I'm confident that most of you reading this will have counted calories or macros at some point in time, and lots of you have probably tried an application on your phone or tablet to help you track them. Tracking apps, like My Fitness Pal, are relatively new so research on them is only emerging. So far, it doesn't look too good...
What does the research say about My Fitness Pal?
Seekaw & Melanie 2015
212 participants were randomised to receive usual weight loss treatment (control), or weight loss treatment and the My Fitness Pal App (MFP) (intervention).
After 3 months the weight changes were: control +0.54lb; intervention -0.06lb.
After 6 months the weight changes were: control =0.6lb; intervention -0.07lb.
These weight changes are not significant, i.e. one treatment was no better than the other, nor are they significant in terms of clinical significance, i.e. there was no change to blood pressure and health measures.
[also worth noting that of 107 participants using MFP, only 24 logged-in to the app in the final month].
Simpson & Mazzeo 2017
493 participants (college students).
Participants were asked about their use of fitness and calorie trackers.
Those who used calorie trackers reported increased eating concern and increased dietary restraint.
Calorie tracking was also associated with eating disorder symptoms.
Levinson et al 2017
105 participants with an eating disorder (mostly white females with an anorexia nervosa diagnosis).
71% in eating disorder treatment.
74% had used MFP.
73% said MFP contributed to their eating disorder somewhat.
63% said it moderately contributed, 30% said it very much contributed and 18% said it did not contribute.
There was an increase in eating disorder symptoms among those who reported that MFP use impacted their disordered eating, including increased increased shape concern, weight concern and eating restraint.
Linardon & Messer 2019
122 male participants
56% had used MFP.
40% perceived MFP as a contributing factor to disordered eating symptoms.
Use of MFP increased shape, weight and eating concerns, binge eating and dietary restraint.
All these research papers highlight the same message- use of fitness trackers contributes to disordered eating behaviours and thoughts. And sure, there aren't thousands of papers yet but it is quite unusual to have SUCH similarly negative results!
If the negative impact of these apps on eating behaviours wasn't enough to convince you that they are trash- what about the fact that it's use doesn't aid weight loss?? There is basically no benefit, but huge potential for harm.
I generally discourage my clients from using these apps, and from tracking their food intake in general. Your body knows how much food you need, you just have to trust that it will do it without an app!
If you do use, or have used, one of these apps, please take a minute to reflect on your experience. Did tracking help? Did it change your eating habits? Did it change or impact how/when/what you eat? How did the app impact your emotions?
Maybe you noticed no changes, or felt there were positive changes, or maybe you found it created problems for you. Just reflect on your experience and ask yourself if using it helped or hindered you. And feel free to share your thoughts with me in a comment or email (firstname.lastname@example.org)!
Lots of love,
Little O x
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