Can myfitnesspal trigger eating disorders? (+5 stories)

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In this blog post, we shall answer the question, “can myfitnesspal trigger eating disorders?” And look at the relationship between calorie counting apps in maintaining eating disorders. We shall also look at what people have to say about myfitnesspal and give you tips on how to use the calorie counting apps correctly.

Can myfitnesspal trigger eating disorders?

Yes, myfitnesspal can trigger an eating disorder. There have been discussions and mixed reactions towards calorie counting apps like myfitnesspal. Many have come out to claim that the apps cause eating disorders rather than help people avoid them.

The developers of these apps, however, have defended themselves by saying that the purpose of the apps is to promote healthy eating by helping you become accountable for your food intake. Both of these contradicting opinions are not far from the truth.

Advantages of myfitnesspal app

Calorie counting apps make logging food activity quick and easy. They have replaced the old school method of pen and paper for logging calories, which can be tedious and difficult to maintain. Other importances include:

  • Give insight into lifestyle habits
  • Help in meal timing
  • Help become accountable for daily goals set
  • Give insight on how to improve nutrient quality 
  • Bring awareness of what you consume daily
  • Increase mindfulness
  • Encourages exercise and activity

Disadvantages of myfitnesspal app 

On the other hand, myfitnesspal can be harmful to people with eating disorders or those recovering from eating disorders. People at risk or who have disordered eating can use the app to encourage their behaviour. Many have come out to address how they used the app to reinforce their disordered habits.

The disadvantages of calorie counting apps include:

  • It doesn’t take into account your nutrition needs, only your calorie intake
  • The food entry system can be time-consuming. It can get tedious to keep on logging entries even after a snack or eating fruit when you have a busy schedule
  • The food labels can contain inaccurate information, which in turn makes the calories you are tracking inaccurate and misleading
  • Constantly logging food and drinks can be addictive and lead to obsessive and compulsive behaviours
  • It gives people unrealistic weight loss goals

It is important to know that myfitnesspal is not the source of your weight loss and healthy eating, you are. The tracking app helps in your quest for healthy eating and is partly for accountability and partly to provide a quantitative view of your diet. Eating a balanced meal, staying active, and understanding portion sizes are more important than the tracking app you use and the logs you keep.

With this clarified, let us look at the correlation between myfitnesspal and maintaining eating disorders.

Correlation between myfitnesspal and maintaining eating disorders

A study has shown that 75% of people with eating disordered have reported using calorie-tracking apps like myfitnesspal. Out of that population, 73% reported that using the app contributed to/ worsened the symptoms of their eating disorders. 

Many people have used myfitnesspal successfully and are continuing to use it to track their calories. However, research has shown that this is not the case among those struggling with eating disorders and those at risk of developing eating disorders. People struggling with eating disorders always have a mindset that always tries to beat and control everything.

Some are misusing the app by exacerbating unhealthy behaviour and making recovery difficult. An investigation done by BBC showed numerous harmful entries by users of myfitnesspal. Many of these entries promoted dangerous cycles of binge eating, purging and starvation.

The most common phrases were ‘starved’ ‘I overate and I hate my life’ and ‘failure, fatty.’ Medical specialists clarified that while eating disorders are not directly caused by calorie counting apps, the developers should add protective features in preventing disordered eating and more in supporting those suffering from eating disorders.

Many of the calories shown on the packaged foods are mostly 20% incorrect. This makes the results on myfitnesspal off or inaccurate. This then causes frustrations when you do not get the desired goal as indicated on the app. Sometimes, this translates to one feeling that they are to blame for not meeting the goals set to be achieved on the app.

Another common factor is that people lose track of the bigger picture when it comes to myfitnesspal. A well-rounded diet is not all about losing calories, but also increases energy levels, improves hormonal levels and helps blood profile. However, people with disordered eating use the app solely to hit a certain number of proteins, calories, carbs and fat without focusing on the quality and nutritive value of the food.

Some of these limitations are causing mixed reactions about myfitnesspal and making many specialists advise their patients against using the app. We, however, believe that using the app while still keeping in contact with your professional health specialists will help avoid the development or maintenance of eating disorders. 

Before we look at how we can use myfitnesspal correctly, let us review some stories people have told regarding their interaction with myfitnesspal.

