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Issue #844: September 24-30, 2023

Q: This may not be in your wheelhouse but here goes. I used Fitbit for several years to lose weight. When I went off of it, of course, I gained. I would like to print off my food logs from 8/1/19 thru 3/9/21. I tried to do this but could not understand the downloaded file, so I deleted it. Is there a way to download this info from my iPhone? Everything is listed there but I have to do a lot of scrolling in order to read it. Thank you for your help (If you can!)

 – Diane M.
Destin, Florida

A: Challenge accepted, Diane!  Actually, if you’ve been reading my column for any serious amount of the 16-plus years that it’s been publishing, you’ve surely seen me say that I welcome questions that extend through the whole gamut of technology – not just computers and/or Windows.  That would include your issue with your Fitbit.

I just happen to have some experience with Fitbit, since, like you, I am a former Fitbit user.  However, unlike you, I only stopped using mine when I graduated to an Apple Watch.  Also, unlike you, I never had any desire to download any of the data that Fitbit had accumulated on me over the time I was actively using it.  So, I did a little research for you, which I’ll get to in a minute.

The relationship between the actual Fitbit device and the Fitbit app can be a little confusing if you don’t understand how these things work.  To throw a PC into the mix just makes the whole thing even harder to comprehend.  Nevertheless, let’s try and shed some light on this whole thing.

A Fitbit is a type of wearable technology loosely referred to as an activity tracker.  One of the most common uses for such a device is tracking one’s daily steps, the goal being to help improve health and fitness.  Depending on the model, Fitbits are also capable of tracking everything from heart rate and breathing rate to patterns of sleep, including duration of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.  As if that’s not enough to pack into one little device, some Fitbits are also media players, allowing you to take your tunes or podcasts along on your workout without an additional device.  Handily, they’re also a stylish (depending on whom you ask) digital watch.

The Fitbit itself is just the sensor.  That is to say, it is what senses the data you want to track.  It buffers it temporarily, but its ultimate job is to upload it to an app running on a smartphone or tablet – most commonly via a wireless Bluetooth link.  This is where we start to approach your configuration.  According to your description, you had (have?) yours tethered to an iPhone.

There is a vast amount of data generated during workouts, so after seven days, it is converted into a daily total, which is stored for an additional 23 days.  After that, the data must be sync’d to your device, or it’s lost.  When you perform a sync, the data are uploaded to your Fitbit Dashboard, and stored on Fitbit’s servers, which is hopefully where everything is currently residing.  So, while the device containing the data may change shape and size, the data are still the data, just waiting for you to go get it.

It’s important to note that data isn’t available if it’s been deleted.  That may sound like a no-brainer, but many people assume their data will always be there in perpetuity, but that’s just not the case.  I don’t know for certain if Fitbit has a maximum retention period for your data, or if your account goes away after a period of non-use.  I’m afraid you’ll have to find out the answers to these questions the hard way, Diane.

Assuming the data are in your Fitbit account, you can export everything by logging into your Fitbit account.  Click the gear icon, then click Settings then Data Export.  Under Export Your Account Archive click Request Data.  To me, it gets a little weird at this point, as Fitbit will send you an e-mail at the address you associated with the account.  This is very likely a multi-factor authentication step intended to protect your privacy.  So, from within the e-mail click the link to confirm your export request. After that, you’ll receive another e-mail with a link where you can download your data.  Click it to download and save the data to your computer. You’ll probably wind up with a Fitbit *.tcx file, which is nothing more than a .zip file with the extension changed.  Change it back to .zip, and you’ll be able to browse the file contents in Windows.

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