Does My Fitness Pal cause Eating Disorders?

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In this blog, we will answer the question “Does My Fitness Pal cause Eating Disorders?”, and also cover what are eating disorders, their types, symptoms, what is My Fitness Pal, and the link between the app and eating issues along with frequently asked questions.

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Does My Fitness Pal cause Eating Disorders?

The answer to this question is not a simple “yes or no”. It is really complicated because My FItness App was rolled out as a fitness app that helps you keep track of your health and wellness through calorie tracking and other features. 

Even though the major goal of the app is to help people stay fit but it can have a downside for people who struggle with their health and body weight, especially people who associate their self-worth and self-esteem with their bodies.

A study conducted by Levinson, Fewell, and Brosof on the usage of My FItness Pal calorie tracker in eating disorders. 

They found that My Fitness Pal was utilized by a large percentage of participants (75%) and was perceived by 73 percent of these users as contributing to their eating disorders. Furthermore, they also discovered a correlation between these perceptions and eating disorder symptoms.

We will discuss the relationship between the app and eating disorders in further sections. 

What is My Fitness Pal?

My Fitness Pal is a health app that tracks your calories intake. According to the My Fitness Pal app, food should nourish and be enjoyed, but relationships with food aren’t always so straightforward.

A variety of factors influence our eating habits, including biological, behavioral, emotional, psychological, interpersonal, and social impacts, all of which can have a significant impact on how we think about and relate to food. These factors can either have a positive impact on eating habits or contribute to problematic or disordered eating habits.

What are eating disorders?

Eating disorders are mental illnesses marked by severe and long-term changes in eating habits, as well as troubling thoughts and emotions. They can be life-threatening illnesses that cause physical, psychological, and social problems.

Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, avoidant restrictive food intake disorder, other unspecified feeding and eating disorders, pica, and rumination disorder are some forms of eating disorders.

If you’re facing this, it may be a good idea to seek the help of a therapist or other mental health professional. You can find a therapist at BetterHelp who can help you learn how to cope and address it.

Different Types of Eating Disorders

While at the first glance, eating disorders may appear to be weight-related, food can also serve as a coping technique for moods or emotions that might be overwhelming. These practices will harm an individual’s physical and emotional health, as well as their self-esteem, confidence, and sense of control, over time.

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) 

It is characterized by the uncontrollable consumption of an enormous quantity of food in a short period of time, as well as the lack of weight-loss practices. 

People with BED may regularly feel out of control when eating, eating when they are not hungry or in response to emotions, eating till they are uncomfortable, or eating alone out of embarrassment for their conduct. Obesity is sometimes, but not always, linked to binge eating.

Anorexia Nervosa (AN)

It is a weight-loss disorder characterized by indulging in restrictive eating behaviours such as fasting or excessive dieting. To prevent weight gain or encourage additional weight loss, the person may excercise compulsively. 

Acute fear of weight gain and/or a fixation with weight are prevalent symptoms of AN. Some AN patients may have an unhealthy obsession with athletic performance and will engage in intense training and dieting.

Bulimia Nervosa (BN) 

It is a disorder characterized by repeated episodes of binge eating, a feeling of loss of control over eating, and weight-loss activities. Self-induced vomiting, abuse of laxatives, diet pills, diuretics, or enemas, fasting, and/or compulsive exercising are examples of these behaviors. People who have BN may also have a strong fear of gaining weight.

The link between My Fitness Pal app and eating disorders

With calorie and fitness-tracking applications more widely available than ever before, concerns about how this technology may affect people with eating disorders are growing. 

Positive links between these technologies and eating disorder symptoms have been discovered (Embacher Martin, McGloin, & Atkin, 2018; Hefner et al., 2016; Plateau, Bone, Lanning, & Meyer, 2018; Simpson & Mazzeo, 2017), however, the evidence is mixed.

As a result, it’s critical to look into how these apps are affecting people with eating disorders.

The research was conducted by Cheri A Levinson, Laura Fewell, and Leigh C Brosof. They looked at how My Fitness Pal was used to count calories in 105 people who had been diagnosed with an eating disorder. 

They also looked at whether people thought My Fitness Pal was responsible for causing eating disorder symptoms and if those feelings were linked to symptoms. It was discovered that My Fitness Pal was utilized by a large majority of participants (75%) and that 73 percent of these users believed the app was contributing to their eating issues. 

Furthermore, they discovered a link between these beliefs and eating disorder symptoms. According to this study, My Fitness Pal is extensively used among people with eating disorders and is thought to contribute to eating disorder symptoms. More research is needed to determine the role of calorie-tracking apps in a sample of people with eating disorders.

One explanation for the research’s inconsistency could be the use of narrow metrics to investigate how people interact with these apps, which could miss distinguishing patterns suggestive of eating disorders. 

Recent studies (Eikey et al., 2017; Eikey & Reddy, 2017) have provided useful insights into the cognitions, emotions, and behaviors related to their use, with qualitative research attempting to understand the complicated engagement involved with these applications. 

However, due to the small sample sizes used in these research, they were unable to capture the full spectrum of applications used. This is critical because determining how people with eating disorders use these technologies could lead to more specific research questions and the creation of more rigorous interventions.

As a result, McCaig et al., 2019 set out to gather qualitative evidence to better understand user involvement with the My Fitness Pal app, a popular calorie and exercise-tracking software (Under Armor Inc., 2019).

