Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Counting Compulsions: Fitness apps and anorexia

Fitness Apps, they're everywhere nowadays aren't they? If people aren't checking their wrists for their Fitbits steps, they're logging calories on their phones, even competing with others for weight loss victory. However, when the person glued to the smartphone is someone with an eating disorder, these 'motivational' apps can become less helpful, more harmful. 

An exclusive story by BBC Hereford and Worcester journalist Felicity Sanderson highlighted the issue in a report in the West Midlands today. An issue I have experience of personally and one which, in 2016 with apps-galore, I think needs talking about more.

A young woman called "Sophie" shared her story, of becoming 'addicted' to the apps from the age of 14. Now 18, and in recovery she wants to let others know just how addictive they can be. I for one share her experience, and know we're not alone.

In the depths of my own battle with anorexia, I logged every single calorie eaten or burnt and tracked my weight obsessively. But even more dangerous I connected with other eating disorded users too

People on diets may motivate each other towards health, but for people suffering with a mental illness like anoreixa, it's pushing each other towards death

After what was probably more than a year hooked to my phone at any chance I could, I confided in a friend as I entered recovery. She had to delete the app and lock me out of my account. It was the only way I could stop logging every single calorie. 

The issue for me now is the fact they're everywhere. Someone with anorexia (and let's face it - those numbers are growing day-by-day) can go unchecked using them. It also perpetuates the myth that they are 'fine' and just 'doing what everyone else is'. But it couldn't be more different. 

Remember here girls and boys, apps alone don't CAUSE anorexia, but they don't help promote a healthy recovery either.

Sufferers using them is something which needs talking and not just talking about, but tackling too. No where more so than on eating disorders wards. Even my own team were uneducated and shocked to see the prevalence of proana sites, communities on the likes of Instagram and Twitter. In just one or two clicks sufferers can spiral into a world which will only ever compound the illness. But there is also hundreds - if not thousands - of men and women with anorexia using these apps to normalise their illnesses, to strengthen them. 

No, we can't shelter sufferers from a world of fitness crazes, diets and calorie counting at our fingertips, but we can wise up to just how many people with anorexia are hooked on them.

I believe it's up to eating disorders services to screen for usage, and to check if their inpatients are using them on wards or outpatients are logging the calories they burnt walking to the hospital.

I know I did. 

To read more about this head over to BBC Online
You can watch the BBC Midlands Today report HERE
You can follow Felicity on Twitter @flissanderson 

For help and advice on eating disorders please contact the UK Charity BEAT 

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