Anorexia: Is There An App For That?

If you need proof of my lack of technological savvy, look no further than this anecdote: About two years ago, while on deadline for a story, I powered up my computer in a race against the clock. Power button on, little Microsoft Windows song chiming in the background. Then…nothing. Blank screen. Total blackness. I shrieked like a little girl and proceeded to swoop my laptop up in my arms, scramble into the car and fly across Chicago to Best Buy, where I practically molested the entire Geek Squad in my attempt to request help.

As I stood there, panting and crazed, the Geek Squad guy took one look at my computer and said, “I know what your problem is.” With that, he dialed up the Contrast dial on the side of my screen and voila, the laptop I feared dead was (unlike my pride) magically revived.

I only mention this debacle to demonstrate my inherent lack of knowledge when it comes to all things technology. This is one of the reasons why, until about a month ago, I was relying on a 2004 edition TiVo for my reality show recording needs. It was made out of twine, Elmers Glue and a live hamster. I also don’t really Twitter all that much, even though Twitter was practically designed for self-promoting writers with original content (aka me).

I also don’t have an iPhone, which means a) I have to click on photos rather than softly caress my screen b) I can’t pop pretend bubble wrap like iBubble Wrap lets you do and c) I don’t have to worry about all of these crazy calorie counting and carb tracking and snack monitoring iPhone applications that are apparently making the rounds.

There’s no denying the power of self-monitoring when it comes to weight loss. Many studies have shown that keeping a food journal can help dieters shed pounds, for example. And anyone who’s dined in NY, where restaurants are now required to post calorie and fat content, knows the effect such displays can have on your appetite.

But now eating disorder experts are worrying that letting our fingers do too much walking on these new apps may be leading us down an unhealthy path. In this BusinessWeek article, Dr. Harry Brandt, director of the Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt in Towson, MD, says, "So many high school and college students have iPhone or smartphones or BlackBerries and a wave of applications that, to individuals with eating disorders, can be very detrimental. It's a combination of obsessionality and perfectionism."

One of the major concerns seems to be that even if a woman is truly just trying to lose a few – or even many – pounds in a healthy way, these apps, which may encourage her to enter every single calorie or fat gram or mile walked or stair climbed, may actually push her over the edge of healthy weight loss and into an eating disorder.

Point taken. But I feel like the number of women who are going to go from mentally stable to anorexic or bulimic just because of an iPhone app or two has got to be pretty low. It’s like with airbrushing – all of us live in the same culture where impossible images are displayed and applauded. And while many of us occasionally feel like crap because of said images, only a small percent go on to develop actual EDs. Genetics, personality and life experience all factor in alongside the environmental impact. So my fear isn’t so much that hordes of otherwise happy and healthy but overweight women are going to become walking skeletons because of a calorie app, but more so the use of such applications by women who are already struggling with a disorder. It’s these women, are already vulnerable to bingeing/purging or withholding calories who, I feel, would be far more at risk. Much like looking at a photo of an emaciated woman would cause a healthy person to turn away or feel upset, while that same image might provide deluded inspiration to an anorexic, iPhone nutritional monitoring could swiftly rocket from a tech-savvy weight loss tool to, well, thinspo.

Although I can’t imagine anyone thriving with an app like this or, God forbid, this on her phone.

To see what you’d look like with a boob job, check out iSurgeon.

To Tweet What You Eat, visit TweetWhatYouEat.com.

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