Extending upon previous research (McCaig et al., 2018), extracted public comments from the discussion site Reddit, left between May 2015 and January 2018. Comments on MyFitnessPal were taken from three eating disorder-related forums and identified if they included at least one of the following terms: “MFP,” “fitness pal,” or “fitness pal.” 

This app was specifically chosen because it was at the center of prior study on the topic, as well as being the most downloaded app of its kind (Ferrara et al., 2019)

After the comments were retrieved, Braun and Clarke’s (2006) six-step approach was used to inductively thematically analyze them. The authors were interested in semantic themes in order to better comprehend the experiences of the commenters and to develop themes that were obvious from the remarks.

From 920 commenters, a total of 1,695 comments mentioning My Fitness Pal were extracted. Preventing usage, accuracy, and psychosocial issues were highlighted as three themes.

Users who had eating disorder-related symptoms or behaviors, such as having a low goal weight or posting a low daily calorie intake, reported My Fitness Pal applying steps. Restriction, suspension, or deletion of user accounts were among the precautions taken by MyFitnessPal; nevertheless, these procedures were not always followed.

Users suggested strategies to get around these restrictive treatments when MyFitnessPal applied them, such as changing personal attributes to be permitted a lower weight/goal or switching to another app or recording technique.

Many users expressed skepticism about MyFitnessPal’s ability to reliably capture calorie and fitness data. Some users also claimed that they entered false data into the app on purpose, ostensibly to aid weight reduction. This included over-recording calories consumed, under-recording activity, and failing to document purge episodes.

A social element of sharing usernames with others to track progress was described by some. However, a group of users reported negative consequences associated with this (i.e. feeling criticized by others) leading them to make their use of the app private.

Thoughts and feelings about the app are divided, with some users expressing happy emotions and others reporting negative emotions including competitiveness and feeling criticized. Addiction to the app and ruminating thoughts about food were noted by those recovering from an eating disorder.

Some users claimed that using the app kept them from binging or purging, while others claimed that it aided relapse and that they had to erase it from their device.

Thoughts and feelings about the app are divided, with some users expressing happy emotions and others reporting negative emotions including competitiveness and feeling criticized. Addiction to the app and ruminating thoughts about food were noted by those recovering from an eating disorder.

Some users claimed that using the app kept them from binging or purging, while others claimed that it aided relapse and that they had to erase it from their device.

Conclusion

People of all ages, races, genders, cultures, and financial level are affected by eating disorders. Eating disorders are distinctive and complex, and do not necessarily fit in the same group. 

We strongly encourage you to seek treatment if you are concerned about your eating behaviours and exercise habits, or have disturbing thoughts and emotions regarding food, physical activity, and body image. If you feel that your friend or loved one might be suffering from an eating disorder then you can also encourage them to seek help.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs): Does My Fitness Pal cause Eating Disorders?

Why you shouldn’t use My Fitness Pal?

The BBC found content logging self-harm and punishments for over-eating on MyFitnessPal, Lose It! and Lifesum. The smartphone apps, according to the eating disorder charity Beat, could worsen unhealthy behaviors and make recovery more difficult.

How are eating disorders diagnosed?

Eating disorders can be diagnosed by medical doctors or mental health professionals such as psychiatrists and psychologists. Often, an eating disorder is diagnosed after a pediatrician or primary care doctor notices symptoms during a routine check-up or after a parent or family member expresses concern about their child’s behavior.

Because a single test cannot diagnose eating disorders, your doctor may use a combination of physical and psychological test.

●    Your provider will assess your height, weight, and vital signs during your physical exam.

●    Lab testing, include a complete blood count, liver, kidney, and thyroid function tests, urinalysis, X-ray, and an electrocardiogram

●    Personal questions regarding your eating patterns, binging, purging, exercise habits, and body image are included in the psychological examination.

What are some of the causes of eating disorders?

Eating disorders are difficult to diagnose and treat. While we don’t know for sure what causes them, there are various ideas.

Although it indicates that genes play a role in 50 percent to 80 percent of the risk of getting an eating disorder, genes do not predict who will develop an eating disorder. “Genes load the gun, but the environment pulls the trigger,” as the saying goes.

In those who are genetically predisposed to eating disorders, certain situations and events—often referred to as “precipitating factors”—contribute to or precipitate the development of eating disorders.

How do we treat eating disorders?

Cognitive Behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most well-researched outpatient treatment for adult eating disorders, and it consists of the following components:

●    Reorganization of the mind

●    exposure to one’s body image

●    Alternatives and delays

●    Exposure to food

●    Keeping body-checking to a minimum

●    Meal preparation

●    Eat on a regular basis

●    Preventing relapse

●    Self-monitoring on paper or through apps

What are some healthy eating habits?

  • Consuming a wide range of foods
  • Eating food without feeling guilty or anxious
  • When you’re physically hungry, eat until you’re satisfied, but not too full
  • Occasionally enjoying sweets and comfort foods

How to cope with eating disorders?

●    Consider taking up a new pastime such as photography, painting, or knitting.

●    Purchase an adult coloring book.

●    Use mindfulness meditation to help you relax.

●    Take a stroll in the park.

●    Consider taking a yoga class or purchasing a yoga DVD.

●    Make a journal entry.

References

https://www.verywellmind.com/eating-disorders-4157252#toc-coping-with-an-eating-disorder
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28843591/
https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-birmingham-48842898
https://support.myfitnesspal.com/hc/en-us/articles/360032625071-Eating-Disorder-Resources
https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/eating-disorders/what-are-eating-disorders

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