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  • Writer's pictureCharlotte Howard

I Had A Toxic Relationship With My Smartwatch

**This story discusses disordered eating and weight loss. If this article is triggering please contact The Butterfly Foundation national helpline at 1800 33 4673.**

At some point in the not so distant past, a human-being seemingly unsatisfied with the convenience of their smart phone decided they wanted to make their life easier and create a smartwatch.

While I'm sure we can all admire their obvious want to not leave the couch to get the phone they unintentionally left lying on the kitchen bench - smartwatches have become the ultimate tool for toxic diet culture.

They don't just show you messages, phone calls, and all your favourite apps; they can track your heart rate, movement, steps, and even calories - yes, even calories.

In our current social climate, thinness is valued over body positivity (let alone neutrality), so the aforementioned unsatisfied human made an excellent move if his intention was to fatten his wallet.

He validated a widespread need to know how hard we are trying to reach such highly valued and unrealistic thinness.

Charlotte Howard admits she had a toxic relationship with her smartwatch.

A few years ago, while dating an exceptionally confident (slightly narcissistic) woman, l became the kind of person l never imagined l would become… a keep-fit-fanatic.

After 25 years of almost exclusively eating junk food and drinking wine on the couch, l started going for runs, seeking out incidental exercise, and regularly attending the gym.

This was partly because I finally had spare time after slogging through a four year university degree while managing full-time working hours.

But mostly it was because I was in a relationship with a partner who validated my internalised self hatred and only provided positive affirmation when it was about my attractiveness (aka. thinness).

For our first Christmas as a couple, she contributed some money so l could buy a smartwatch to track my workouts - more specifically the runs I would go on at-least twice a week.

Suddenly, the steps I walked, the calories I burned, and the length of time l spent working out was so ridiculously specific and overwhelming.

It was as though l had an invasive personal trainer tattoo the words "you're not doing enough" onto my left wrist.

One night l literally spent half an hour walking around my tiny apartment so l could make sure my step count exceeded 10,000 steps.

At the time I blindly believed this goal the watch had set me because the media told me it was the magic number needed for peak fitness to be achieved.

There were days l couldn't leave the gym until my tracked workout exceeded 45 minutes and honestly, most of the time l didn't even know what l was doing.

I remember one day, completely by accident, I saw l burned over 500 calories.

It was the most elated I had been in months.

Due to Covid-19 lockdowns, Charlotte Howard couldn't exercise at the gym.

Slowly but surely this was compounded by only eating certain foods, drinking clear liquids, and substituting days without exercise with restricting food intake.

l would receive frequent validation from my loved ones who exclaimed things like "you look so good!" and "I wish l was as healthy and active as you."

l can distinctly remember showing a picture comparing my weight before my relationship to a few months in and my girlfriend at the time responding with a very casual "you're welcome."

l was the fittest, thinnest and most controlled l had ever been… and at the same time, l was the least healthy and happy l had ever been.

Eventually the relationship ended, but the smartwatch legacy remained.

Then came the COVID-19 lockdown.

As someone with fairly serious asthma, running outdoors in winter literally leaves me gasping for air.

I knew this already when I tried to go for a run one evening during the early days of lockdown, and, as expected, returned home after 10 minutes, panicked and unable to catch my breath.

Despite this, I tried again for the next three days (and got exactly the same result).

So instead, I started going for long monotonous walks and doing workouts in my spare room.

I honestly hate working out, so spending most of my spare time working out in my tiny apartment that was supposed to be my space of solace literally destroyed me.

I couldn't just track 45 minutes with my electronic personal trainer anymore either because without running, that wasn't good enough.

On top of that, just before lockdown I started dating one of my best friends who happened to be a feeder.

His entire love language was cooking food and watching me eat as though his life depended on it.

He was my bubble.

And I couldn't let him find out about the "other" toxic relationship I was having with my smartwatch.

So instead, I ate the food he made and thought, "I'll make up for it later."

But the number on my smartwatch was never enough.

I couldn't do enough.

It took about three weeks for my mental health to totally and utterly deteriorate.

I sat on my couch one morning and cried for an hour before doing the only thing I knew might pull me through - I called my mum.

My brain went into auto pilot as my mum directed me to immediately see a doctor, get a COVID test and go stay with her.

I was restarted on anti-anxiety medication and got referred to a psychologist.

It took three weeks of being looked after at mums before I could bring myself to go back to my apartment.

Since giving up her smartwatch Charlotte has been able to enjoy food again.

Through all of this, my logical brain knew all the facts.

I knew that since the 1920s thin bodies have been idealised as the peak representation of youthful, beautiful, and most recently, healthy.

I knew I was compelled by social media to do endless workouts in an attempt to get unrealistic abdominal definition and a perky butt.

To go for outdoor walks, eat acai bowls, and drink low calorie seltzers so I could still have 'fun' while living my healthiest life.

All while making sure I walked 10,000 steps a day - which, by the way, is in no way an evidence-based amount of steps to do in order to reach the ever elusive peak health we all strive for.

It's as though we all suddenly began to consider the importance of physical health and made a tenuous association with the already well-established idealisation of thin bodies to produce yet another unrealistic idealisation to wreak havoc on our collective sense of self.

And I knew all this, but my anxiety didn't - neither did my smartwatch.

After the lockdown (and a few therapy sessions), I found myself a human personal trainer.

I worked out way less and the numbers on my smartwatch became less important.

Eventually I stopped wearing it and recently, l sold it.


Since the departure of my degrading wrist demon, I have started drinking wine again.

A long lost comforting love that has always brought joy when paired with food and gossip.

I also bought jeans that fit (even when I'm bloated).

Now I actually enjoy myself when I go out to dinner instead of being preoccupied by how tight my jeans get or what my stomach might look like when I stand up after finishing my meal.

Do I still feel guilty for over ordering at McDonalds? You betcha.

Do I have an invasive personal trainer attached to my wrist validating that guilt? No I do not!

I deserve happiness and it's okay for that happiness to include missing workouts and eating cheeseburgers… and nuggets... and drinking alcohol that doesn't just taste like water.

So goodbye, demonic digital personal trainer! I do not and will not miss you.



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