Tracking apps and tracking traps

By February 11, 2017Exercise, Food & Body

I’ve collaborated with the super funny, beautiful and all round ace Cait to write about our love/hate experiences with tracking apps. I’ve been so impressed by Cait’s writing that I’m honoured she agreed to delving into this with me! You can find Cait on her brilliant blog and also in the realm of Insta.

I have an addictive personality. I don’t mean you will become addicted to me (lol you might) but I’ve always become very quickly addicted and obsessive with things. My relationship with tracking apps was a ticking time bomb from the start but I was blissfully unaware about how much they would affect me. The first tracking app I used was My Fitness Pal. I had dived into the 5:2 diet where you fast for 2 days and eat maximum 500 calories and on the other 5 days you eat normally, (Just writing that made my stomach churn). My Fitness Pal was the perfect way for keep an eye on this but all it ended up doing was showing me how depressingly little 500 calories is. I’d scrimp and save calories to make the numbers work on fast days and on normal days, if I had any calories “left over” you bet I was gonna fill them. I had taken my intuition completely out of the equation, I spent my days logging everything that I ate and then exercising to make up for any mishaps that took me over the perfect calorie fresh hold. It was hell. When I stopped doing the 5:2 diet and resolved to eat healthily, I was still controlled by My Fitness Pal, now that the fast day shackles were off I was determined to eat the very most I could each day and then exercise like mad to make sure I had reserves for the weekend. I became so anxious about food and the app didn’t even have all of the things I was eating on its database so I’d spend time working out their calorie values and inputting it that way. I was the life and soul of any social occasion surrounding food (eye roll).

I think that any tracking app to do with fitness and/or food can have an effect on your mood. It definitely depends on the individual’s personality and history but for me any numerical target I can cling to would define my day. Like the scales, if I stepped on them in the morning and saw a “good” number I was happy and would eat whatever I wanted and then feel bad and end up binging. If I stepped on them in the morning and saw a “bad” number, I would feel like a failure, decide to never eat again…and end up binging. It was exactly the same with tracking apps. I thought that using them would mean I would be in control of my situation when in reality it was the polar opposite. I became completely disconnected with my intuition because my body wasn’t guiding my decisions, the numbers were. Another important thing to mention here, is the audience factor. Is the reason our society is so obsessed with tracking apps because other people can see what they’re doing? I’ve never been someone who links up everything to my social media but I regularly see screenshots from running apps or gym selfies take over my Newsfeed and Instagram page. Does this mean that people are truly using apps for ‘health’ and personal development only or because they want to impress whoever is watching? This puts a whole other dimension on pressure to exercise or eat in a certain way when in actual fact no one cares if you’re scoffing a 12 pack of Krispy kremes instead of going to the gym..actually, I’d probably consider you a hero.

Other tracking apps I have used include Steps+, Period calendar and Strava. Although these apps have their flaws, apart from the period calendar because it’s pretty cool when you’re menstrual cycle is screwed… because of diets (but that’s a blog post for another day) to be able to try and make sense of what’s happening in your ovaries, it is My Fitness Pal that had the biggest control over me. I love hitting goals, I always have to-do lists on the go just for the sweet satisfaction of ticking things off and I’ve even written things down that I’ve ALREADY DONE just so I can tick them and be off to a good start.. it’s ridiculous and that is why these sort of apps can go so wrong for me. I’ve now gone cold turkey on the Steps+ app because I could feel myself obsessing over the numbers again and my eyes kept wandering to the calories burnt figure and that is a recipe for disaster. I enjoy using Strava to track my different running routes but I can see how easily I could slip into old habits so I am trying to keep myself in check and recognise when something is doing more harm to my relationship with my body than good.

I reached out on Instagram because I wanted this to be a balanced post. I wanted to know about people’s positive experience of using fitness/food apps but the responses I received were harrowing. I’m not writing this to say that if you use tracking apps then you are doomed but for me, they only caused more stress. You have to focus on what is right for you. Can you have a healthy relationship with food and your body whilst tracking everything you eat and everything you do? I’m not sure. This is based purely on my own experience and I’m not here to judge if it is something that works for you and I mean really truly works for you. Like, you’re doing this because it genuinely improves your quality of life but it isn’t something that you feel like you have to do? If you freak out of the thought of not being able to track because then it feels like whatever you’re doing isn’t worth it.. maybe there’s a problem.

I wish there could be a new generation of tracking apps that we could all become obsessed with. My ideas are tracking how many good deeds you do in a day, how many different ice-cream flavours you can eat in a month or how many days you can not panic about diets . BUT, is there any good in any of these things if the intention behind it is to hit a predetermined target or for boasting rights and not just because it feels good? I’m not sure.

Image at the top by the brilliant Frances Cannon. 

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