and became obsessed with the numbers. As Covid numbers rose and I watched it all unfolding around me, I felt strangely detached. I surprised myself by not being swallowed up by anxiety like others around me. I ran a lot.

The Summer before, I had started using an app called Cronometer to track my iron intake. I had been to give blood and told I was borderline on the iron front therefore not eligible after at least fifteen years of giving blood regularly. Menopausal women need more iron, apparently, and I wasn’t about to start eating red meat, so I started to log my nutrition more precisely. I easily fixed the iron and started giving blood again. But by that time I was calorie counting again and losing weight after not engaging in dieting behaviours for several years.

Where does the Garmin Venu come into this? I realised that for every run, walk, workout or movement of any type, it counts your calories and gives you a daily total. This, for a person who is becoming rapidly obsessed with weight loss and calorie tracking, is a menace. In my previously disordered times I had reams of notebooks lying in kitchen drawers full of numbers, scribbles and food lists. The Venu made the eating disorder streamlined, slick and almost sane. In other words, it enabled it and enabled my denial.

There is research being carried out, currently, as to whether there is a correlation between fitness watches and eating disorders, with inconclusive evidence. This post is just my experience. The Venu did not cause an eating disorder. I had a chronic one already that was lying dormant and the Venu exacerbated it. I would have had an ED regardless of the watch. Cronometer was another enabler. The trigger was Covid anxiety. I realise now that the detached feeling I had was because the lifelong safety behaviour of food and body control was kicking in, like an anaesthetic, and it felt as familiar as childhood.

My watch is now gone, to somebody who is not eating disordered, and I feel good about that. I have deleted Cronometer and Garmin and don’t have the option of running at the moment as I have completely knackered my sacroiliac joint by digging. I don’t know what my running will look like when I start again, but I will figure it out as I go along. In the meantime, here are my thoughts about whether a smart watch is a help or a hindrance.

IT’S A HELP IF:

  • You love the stats relating to your sports performance
  • You like to train within certain heart rate zones and are a fitness nerd
  • You’re keen to develop and maintain good sleep hygiene
  • You follow training plans
  • You want to create routes on it and follow them

IT’S A HINDRANCE IF:

  • You use the calories to inform your food choices for the day
  • You go for a walk or a run, even when exhausted, to burn calories
  • You walk or jog on the spot to get your step count to a target
  • The watch dictates your daily activities and not the other way around
  • You can’t go out wearing a normal, time-telling watch because you can’t imagine life without the watch recording everything

It’s worth noting that disordered people will deny, even to themselves, that the second list is happening. We tell ourselves that it’s OK really and one day we will get control of it. But here’s the thing. If we feel shame about our addiction to the numbers, control and obsession, then it’s a problem, because we know that our behaviour isn’t normal or balanced.

And finally, feeling shame about having disordered eating or exercise behaviours is really, really sad. As if it’s our fault! We are taught from a young age that our bodies are of immense importance, and that a certain appearance is more valued and makes us more acceptable. When everything around us is as crazy as it is right now, with ominous words and talk of lockdowns, a palpable sense of fear and a world that feels unsafe on every side, it’s no wonder that we shrink ourselves and hide behind a blockade of addiction and obsession. We are struggling as a nation. Some drink too much, some binge eat junk food, some spend too much, some rebel and break all the rules, some become too anxious to get out of bed, some lose all hope, some get angry at other drivers and explode into tears of helpless rage and some, like us, get into food and body control as a way of avoiding all this crap. But one thing is for sure – none of us are OK. So please – ditch the shame, never give up and always keep reaching out for help.

Programmed to spend

The capitalist propaganda that we need to deconstruct

From the morning’s news where Dominic Raab attempted to justify Boris Johnson strolling around hospitals, insulting hard-working NHS staff by breathing his hot air all over them without a mask on, while they stood graciously by, masked and probably pissed off, to almost being obliterated by a lorry emblazoned with ‘Prettylittlething’ and ‘Buy Happiness’ on its side, I had a very unwelcome capitalist start to my day.

I can only assume that Johnson refuses to wear a mask because he is all for personal freedoms in an Arthur Birling-esque ‘every man for himself’ kind of way. I find him excruciatingly annoying but I’m not against capitalism per se. It’s the way our economy works and, as I’ve never lived under any other regime, I’m used to it. I understand that businesses need to thrive if we are to thrive as a nation. Going completely communist would surely be worse. I would like the last surviving bastion of former socialist glory, our NHS, to survive, but I fear it’s too late for that, as thousands flock to private hospitals for lifesaving treatment because otherwise they’ll perish on the waiting list. I exaggerate, I know, but only slightly.

Within this ‘money makes the world go round’ paradigm, though, advertising slogans are true indicators of how much we are being brainwashed into supporting the economy, at the cost of our autonomy, the developing world and the actual planet. ‘Buying happiness’. Really? I know that particular slogan was deliberately cheesy and exaggerated, but when I see people on the news flocking to Primark and Next for the Boxing Day sales, it’s clear that there’s some belief in the possibility that buying exactly the right shoes, boots, hoody, phone, jumper, winter coat or shiny lipstick will make a positive difference to our lives. We are buying and driving massive cars that are polluting the environment, hundreds and thousands of toys that kids play with for a week or so, chairs, tables, TVs, laptops and, by the looks of IKEA on a Sunday, millions of household items. I know it’s all been said before, but why do we continue?

I’m not talking about essentials or even items that we love but don’t strictly ‘need’. I’m talking about wardrobes stuffed with clothes that wear out after six months or go out of fashion and sit on a hanger, only to end up in landfill. Or stupid things we buy thinking that we’ll use them – in my case a Shakti mat. For those not in the know, it’s a spiky mat that feels like hell for two minutes and then becomes strangely relaxing, but who is really going to lie on a spiky mat every day? Clearly not me. I sold it on Ebay and now wish I’d bought it there, too.

The reason we buy stuff is because we’ve been conditioned to do so by the propaganda that we see all around us every day. Smiling happy people, delighted that they are driving the car, or using the face cream, or wearing the fashion. Adverts use a ‘problem-solution’ structure – it’s a discourse that is taught on copywriting courses and studied in A Level language. In order to sell a product, a copywriter needs to present the audience with a perceived problem. Bad skin, problem areas, stained teeth, no time. Or more subtly, the problem is implied. We are made to feel that our cars are not modern enough, that our vacuum cleaner isn’t technologically advanced enough or, as happened to me recently, that my penis isn’t big enough. Some problems with the marketing there. Just a quick look through my Instagram reveals that my tights don’t fit, my bras are uncomfortable and my garden is plain and needs a metal bird. As it happens, the Snag tights do look great and I’ll probably try them when my current tights actually don’t fit. My bras are fine thanks – they’ve mistakenly assumed that I actually have boobs – and the metal bird is not as nice as the actual robin that I see every day at the allotment.

I would like to think that when I buy things it’s because I choose to, not because I feel compelled to. What do I really need? 3 jumpers, 4 tops, 2 skirts, 2 pairs of trousers, one winter coat, 50 running outfits and 3 pairs of shoes or boots. That’s it. Might vary from person to person but no I am not going to queue up outside Primark on Boxing Day because I probably already have all that I need and, if I need more, I’ll buy responsibly. It’s not even expensive. Ebay has amazing finds when it comes to good quality clothing and ‘White Rose’ in Newark is my favourite pre-loved clothes shop ever. I recently watched ‘The True Cost’ on Youtube and, after learning about the hundreds of Bangladeshi factory workers who have suffered as a result of awful working conditions and poor safety measures, I really feel that enough is enough.

If we are to survive as a species, which is a questionable goal given what we’ve done to the planet, we need to change willingly before we are forced to by circumstances beyond our control. Yes the economy matters but we have to slow down and buy less and buy more responsibly. The propaganda, once we see through it, becomes meaningless jumble, and if you can see an ad on my WordPress, that’s because I chose not to spend the money for the option to remove it!

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