On MyFitnessPal and the Millions of Other Wellness Apps in Life

I debated writing this post for days now. Partly because the topic is incredibly personal, and partly because nobody really wants to listen to somebody that appears healthy complain about fitness/calorie/exercise tracking apps. Then I realized that there is a very good chance that I am not alone. Somebody else out there could very well be experiencing the same feelings that I am and not know how to put it into words. This is for them. This is also for those who assume that skinny equals healthy and that physical health automatically guarantees complete and total wellness.

I have been what one might consider an athlete for the majority of my life. My parents put me in gymnastics when I was 3, and I participated in some form of organized sport (soccer, cross country, track) until I left for college. Once I got to college, I continued to run on my own as a form of stress management. In 2009, I had knee surgery. That’s when I started to struggle.

Between 2009 when I had my knee surgery and 2011 when I graduated from college, I gained 40 pounds. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t a size 2. I was not big by any means, but in my new body I felt wrong. The first time I looked at myself in a full length mirror, I couldn’t figure out why nobody had bothered to say anything to me about my weight gain. Looking back, I realize it was probably only really noticeable to me. Regardless, after that day, I downloaded MyFitnessPal to track my calorie intake, purchased a Wii so that I could do Zumba at home, and started running again. Over the course of the next year, I managed to lose around 30 pounds while obsessively tracking every calorie that went into my body with an app on my phone that told me at the end of every day approximately how much I would weigh in a matter of weeks if I maintained that particular intake.

I always assumed that once I got to whatever my determined goal weight was, I would be able to stop tracking my calories and go about my life as happy, skinny person once again. I was wrong. I continued to track my food. I initiated various training regimens that resulted a few injuries. Never once did I consult a nutritionist or doctor to find out what would be healthy for me. Nor did I consult a trainer to determine healthy fitness goals and ways to reach them without injury. After all, as a former athlete, I should know everything by now, right? I carried on this cycle of behaviors through 2 years of grad school. The thought in the back of my head was always, “Remember what happened last time you stopped paying attention because you were in school?”

Recently I realized something while watching a documentary on eating disorders. The way in which we have come to track our diets and exercise down to the last detail would have been considered disordered just a few short years ago. Compulsive exercising. Food diaries. Obsessing over every last calorie. I also realized that I wasn’t happy. I couldn’t eat anything without wondering how many calories were in it. If I was too tired to run or workout, I felt guilty for taking a few days off. I had an app on my phone that gave me points for tracking my food and exercise. When you reach a certain point total, they mail you a check. They are incentivizing behaviors that for me had begun to border on unhealthy.

I don’t say all of this to say that these wellness apps are bad. They aren’t. For people that are using them appropriately to attain fitness and wellness goals, they are great. I know a number of people who have changed their lives for the better with the use of these apps. I say this to say, that for some people, people like me, they can be dangerous. I started pretending to be reading an email when I was really inputting calorie data. I started telling people that I only tracked calories to make sure I was getting enough. I realized it was time to stop.

Yesterday for the sake of my overall wellness and my mental health, I deleted MyFitnessPal, MapMyFitness, and AchieveMint from my phone. I still wear a FitBit and have Nike Running and Nike Training Club on my phone, but not for any calorie tracking purposes. My new rule: As long as my clothes still fit and I feel good, I will be ok.

Everything in moderation, my friends.


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