I went into the Christmas period with the goal of not putting on weight. Long story short, I failed. In the past, I have been very fortunate to have a metabolism quick enough to remove the excess fat from my waist. It only required a slight modification in diet. In the last few years I have made the definitely new discovery, that, erm, metabolism slows with age.
No matter, I thought. I shall jump on the bandwagon with all the other health-focused people in January – hoping I don’t fall off before February. First stop, counting calories.
I thought to myself “Modern technology has surely progressed to the point where I didn’t have to count calories through pen and paper. There must be an app for it, right?“
The first app I came across looked promising. I didn’t even have to input any values into it. There was a huge database of foods waiting to be selected. Some were weirdly specific. There would be stuff like “[insert brand] Oats with half a banana, a tablespoon of chocolate peanut butter and an accidental pouring of too much soy milk because you were looking at your phone weren’t you? Gosh, you spilt it all over the counter too. No! What are you doing? Don’t leave it for later. Clean it up now! Jeez: 300 calories (-10 calories for the energy expended cleaning up the mess)”.
Okay. Maybe not that specific.
I swipe to the “home” tab, which gives me a summary of the day’s stats. Square in the middle of the page is a number: “1700”. It is followed by the recognised unit for calories: “kcal”. “What?” I think “The super specific oatmeal only totalled 300 calories. How am I up to 1700 already?” My eyes shift slightly to the right. One word sits there mocking me. A word that sums up everything wrong with calorie tracker apps: “remaining”.
How, I mean, how, does a fixed daily target help? Humans aren’t cars. You can’t just stick a pipe directly into our stomachs with a set amount of food each day!!
Wait – uhh, turns out actually you can. It’s called a “G-tube”. But that’s beside the point! I am lucky enough to not suffer from an eating disorder. Even I, though, can see how it might contribute to Bulemia disorder, for instance. Somehow, I don’t think a daily target number that could accidentally be surpassed is a grand idea for someone who has a tendency to remove previously ingested food.
It got worse too. The number was sitting next to a really “helpful” progress bar. To ensure you are left in perpetual anxiety over everything you eat. Oh. looky here, the bar is too close to the end for my planned dinner – guess I’ll just starve!
The worst part was the app wouldn’t allow me to remove the target. In fact, the app didn’t contain a sum total for the number of calories I had eaten that day – just what was remaining of my “target”. Yes, you heard me right. This calorie tracker couldn’t actually track calories.
I delete the app and try the next one off the infinite app store shelf. “Great, Another target“. Delete. Next App: Target. Delete… Target. Delete. Target. Delete. Target. Delete.
“Oh my gosh, all of them have fixed targets!“. I couldn’t believe it. I gave up at this point and went the old-fashioned way.
Look. Given I’ve only just started tracking calories, I’m not the greatest authority on the matter. But, having suffered mental health problems and mental illness for the last decade, my “bad for mental health” buzzers were deafening.
All I wanted was an app that counted and recorded how many calories I was eating per day. As a bonus, maybe one that would give me the nutrients (only to make sure that I was getting sufficient macro and micronutrients for the day as I undergo the experimental process of changing diets). I would’ve taken one that gave me a daily range e.g. from 2000-2200 kcal. Maybe even an app that gave me a weekly target.
Surprisingly, despite the state of my brain, I have the ability to remember a single number. I don’t need an app to persistently remind me what this number is and how close I am getting towards it as the day goes on. As I continue my recovery, I hope to be able to go meet up with friends again, eat out and find myself in situations, travelling on a train maybe (if the UK infrastructure hasn’t collapsed by then), where a quick snack is necessary.
Some days I am going to eat a bit too many calories. Some days, I won’t eat quite enough. As long as I keep my average just below my calorie deficit (as long as it is a narrow distribution), and ensure I keep exercising regularly, I am confident I will lose weight.
It depresses me to think about how many people are unnecessarily obsessing over every little flawed energy unit of food as a result of these ridiculous apps. There are many people in the world that have to meticulously track what they eat. Diabetics, for instance. It isn’t much fun! Coercing healthy, vulnerable people into doing the same is immoral at the very least.
Apps need regulation. Why do I have the feeling it isn’t going to happen anytime soon?