Can Apps Help Manage Anorexia?
These days, it seems like there’s an app for everything, so it’s only natural that several have been developed specifically to help those with anorexia. Dozens of applications have now been created to help those struggling with eating disorders like anorexia. While these apps are really only designed to support conventional treatments for eating disorders like CBT, and have limited use when used as a standalone solution, they still have value when it comes to aiding those who are most in need of help to get better.
What Are The Benefits Of Using An App To Help With Anorexia?
Conventional treatments for anorexia and other eating disorders are often time-limited, with only a few sessions per week when the patient has one-to-one access to their therapist. This means that there is a large portion of the week during which sufferers must put what they have learned during their therapy into practice without any direct support. Needless to say, this can be quite challenging, especially for those in the early stages of recovery.
More than three-quarters of people in the USA have their own smartphone. The peak age of onset anorexia is during the teenage years and into early adulthood, and it is precisely this demographic that is most likely to own a mobile device – over 90% of this age bracket have a smartphone. Therefore, apps represent a useful way of supporting those with anorexia between their appointments.
One key component of cognitive behavioral therapy for anorexia involves engaging with regular eating patterns. This usually involves eating three snacks and three meals every day at equally spaced intervals. Patients are told that they need to monitor their eating every day, and while handwritten logs were once the only option, these are now falling out of favor since apps have become a useful recording tool to take their place. In fact, apps actually represent a more convenient and accurate way of recording food intake, since patients are able to record what they eat immediately without If they are out and about, completing their food diary is discreet and inconspicuous and patients are more likely to be accurate about what they’re eating since they no longer have to wait until they return home to complete their paperwork when they may have forgotten the details.
Apps have other benefits too in terms of reminding patients to eat at regular intervals, and also in helping with spotting patterns in emotions and behaviors. Behaviors associated with eating disorders are often linked to emotions and external events and the majority of apps contain features which allow users to note their feelings and thoughts during the day. While it may be difficult to pinpoint patterns at the moment, when looking back over the recorded notes later, it becomes easier to see whether a particular incident or mood was associated with negative behavior patterns. Armed with this information, it then becomes easier for the patient and their clinician to identify potential triggers and plan healthier alternative responses in the future.
Apps Can Benefit Clinicians As Well As Patients
While eating disorder apps are beneficial for patients, they can also help therapists and clinicians too. Apps give an insight into what is going on in the patient’s life on a day to day basis. They show whether they have eaten properly, whether they have experienced a crisis which prompted disordered behavior, and whether they’ve done their homework for the week. This data allows therapists to know how to steer the next counseling session and where more support is needed.
Finding The Right App
Of course, not all eating disorder apps are created equal, and finding the best one to help support anorexia treatment is essential. Some apps are marketing themselves as a tool for recovery but could actually cause more harm than good. Some, for example, track calories and this could trigger individuals who are working at avoiding calorie counting to skip snacks or meals – the precise opposite of what they should be doing during recovery! Choosing an app which tracks emotions and thoughts as well as meals is the best option, and is the best way to support ongoing therapy.
Are Any Apps Dangerous For People With Anorexia?
Unfortunately, not all apps are helpful for anorexic patients. In fact, there are some which should definitely be avoided by those in recovery from an eating disorder. Fitness trackers, for example, are a very bad idea for anyone who obsesses about their calorie intake. Health apps too often track calorie expenditure and ingestion, encouraging users to reduce their intake of food while increasing their physical activity level.
A study carried out into eating disorder sufferers revealed that three-quarters of participants used the My Fitness Pal calorie-counting app which permits users to input and track their food intake on a daily basis. Of those users, 73% said that they thought using the app had worsened their eating disorder. Another 2017 study among students also showed a potential correlation between using apps to track calories and eating disorders, demonstrating that those who used calorie trackers showed a higher level of concern about their eating. It’s clear, then, that apps can sometimes be harmful rather than helpful.
There are several apps which are being abused by those with eating disorders. Some of the most common, apart from My Fitness Pal are Vora, Eating Thin, Plant Nanny, CalorieKing, Chronometer, and even Toilet Tracker. Some of these apps promote an especially harmful attitude towards weight and fitness, with one called Carrot Fit encouraging users to stick to their weight loss goals by berating them with verbal abuse if they fail to reach their target. While this app is meant to be amusing, for those with anorexia, it’s far from funny.
Carrot Fit is just one example of a gamified wellness app which is designed to reward users for achieving their health-related goals in an attempt to promote better well-being. Unfortunately, for those with anorexia, it can have the opposite effect, pushing sufferers to fast and under-eat. So-called wellness apps also promote competitive behavior. This, again, is supposed to motivate users to stick to their diet plan but for those suffering from eating disorders, competitive behavior is an inherent part of their condition. This means that apps which enable social comparison trigger even worse symptoms, opening up the possibility of comparisons with people from all over the world and causing distress if their data fails to match up.
