Thoughts from the Bus: Apps that Make me Sweat

As the biting cold of January settles in, it’s become apparent that I’ll be continuing to take the bus on what seems like my ever-lengthening commute to and from work. This is in part due to my inability (read: shyness) to coordinate a carpool, the guilt for which I’ve repressed into bitterness toward our highly criticized transit system: #octranspo

This gives me approximately two hours each day where I am avoiding eye contact, attempting to keep my balance between stops and exhausting my supply of podcasts (many of which are inaudible over the noise of the bus – iTunesU profs speak up!). And when my media run out, it’s the perfect time for thoughts. “About what?” you may ask. Well, in order to curb the negative internal soundtrack of resentment toward not being home yet, I’m going to work on developing these thoughts into ideas – something to blog about, in essence. I’ll try to keep them fairly on topic: ICTs, sociology, research, grad school panicking. However, I cannot guarantee what may come to mind while surrounded by strollers, grocery carts, giant parkas and more.

And so, the series “Thoughts from the Bus” begins today:

Apps that Make me Sweat

With the masses running to the gym, it’s no surprise that fitness features in blogs (see #6) are all the rage this week. One popular piece of advice is to join an online community of people who are also trying to get fit.

My first run-in with this sort of peer-supported health was when the “MyFitnessPal” app was updated last year to include a Friends section where you could announce your progress to others. Unfortunately, this section also includes automatic updates for all to see regarding either your lack of activity (“StefanieDuguay has not logged in for 2 weeks”) or your progress/weight loss. I have to admit, this app was a big help to me last year. I spent time using it to track calories and determine appropriate portion sizes until I essentially taught myself what ‘healthy’ eating looks like. Now I barely need to crack it open unless I’m eating some sort of food that’s not in my regular routine and I want to see what the damage is. However, it was a pivotal tool during those crucial learning months (it even has info on Tim Horton’s menu items: 1 chocolate Timbit = 60 cal).

Despite its intended purpose of behaviour reinforcement, the Friends feature of the app completely creeped me out. I have a “don’t sweat with friends” rule, which means I never take anyone to the gym with me but, on the other hand, I know some people who thrive on that. People who go to the gym like to talk (and talk and talk) about it – they like to share – so these online forums give them a place to do so where it’s welcome. I can absolutely see how these communities could be important accountability tools, ‘commitment devices’ as defined in Daniel Goldstein’s TED Talk, but personally, I feel like it raises the stakes a bit too much. I’m the type of person who’s liable to feel guilty enough if I break promises to myself, but if I let all my online friends down, well then I feel like my fitness program would become riddled with guilt and shame, which isn’t much motivation to keep on doing it.

BUT, it could be possible that these communities are filled with positive, supportive people who don’t guilt trip each other about not logging in everyday. The efficacy of the forums in helping people achieve real, healthy goals would likely be directly affected by the types of conversation taking place. A group of people focused on a single purpose have the ability to create positive discourses about it (“every little bit helps”) or pretty destructive ones (“what? you had some CAKE?!! You’ll be fat tomorrow!”). It’s hard to say if either or both of these types of narratives is being enacted on these sites and, as I said, I won’t be joining any time soon but I’d really be interested to hear of peoples’ experiences or any research that’s been done on this topic.

More enthusiastic communities:
SparkPeople
Livestrong

(Image source here)

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