Calorie counting and fitness tracking technology: Associations with eating disorder symptomatology

Eat Behav. 2017 Aug;26:89-92. doi: 10.1016/j.eatbeh.2017.02.002. Epub 2017 Feb 9.

Abstract

The use of online calorie tracking applications and activity monitors is increasing exponentially. Anecdotal reports document the potential for these trackers to trigger, maintain, or exacerbate eating disorder symptomatology. Yet, research has not examined the relation between use of these devices and eating disorder-related attitudes and behaviors. This study explored associations between the use of calorie counting and fitness tracking devices and eating disorder symptomatology. Participants (N=493) were college students who reported their use of tracking technology and completed measures of eating disorder symptomatology. Individuals who reported using calorie trackers manifested higher levels of eating concern and dietary restraint, controlling for BMI. Additionally, fitness tracking was uniquely associated with ED symptomatology after adjusting for gender and bingeing and purging behavior within the past month. Findings highlight associations between use of calorie and fitness trackers and eating disorder symptomatology. Although preliminary, overall results suggest that for some individuals, these devices might do more harm than good.

Keywords: Calorie counting; Eating behavior; Fitness tracking; Health tracking technology.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Binge-Eating Disorder / psychology
  • Diet, Reducing / psychology
  • Eating / psychology*
  • Energy Intake*
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / psychology*
  • Female
  • Fitness Trackers / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Students / psychology
  • Students / statistics & numerical data
  • Young Adult