A dieting and exercise app made me relapse into anorexia

Sarah only got better when a therapist finally convinced her to delete it from her phone


For most of us, dieting and fitness apps are a way to keep track of how many cheat days we have, or work towards fitting into a bikini on holiday. They’re used sporadically, eating up the memory on our phone and occasionally making us stressed out when we feel “behind” on our goals. But for people with disordered eating, iPhone apps recording exercise and diet can be deadly.

Sarah George, a third year at Sussex, recovered from anorexia at 13, and started university healthy and happy after beating her demons. But soon into freshers, stressed about uni and after downloading the Myfitnesspal app, she started developing dangerous behaviours once again.

It started innocuously enough, when English student Sarah downloaded the app to help herself keep fit.

She says: “I thought I’d start training for a race so I’d start exercising. So I got the app to track my exercise and food, and thought I’d get healthier. But the problem with the app is that you can ignore the advice it gives – like, not to eat less than 1200 cals a day, for instance – and set your own goal.

“I’d set it for 600 most days and get very upset if I went over. If I went over, I’d exercise compulsively.”

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Sarah before her recovery

As Sarah explains, for those who already have issues with food, apps which constantly remind you of your calorie intake and how much you’re exercising can be incredibly dangerous.

“Basically it encourages disordered behaviours because it let’s you set your calorie goal very low.

“It encourages you to log your food and exercise with pop up notifications, which is what your brain does when you have an eating disorder.”

The app had a massive effect on Sarah’s physical and mental health. She dropped a dramatic amount of weight and was irritable and depressed.

“I lost over 20 pounds. I’d have coffee for breakfast, salad for lunch and veggies and chicken for dinner. I’d have barely any carbs or fats, and being offered things like cheese and chocolate made me very upset because I couldn’t bring myself to eat them.

“I was moody and tired and sad all the time, I was cold and achey a lot too.”

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Sarah happy and healthy today

Finally, after a year, Sarah decided to see a therapist, who encouraged her to delete the app and explained it was hindering her recovery. It took her almost a year to recovery physically, while mentally she says she still has bad days and good days. But breaking the habit of relying on the app was more difficult.

“In early recovery I kept re-downloading it but then decided it was obvious I couldn’t keep it and recover at the same time. I’d say if you’ve never had an eating disorder or eating disordered thoughts, they’re ok to use so long as you are aware of the danger of becoming obsessed. If you’ve ever had one, I’d advise people to steer well clear

“I dont want anyone, girls or guys, getting into my position. It’s a shit place to be and if sharing this stops even one person from downloading these apps when they are having trouble with food, I’ll be happy.”