Do Fitness Trackers Impact Eating Disorder Recovery?

Woman checking her phone's browser for dysfunctional eating behaviors

Recently, fitness tracking watches have become part of the debate as to whether technology is helping or hurting people’s relationships with themselves, their bodies, and food. These devices track and record user’s “daily physical activity, which includes…calories burned, heart rate, and steps taken [1].”

Manufacturing and usage of these trackers are based on “research indicating that self-regulation motivates behavioral change [1].” Those in the eating disorder awareness and treatment realm, however, know firsthand the damage that can come from self-regulating and micromanaging behaviors.

Potential Harm in Fitness Trackers for ED Community

There is concern over the impact these devices may have on triggering, or worsening, eating disorders. Many have shared their experiences with using fitness trackers during eating disorder treatment. In fact, a term has been developed that describes “the compulsive behavior normalized by the popularity of health technology: ‘Techorexia’ [1].”

One of the biggest concerns regarding fitness trackers is the emphasis they place on numbers, something one attempts to free themselves of in eating disorder treatment. Quantifying calories burned and steps taken is dangerous enough for someone in recovery. However, these numbers may also begin to symbolize more than intended. Users in eating disorder recovery are likely to tie their self-worth with their ability to reach these numbers. The user may have ceased weighing their food or counting the calories they consume, but counting those they burn can be just as dangerous.

These trackers are also likely to motivate users to push themselves. Users will receive a reminder to “move” each hour if they haven’t done so enough. The feelings of guilt and failure that can results from not achieving a numerical goal can also occur in this instance, by making the user feel “lazy” each hour.

Research on Fitness Trackers and Food Behaviors

Researchers are working to push beyond the speculative risks associated with these devices in order to determine if they truly pose a danger.

Friends exercise with their fitness trackersA 2017 study found health tracking technology to be associated with certain eating disorder symptoms, “specifically, regular calorie tracking is linked with eating concern and dietary restraint [1].” This study also found fitness tracking to be strongly associated with ED symptoms.

While fitness trackers are not dangerous to all, there are more intuitive and less harmful ways for people to track their health. Learning to listen to our bodies is a powerful tool in recovery.

When we take a minute to assess how our body is feeling, we can pinpoint areas that need care, determine when and how we feel our bodies need to move, and recognize when we are hungry. Our bodies communicate all of these things to us, but we often forget how to listen.

Protect yourself in recovery by learning to communicate with, and understand, your body. No technological device can tell you what you need as well as your body can.

Community Discussion – Share Your Voice!

How have you learned to better communicate with your body while in eating disorder recovery?  Connect with others to discuss further on Eating Disorder Hope’s online forum today!

Image of Margot Rittenhouse.About the Author: Margot Rittenhouse is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.

As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.


[1] Simpson, C. C., Mazzeo, S. E. (2017). Calorie counting and fitness tracking technology: associations with eating disorder symptomatology. Eating Behaviors, 26, 89-92.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published May 29, 2017.
Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on
May 25, 2017.
Published on