Are Apps To Blame For Eating Disorders?
Although apps are an exacerbating factor in eating disorders like anorexia, they aren’t the cause of them. Those suffering from eating disorders would display the same food restricting behaviors in any case. However apps give them an easier way to track them. Rather than having to manually count calories in their heads or track their activity on paper, they now have an infinitely easier, faster and more secretive way of doing it. It is this that makes certain apps so harmful for anorexia sufferers.
App developers are now under pressure to include anti-abuse protocols in their software however this is challenging when those apps need to be functional for those who want to diet in a responsible way. One possibility is introducing a warning alert for those whose dieting behavior is too extreme, or some form of screening which would redirect users to a mental health resource if their behavior was deemed to be too risky. Only time will tell whether this will ever happen, and even if it does, whether those protocols will prove to be helpful in enabling those with anorexia to avoid exacerbating their condition. Until then, it’s best for those with eating disorders to avoid this type of app and to focus instead on the positive ones which are focused on recovery.
Which Are The Best Anorexia Recovery Apps?
Apps aren’t all bad news for those with anorexia. There are a number of recovery apps designed to help those with eating disorders and some support or embody the principles of CBT and other evidence-based treatments. Some apps include self-monitoring features, which is a key part of cognitive behavioral therapy treatment.
Although eating disorder recovery apps and fitness apps have several features in common, there are some vital differences. Both may incorporate tracking into their programming, but the focus is different. Fitness apps track data and numbers like calorie intake and physical activity levels. An eating disorder recovery app, conversely, tracks feelings and thoughts linked to eating instead of specific amounts. This is a very significant distinction.
Here are some of the best anorexia recovery apps which are recommended by professional therapists to those who are overcoming their eating disorder and could benefit from a little extra support in between counseling sessions.
In 2014, a study was carried out by Jurascio into the use of Recovery Record – a comprehensive app for treating eating disorders. This research revealed that this app contains a host of useful and beneficial features including personalization of coping strategies, self-monitoring, social connections and even a portal which connects to the user’s own clinician. CBT intervention components are included and users are able to enter not only the details of the food they consume but also their feelings, thoughts, and compulsions. The app even offers help with goal setting and coping strategies as well as a feature which allows reminders to eat to be set. Meal planning, affirmations, and rewards are additional features, while the patient’s therapist can also monitor their usage.
Rise Up And Recover
Another well-regarded and popular app is Rise Up. This application has a self-monitoring facility which allows daily snacks and meals to be recorded as well as target behaviors like purging and bingeing and emotions. The app tries to encourage coping skills to be used when the user is distressed and motivational affirmations, images and quotes can all be shared by users. There are additional sources of information which can also be accessed. This includes a treatment directory, articles, podcasts, and music. Meal data can also be exported by the app and shared with the patient’s treatment team.
What Should I Be Looking For In An Anorexia Recovery App?
Apps have come a long way over the last few years, and are still updating and changing as time goes on. Finding the right app for you is absolutely essential, and therefore knowing what you should be looking for is important. Here are a few top features which should always be included in the best anorexia recovery apps:
- Food intake self-monitoring with no calorie counting. While self-monitoring is an essential component of any treatment for an eating disorder, calorie counting should be avoided as it increases obsessive thought patterns.
- Fields for logging feelings, thoughts and behaviors. To recover from an eating disorder, it’s important to become more aware of thoughts, feelings and changing behaviors. Patterns can be spotted more easily when these are logged in an app.
- Coping strategies and motivation. Apps which incorporate methods of keeping you motivated to get better and which help you to think about healthier coping strategies are very supportive.
Using Apps To Help With Anorexia Recovery
Apps can be very helpful in supporting anorexia recovery, however it’s vital for patients to choose the right apps to help with their condition. Avoiding calorie and fitness tracking apps and, instead, downloading those which offer features that support CBT treatment is essential. With the right choice of apps, patients can receive helpful reminders to eat, track their emotions and behavior patterns and receive additional motivation when it is most needed.
However, it’s also important to note that an app can never be an effective substitute for proper medical help and treatment. Anyone who is suffering from anorexia or any other form of eating disorder should always seek advice from their physician rather than solely relying on technology to help them to get better. Apps are there to support proper treatment, not to replace it completely.
If you’re in or near Southern California, The Meadowglade might be what you need! Reach out to us in order to find out how our facility can be a help in your healing process! Searching for help with your anorexia is the first step towards managing your disorder! The Meadowglade can help!