Stories about myfitnesspal by people with disordered eating

Jack Henderson, 21 from Newport, Telford

“I would only pick foods ‌I could input into MyFitnessPal. I’d avoid homemade stuff. I would only pick packaged stuff I could input into the app.”

“Even when I had a binge, an enormous loss of control, I logged it as best I could… it really fed in to this false warped illusion of control that I was in control – but it was controlling me.”

After a breakdown in December 2018, he dropped out of university and his parents advised him to seek medical help. During treatment, his doctor encouraged him to delete the app.

Holle Moyse, 25 from Walsall

“Probably the most ridiculous thing I’d weigh would be like a lettuce leaf. I needed to know everything that was going into my body,” she said.  She developed anorexia after continuous use of the app.

She was also addicted to exercises. By the end of her first semester in university, she became very sick and had to be hospitalized. She said that using the app can make a person punish themselves too much.

Chloe Phelps (has had anorexia and orthorexia for three years)

In my ‌recovery, I found ‌MyFitnessPal was harmful to my mindset (I hesitate to say “triggering” because of the stigma, but that is essentially what I mean). Having so much knowledge and attention surrounding what I was eating allowed me to build up new obsessions and ED behaviors- even if I wasn’t restricting my calories to a dangerous level. I believe that recovery should be about finding peace and freedom with food and MyFitnessPal’s detailed regulations don’t support that.

Chloe Faulkner

I doubt it but it can help maintain one. I speak from personal experience. Those without an active or underlying eating disorder can use the likes of My Fitness Pal without any issues, much like going to any of your generic weight loss clubs.

I wouldn’t suggest using it if you’ve had or do have an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa.

Evie Walker

“My heartbeat I could feel was really irregular, and that’s when I was scared of going to sleep. I didn’t want to die, but I was essentially killing myself.” she became so unwell after using myfitnesspal that she could not walk to the shops and had to be hospitalized. 

She has been living with an eating disorder for more than a decade. Dangerously underweight – she says she used the calorie counting app MyFitnessPal to record what she ate. But, despite receiving a notice on the app telling her she had eaten below the recommended level, she chose instead to use it as a badge of honour.

How can you stop counting calories obsessively?

Counting calories can be obsessive. Many teenagers have calorie journals where they log everything they eat and try to keep the numbers as low as possible. This habit can become obsessive and can trigger the development of eating disorders. 

Although it might work for those who don’t obsessively think about everything they eat, if the number of calories do not affect your mood and if you do not worry about exceeding your calories if you are still hungry.

You can stop counting calories obsessively by doing the following:

  • Make food choices based on satisfaction and not the calories it has
  • Get in touch with your hunger cues and honour them
  • Do away with your calorie counting mechanism and delete myfitnesspal from your phone
  • Take it slow

Conclusion 

In this blog post, we have looked at what myfitnesspal is, and the advantages and disadvantages of calorie counting apps. We have also looked at the correlation between myfitnesspal and eating disorders and looked at what people had to say about the app.

If you have any questions or comments, please let us know in the comment section below.

Frequently asked questions: Can myfitnesspal trigger eating disorders?

Does myfitnesspal cause eating disorders?

Research shows that among the 75% of users of myfitnesspal, 73% perceive that the app led to the development of their eating disorders.

Why shouldn’t you use myfitnesspal?

A research ‌by BBC showed more than 20 harmful entries by myfitnesspal users. Most of these entries were an indication/ habits that could lead to the development of eating disorders.

Does myfitnesspal cause anorexia?

Calorie counting apps do not cause eating disorders. They, however, can worsen the symptoms in those predisposed to eating disorders.

Citations

BBC News, (July 4, 2019). Calorie counting apps ‘can exacerbate eating disorders’. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-birmingham-48842898

Young K. (August 26, 2019). Is MyFitnessPal your friend? Retrieved from https://medium.com/the-public-ear/is-myfitnesspal-your-friend-d94452cfb32f

itvNews (January 4, 2019). Calorie counter and fitness app MyFitnessPal could fuel eating disorders among vulnerable people. Retrieved from 

https://www.itv.com/news/westcountry/2019-01-04/calorie-counter-and-fitness-app-myfitnesspal-could-fuel-eating-disorders-among-vulnerable-people

Linardon, J. (2020, October 30). Stop Counting Calories: How Counting Leads To Eating Disorders. Break Binge Eating. Retrieved July 20, 2022, from https://breakbingeeating.com/stop-calorie-counting/#3_Be_Present_and_Meditate 

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