Dieters have a new secret weapon in the battle of the bulge. Thanks to the smartphone and its instant technology, eating right has finally become an easy choice. New applications can help calculate caloric intake and provide on-the-go nutritional information.
But while this tool is helping some people lose weight in a healthy manner, doctors are worried that in the wrong hands, it can be dangerous.
Lara Pence, a clinical psychologist and clinical supervisor at the Renfrew Center, an eating disorder treatment center in Dallas, is seeing increased use, and abuse of these applications.
"I think that it's tying into the eating disorder mentality of making sure that you know everything that's going into your body, having those obsessive thoughts of calorie counting, keeping track of your weight, keeping track of what goes in and what goes out through exercise," Pence said.
Application Addition: Calorie Counting Application Controls One Girl's Life
Growing up with two brothers didn't help Hannah Kula's relationship with food.
"Food was always clean your plate, finish it all up. There wasn't really another option," Kula said. "Looking at myself when I came to high school I felt like I was a little bit chubby. You start to notice maybe the girls don't eat as much as boys."
It wasn't until Kula, now 20, went away to college that her eating disorder fully developed.
"It was obsessive calorie counting," Kula said. "I pushed away friends I could have had and pushed away friends I still had and ended those relationships. My eating disorder just took over."
When she discovered an application that could help her keep track of her calories, she soon became hooked.
"Just having that technology right there at my fingertips, I could get everything that my eating disorder needed," Kula said. "I could cut down on my weight and control what my body looked like, and that's what I wanted."
The app soon took control of Kula's life. She checked calorie content at every meal, especially when eating out. And browsing nutritional information became a constant diversion.
"It's like, well, if I go to this place, what's the best thing to get when I'm there? You know, what's something that has the lowest fat in it when I go there, just to be safe?" said Kula.
Calorie Concern to Calorie Obsession
According to Pence, Kula's application addiction was typical for girls with eating disorders.
"I think a lot of these women will sometimes download the applications just thinking that it's something fun for them to have and something that they can keep track of," Pence explained.
"I think before they know it, it's become something that's spiraled out of control. It's something that starts out small but grows into an extreme, and that's when it becomes a problem."
And for Kula, that problem had reached its peak.
"It became to where I needed it. I had to have it, and I was anxious without it," she recalled. "I took that tool and used it in the wrong way, and it was very harmful to myself. I used it to hurt myself when I know it could be helping others."
That realization helped Kula come out to her parents, a revelation that did not shock her mother.
"My mom had addressed before that she was concerned with magazines I was looking at and always wanting to work out and stuff like that.
"She always said, 'Hannah, that's not feasible. Those people don't even look like that.' And I guess learning about the calorie counting and everything, I realized that wasn't gonna help me. It wasn't gonna help me live."
Kula is now fighting back, seeking help for her eating disorder at the Renfrew Center. She's following a meal plan and has stopped using her smartphone application. She hopes all of these changes will help shape her from the inside out.
"I had lost myself in what I thought I should be," she said. And now I'm kind of just refinding myself and who I am."
For now, Kula continues to take life minute by minute and meal by meal.