Calorie counter apps are dangerous

Calorie counter app

There are more and more applications that offer accurate monitoring tools for some health indicators. Counting daily steps, calories and physical activity if on the one hand offers greater awareness of one’s lifestyle, on the other it can present many health risks.

How do calorie counting apps work?

With the increase in the use of smartphones and tablets, they have been developed and popularized numerous applications to monitor daily behavior in the field of health and nutrition.
In fact, there are apps that allow you to evaluate certain health parameters, such as taking physical activity into account, counting steps and recording your daily food intake in order to calculate your caloric intake. In particular, they are widespreade “app contacalorie”that is, applications that allow you to record the caloric intake of individual meals and set weight goals, monitoring the trend with graphs and percentages and dividing the food according to different parameters.

The goal of these tools is to offer support for the management of calories consumed daily and evaluate the distribution of the relative nutrients, providing useful data to gain greater awareness of one’s diet and lifestyle. In fact, many studies have highlighted the benefits of these measurements in managing one’s health. But, although these applications are very useful for getting to know some data better, their use can encourage dysfunctional psychological modalities, such as, for example, hypercriticism, perfectionism or obsession.

The daily use of applications that check in detail the calories introduced can promote excessive worry behaviors, dysfunctional nutrition and promote mechanisms typical of eating disorders. In fact, recent research has shown that constant calorie monitoring through these apps is often associated with eating disorders.

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The risks of strict calorie tracking

When, rather than flexibly adopting the general guidelines applied to our personal condition, absolute and highly selective food rules are followed, a control mechanism can be triggered which can often lead to the implementation of a “strict diet”, that is, a rigid diet characterized by many rules.

The constant preoccupation with food and emotional stress consequent, trigger the so-called “cognitive dietary restriction”that is, a way of thinking that encourages a dysfunctional approach to one’s way of eatingeffectively leading to restrictions, binge eating and guilt, even when there is no actual calorie restriction.

According to some studies, calorie counting apps can promote the adoption of a restrictive and unbalanced diet, therefore, they should not be used by anyone who may develop an eating disorder. The rigid monitoring defined by these apps leads, in fact, to overestimating the importance of body shape and triggering constant control of one’s weight, values ​​and lifestyle metrics.

In a study by Linardon and Messer, participants who used calorie-counting apps showed higher levels of food control and concern with frequent binge eating and compensatory behaviors. In another study by Levinson, Fewell, and Brosof, 73% of people said that the calorie counter app contributed at least some part to the development of their eating disorder.

It seems, therefore, that the use of certain applications can help trigger or maintain some patterns typical of eating disorderssuch as dichotomous thinking, overestimation of body weight and shape, dietary restriction and subsequent binge eating. It is not possible to determine the existence of a causal relationship between the use of calorie counting apps and the onset of eating disorders, but it is now certain that the high use of calorie monitoring tools leads to consolidating behaviors connected to food disorders.

If the use of calorie counter apps is not carefully managed, it can generate a highly rigid approach resulting in strict diets, extreme physical exercise sequences, body dissatisfaction and a sense of failure for the times when the set table is not fully respected. If we consider calories as an aspect to be over-controlled at all times, any behavior outside the pattern will be seen as a “slack” that must be deserved or compensated for.
The use of calorie counting apps can, therefore, trigger, maintain, exacerbate the symptoms of eating disorders.
In the light of these data, it is important to spread greater awareness of the risks deriving from the use of these apps and their dangers to the health of those who use them.

Counting calories: a dangerous business

In recent years, the market for body parameters control devices has grown rapidly, generating considerable profits. In fact, within our society, calorie restriction is an aspect that is often valued and confused for an indicator of merit of the person or of his “willpower”; conversely, loosening calorie control and consuming meals outside of one’s plans is often considered a “failure” or a symptom of “weakness.”

We are constantly exposed to ahypercritical attention towards the aesthetics of bodies, through the diffusion of unattainable models of perfection or erroneous messages, such as, for example, the encouragement to undertake detox diets after each holiday or the invitation to “pass” the “costume test” as best as possible. These formulas trigger a continued frustration with one’s fitness, pushing, in some cases, to adopt a highly rigid lifestyle based on sacrifices and deprivations.

In fact, in order to establish a truly healthy and conscious relationship with our body, rather than promoting practices like restraint or self-control, it matters educate to better listen to our needs, lfree from feelings of guilt, sacrifice, merit or rigidity. If one abandons the guilt-inducing vision of certain foods, which are considered “blunders” to be condemned or compensated for, one could adopt a more welcoming attitude, in which the variations to the scheme can be accepted as natural and necessary moments within a general style of sustainable life. Therefore, it is important to improve and protect your personal psycho-physical balanceabandon the concept of sacrifice and restriction and learn to listen to your body with flexibility, without ignoring its signals just because, at times, they are unfavorable to the imposed metrics.

We are much more than a number on the scale, a graph at the end of a meal, a vote at the end of the day: the obsessive verification of all the parameters related to our health and body aesthetics is unsustainable for the person as a whole. Food is not just calories and macronutrients: a more curious and less guilty approach to nutrition will lead to more effective results from the point of view of health, both in its physical and mental dimension.

In light of the above, it is therefore important to underline how each person and each stage of life has its own specific needs. Calorie counter applications cannot replace the assessments and personalized programs proposed by health professionals. In the context of lifestyle, it is of fundamental importance to consider individual needs, physical and psychological, as priorities, and adapt them clinically to the individual’s medium and long-term goals. Only with the help of one or more professionals will it be possible to define and evaluate certain aspects of one’s health in a safe way, this being not only a set of data and statistics, but a state of general, physical, but also mental and social well-being.


  • Ellison, JM., Wonderlich, SA., Engel, SG. Application of modern technology in eating disorder assessment and intervention. In: Walsh, TB.Attia, E.Glasofer, DR., Sysko, R., editors. Handbook of assessment and treatment of eating disorders. Arlington: American Psychiatric Association Publishing.
  • Evans D. My fitness pal. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2016.
  • Dalle Grave R. & Calugi S. (2017). Cognitive dietary restriction: the problem of its measurement. State of Mind.
  • Juarascio AS, Manasse SM, Goldstein SP, Forman EM, Butryn ML. Review of smartphone applications for the treatment of eating disorders. European Eating Disorders Review. 2015.
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  • Linardon J, Messer M. My fitness pal usage in men: Associations with eating disorder symptoms and psychosocial impairment. Eat Behav. 2019.
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