There are many benefits to the technology that we have available today, but as with most things it is not without its downsides. For me, one of such downsides is our ability to track and monitor every aspect of our lives; our exercise, our sleep, our water intake and even our menstrual cycle. But the big one is our food.
These calorie counting, fitness tracking apps – the Ads for which relentlessly follow me around the internet – brand themselves as a healthy, effective way to manage your weight and achieve your fitness goals. And indeed, for many they are.
But if, like me, you have suffered from some form of disordered eating in the past, you’ll know that these apps can start off objective and quickly turn obsessive.
Eating Disorders can stem from a variety of issues and develop for all manner of reasons, but one thing that is consistent in almost every case is the craving for control.
Tracking apps feed right into this idea. They have you input a huge amount of data, from your weight and height to your daily water intake. They then calculate the length of time it will take to reach your desired ‘goal’, and how many calories you are allowed to consume each day in order get there. The last time I checked there was little restriction on how much weight you could attempt to lose in however little time, it didn’t matter how unhealthy it was – believe me, I tried.
By entering the calories in every item of food eaten and the time and type of exercise taken the app will tell you how much you have consumed and how much you have burnt off – and most importantly how much you have remained under your max calorie count for that day. It’s not hard to imagine how it becomes addictive, that buzz of euphoria when the numbers add up to less than your daily recommended allowance. But just like the highs of success when you come in under, the lows of failure are always waiting in the wings.
In order to be accurate in your food tracking, it can involve weighing out ingredients, constantly checking packaging and eliminating anything not prepared by your own two hands. And so it becomes an obsession, checking the app numerous times a day, thinking about meals every waking minute, skipping social events where there might food involved. All of course, are symptoms of disordered eating.
It’s not just the food tracking apps though. Tracking your exercise and step count, and even sleep can just as easily spiral out of control. With the introduction of watches able to track every movement, comes not just more stats, but the ability to have them right in front of you at all times, you don’t even need to check your phone. Yes, it’s good to reach your target of 10,000 steps, but is it good to be so consumed by the idea of reaching it?
What happened to just deciding to walk to work today, instead of catching the bus, because it’s a lovely morning and the sunshine feels warm on your back? (Rather than because you need to reach your daily step count.)
Even when we are asleep we are not left in peace. The trackers on our wrist or in our phone are carefully noting each cycle of light and deep sleep, so when we open our eyes the first thing we think of is checking the numbers from the previous night, rather than checking in with the day we’ve got to look forward to. Only had one hour of deep sleep last night? An instant kick in the stomach, you thought you’d slept so well.
Although I don’t doubt that it can be useful and even effective for some, to monitor the energy they put in and that that they exert out, do we really need technology to be so in tune with our bodies? Do we really need an app to tell us we’ve eaten too much or not moved enough that day? We probably know it already, after all, we have survived just fine up until now with only human instinct to guide us.