The Dark Side of Health Apps

There is a fine line between body dysmorphia and healthy habits, especially when it comes to media and technology. Various media portrayals show us a certain body type we are expected to obtain, while fitbits, diet trackers, activity trackers, apps and smart phones remind us what we need to change in our live. It seems as if we are simultaneously celebrated and shamed for taking notice of our bodies in any way.

While I am not the owner of a Fitbit-like device, I did recently get an iPhone 8, which comes with an updated health app that will track activity, mindfulness, nutrition and sleep. While I did go through a rough period when it came to how I viewed my body, I can proudly say I have reached a stage where I embrace my body the way it is, but this hasn’t stopped me from wanting to remain healthy, both physically and mentally.  When I learned about the health app, I thought it could be useful, an extra way to track my progress or to motivate myself. 

Admittedly, the mindfulness and sleep trackers are a new, and positive addition to health trackers. Without as clear a negative side, as found with dieting and working out, I have found the mindfulness and sleep trackers to be a useful reminder of healthy habits and activities to incorporate into my lifestyle. However, just as quickly as I grew to love those trackers, I grew wary of the nutrition and activity trackers. 

Each of the four parts of the health data trackers come with suggested affiliated apps, apps that you can use on the phone, on fitbits or apple watches. And yet most of the affiliated apps didn’t actually do what I was hoping they would. Most of the apps I found were essentially weight trackers, dieting apps, or overused pictures of skinny women baring their midriffs with the words “bikini body” somewhere in the description. Sure, I want to look good, but more importantly, I don’t want to feel shamed for loving how I look right now, rather than loving how I might look in the future. I couldn’t find many nutrition apps that did not immediately promise to help you lose weight, rather than focusing on eating well for your body, without sacrificing food of any type or quantity. They all revolved around weight rather than balanced eating. Eating healthy is absolutely important, but not because the goal should be a thinner body, but because the food you put into your body is essential for energy and to function.

While I am interested in keeping active, I don’t want to be using apps that predominately suggest weight lose tips or are structured around a weight-related goal. It is startling to realize that even under the guise of ‘healthy living,’ there are constant reminders of how we don’t fit the perfect mold. Surprising, perhaps not, but startling nonetheless. Maybe some of you readers have found those perfect apps that don’t sacrifice mental wellbeing for physical fitness, but all I can tell you is that at first, and second glance, those apps and health-related paraphernalia are not easy to access. Mental and physical health are heavily entertwined, and it is essential that the companies behind these products begin to recognize this fact and act accordingly.