When people talk about how hard eating disorder treatment is, it’s not often the actual sessions with a therapist or dietitian or the meal group they’re attending that they’re talking about. It’s usually the time in between session that poses the biggest challenges for individuals working their way into recovery. And while the meetings with providers can help guide someone on the right path, it’s generally the time outside of those meetings that make up the steps to real recovery. That’s when real life happens.
Real life is hard work, and it’s the stuff that challenges all the plans and commitments made in the safety of a therapist’s office. Whether it’s developing a plan to utilize a coping skill or practicing mindful eating at each meal, memory and motivation can easily wane when someone finds himself on his own.
That’s why both professionals and recovered people alike decided that there had to a better way to help people stay connected and committed to their goals. If only there was a device that was nearly always with you that could track data and send alerts… and maybe it could even make calls too? Oh, yes! Your mobile phone!
Many individuals with eating disorders are downloading a secret weapon in their battle against their eating disorder. Tucked between their Instagram account and Candy Crush are mobile apps that are helping these individuals stay on track. There are a number of apps out there, but some of the most popular include Take Control, Recovery Record, and Rise Up + Recover.
How do they work? They harnass several of the factors that we believe are important to recovery and make them completely mobile. They center heavily around the concept of self-monitor, meaning that users can document things like what they ate for each meal, if they engaged in any eating disorder behaviors, and if they were able to practice copings skills. Many of the apps will offer positive reinforcement — a virtual high-five — when, for example, someone practices mindful eating.
Some apps allow that accountability extend to an individuals providers’ as well, allowing their progress and struggles to be seen in real-time by their therapists or dietitians. This can not only save time in the next session, but it gives more accurate and thorough information to the people who need it.
Apps can also help track your moods, eating patterns, and other factors and alert you if you are at high risk to engage in binge eating, for example. Many people with eating disorders report feeling that the time before a binge episode feels like their on “autopilot,” so getting a notification that to proceed with caution and reminder to go engage in some self-care could help stave off the behaviors before they begin.
Most of the app creators caution that they apps are most helpful in conjunction with traditional treatment, at least right now. A team at Drexel University will soon be studying if these apps could replace certain aspects of treatment at some point. In the meantime, though, apps can provide a great avenue of additional and unique support outside of the therapy room.
Nothing is a panacea, of course, and one of the issues that these apps’ developers are facing is that users sometimes abandon them not long after downloading. That’s where, I believe, using them as a tool in your ongoing treatment will help. When your therapist is checking in and helping facilitate the use, retention is likely to improve. And just like in therapy, it’s up to the individual to be honest and open when logging meals or determining the trigger for a purging episode.
But for individuals who are ready and willing and confront their eating disorder, apps can provide an effective, efficient, real-time tool.
Have you ever used a recovery app? If so, what was your experience like? If not, would you ever consider it?