1. ITV Report

Calorie counter and fitness app MyFitnessPal could fuel eating disorders among vulnerable people

Health experts and charities have warned people with eating disorders to "do anything you can to avoid" calorie counting apps.

They claim the devices, such as MyFitnessPal, can be dangerous for those trying to fight the mental illness.

Evie Walker became so unwell after using MyFitnessPal to record her food she could no longer walk to the shops - and was eventually hospitalised.

My heartbeat I could feel was really irregular and that's when I was scared of going to sleep. I didn't want to die but I was essentially killing myself.

– Evie Walker
Evie is still dangerously underweight.

She has been living with an eating disorder for more than a decade. Dangerously underweight - she says she used the calorie counting app Myfitnesspal to record what she ate.

But, despite receiving a notice on the app telling her she had eaten below the recommended level she chose instead to use it as a badge of honour.

Evie says she's now using the App to try and regain weight. While many experts add that it can be used in a positive way to help those with, and without, eating disorders.

Renee McGregor, an eating disorder dietician, adds: "The problem with an eating disorder mindset is that they will always try and beat everything.

"That sense of undercutting almost feels like a badge of honour and it feels like I can survive on less than what everyone else is saying."

MyFitnessPal does have protective features - it warns those who record too few calories to review their goals.

It also restricts people from entering a target BMI below 18.5 - the level considered underweight.

Its parent company Under Armour says it's committed to encouraging healthy fitness goals, eating habits and weight management among its users.

Under Armour is committed to encouraging healthy fitness goals, eating habits, weight management and wellness of our MyFitnessPal users. We strive to create an experience and a community in which users can achieve their goals toward a healthier lifestyle.

To promote these goals, the MyFitnessPal app has features that account for user weight, BMI goals, calorie consumption, activity, sleep and more. It also employs specific safeguards to reduce its attraction for individuals attempting to use it to enable detrimental eating behaviours.

For example, MyFitnessPal has protective features to detect and redirect potentially vulnerable user behaviour including: · Users who complete their daily diary with too few calories would be encouraged to review their goals and are informed that a congratulatory post would not be generated for that day. · Users attempting to sign up with a goal weight that would put their BMI under 18.5 (considered “underweight”) would be re-directed to a weight gain or maintenance goal. · Our Terms & Condition of Use are also clear that we do not promote unsafe weight-loss techniques.

– Under Armour spokesperson
MyFitnessPal says it has protective features to detect and redirect potentially vulnerable user behaviour.

Runner Amy Sole says the app left her in fear of eating more than her target calories for three years when she downloaded it while in the midst of an eating disorder.

She would often wake up in the night, trying to work out her meals in advance to ensure she only ate what was necessary.

You're down to counting really silly things like you've eaten one grape, oh record the grape.

That was very negative because I wouldn't just spontaneously eat, everything was going in that app. Every single day.

– Amy Sole

Eating Disorder charities say more could be done to protect vulnerable users.

We'd encourage those with or at risk of an eating disorder to do everything they can to avoid those apps.

We would encourage the manufacturers of them to seriously consider how to make the risks smaller

– Tom Quinn, Beat

As the obsession of logging every single piece of food became too much, Amy sought medical care and is now recovered - but realises it could have been much worse.

She says she would warn others with eating disorders against calories counting apps:

"I'd say don't use it. It's the one that's probably worse for people than anything else I think. I lost five years of my life.

"I had things like my 30th Birthday, things that should have been a real celebration of your life and things and I missed it all.

"So that's the saddest thing, I'll never get that back."


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