For over a year, I vowed up and down and left and right that I would not, under any circumstances, buy a FitBit or any other type of “activity tracker.” I knew it would make me neurotic, would most likely increase my anxiety, and would have me literally walking in circles until I hit my desired step count for the day. I knew all of those things to be true about myself; and yet, if you have seen me thus far this year, you cannot have missed the dreaded device that is fastened to my right arm. Yes indeed, I caved into a flash sale on Zulily and bought an X-Treme Fit Tracker. I’ve been wearing it since August. And while I am no more neurotic than usual, I have to wonder, after wearing it for six weeks, am I any more active either?
Glenn Gaesser, the director of the Healthy Lifestyles Research Center at Arizona State University in Phoenix, told The New York Times last year: “for many people, they’re (activity trackers) inspirational, and if using one gets someone to move more, then as far as I’m concerned, it’s serving a good purpose.” Inspiration is a good thing, on this we can all agree. In fact, it is a good practice to eat healthy and exercise, to monitor how well we sleep and how active we are. But when it becomes an obsessive behavior, it is then that it also becomes a dangerous one, especially for young ladies who are entering and living through their teenage years. The obsession our society has with being healthy, being fit, maintaining that lifestyle of healthy living does have the potential to do more harm than good.
So then, the question becomes “ how do we encourage a healthy lifestyle without creating an obsession with weight and/or body image?” It’s a fine line, one that I am sure many of us walk daily, veering to the left or right of that fine line at times. More importantly, how do we help our daughters to walk that line, to be healthy and active without becoming neurotic or sick over it? How do we teach them that it’s great to be a size four, but it’s just as great to be an eight or a ten, or a twelve, as long as their hearts are healthy, they are sleeping well, and they are eating right? I don’t have the right answer to this question; if I did, perhaps I would not have a fitness tracker on my arm. But I do know a few things that will lead the young ladies of Saint Dominic Academy in the right direction.
At SDA, we encourage healthy eating in several ways. We offer salads daily along with balanced meals for lunch. We have eliminated soda and sugary drinks from our cafeteria. Ms. Mallon, our Health teacher, devotes a marking period each year to the virtues of a healthy diet and complements those lessons with fitness and yoga classes during P.E. We encourage activity as well; our athletic teams alone speak to the level at which we want our young ladies to be active. All are welcome to try out and play tennis, volleyball, soccer, indoor track, basketball, softball, run cross country, and spring track. Our competitive dance team has limited spaces for dancers, but our Dance Fitness class, in partnership with the Jersey City Ballet has been added to student schedules wherever possible. Our annual Walk-A-Thon encourages our young ladies to exercise for a good cause.
Will I continue to wear my activity tracker? I most likely will. Will I try and walk for a half hour each day? I will try, but I will not despair if I don’t get to it on a given day. And that’s the message I want to help your daughters receive as well. We are working to empower our students, your daughters, to be confident and proud young women. We are also working daily to help them see that fine line between good health practices and unhealthy obsession. Together, we can continue to inspire these young ladies to be active, be healthy, and most importantly, be happy, both with themselves and with the world around them.