They can navigate you safely to your destination, identify a song playing in the background, and keep you busy with endless games while riding the bus to work or school, but some iPhone applications are not so helpful and could become harmful to their users. Eating disorder experts have observed that new handheld applications, designed to aid users in reaching weight loss goals, can easily perpetuate a serious eating disorder (ED) or become the catalyst for the development of an ED in those who are at-risk.
One of these weight monitoring iPhone applications boasts in an advertisement that it is, “a tool for people who are serious about tracking their weight…you can’t control your weight unless you are aware of how it is changing.” This ability to track minute details of nutritional intake 24 hours a day from the palm of your hand, and the desire to establish, the always elusive, “control” over one’s eating and weight could be easily abused by anyone with disordered eating patterns. In fact, many of the application’s features promote or even mimic actual signs and symptoms of a serious ED. Frequent weighing, micromanaging food intake, and excessive monitoring of calories spent during exercise are all signs that someone may have an ED. These potentially dangerous actions are encouraged by the iPhone applications which assign technical names to the disordered eating patterns such as the setting of a “daily caloric budget” and the use of a “nutritional database”.
What may be most dangerous about these applications is the illusion they create that this level of excessive monitoring of food, weight, and exercise represents a normal, healthy lifestyle. At the Center for Eating Disorders, we strive to help people develop healthy relationships with food and an appreciation for their bodies, regardless of weight or size. Unfortunately, applications such as the ones described above, seem to be doing the exact opposite.
Tools like this may be benign, although time-consuming and unnecessary, in the hands of people who are not vulnerable to EDs. However, the thoughts and behaviors they encourage could be life threatening to someone with an ED or to someone who is at-risk for developing one. It is increasingly important that we, as a community and as individuals, are aware of the risks associated with our ever-expanding world of technology and the effects it may be having on the people in our lives.
If you are concerned about a friend or loved one who is struggling with disordered eating or you would like more information about eating disorders, please call us at (410) 938-5252 and explore our website at www.eatingdisorder.org .