Monitoring eating and activity: Links with disordered eating, compulsive exercise, and general wellbeing among young adults

Int J Eat Disord. 2018 Nov;51(11):1270-1276. doi: 10.1002/eat.22966. Epub 2018 Dec 3.


Objective: To explore the relationships between the use of food intake and activity monitoring tools with compulsive exercise, eating psychopathology, and psychological wellbeing.

Method: Participants (N = 352; mean age 21.90 years) indicated their use of activity and food intake monitoring tools, and completed the Compulsive Exercise Test (CET), Eating Disorders Examination Questionnaire (EDE-Q), and the Warwick Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (WEMWBS).

Results: Users of monitoring tools reported significantly higher CET and EDE-Q scores than nonusers. Positive associations were detected between the frequency of activity monitoring tool use with CET and EDE-Q scores. Participants who reported using monitoring tools primarily to manage weight and shape reported higher levels of eating and compulsive exercise psychopathology than those who reported using tools to improve health and fitness.

Discussion: Features of compulsive exercise and eating psychopathology are elevated among users of food intake and activity monitoring tools; and particularly among those who report using the tools for weight and shape purposes. Longitudinal and experimental research is needed to further our understanding of these observed associations, and specifically to explore the prospective relationships between monitoring tool use, eating psychopathology, and compulsive exercise.

Keywords: calorie counting; compulsive exercise; disordered eating; mental health; tracking apps.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Compulsive Behavior / psychology*
  • Exercise / psychology*
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prospective Studies
  • Psychopathology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult