The movie “To the Bone” depicts the life of a young woman struggling with an eating disorder and has sparked much conversation about an illness that affects one in 10 Americans at some point in their lives. Now, an eating disorder app could help the two-thirds of people with eating disorders who never receive treatment due to stigma, lack of health insurance or lack of resources, said Claire Mysko, chief executive officer of the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA).
“The app makes it easy for people to get help in the moment they recognize that they need it,” Mysko said. “We want them to connect for help immediately, and this provides them with a simple way to do that.”
The Recovery Record app allows users to log meals, answer questions developed by clinicians and connect to professional help. It also offers an eight-week program aimed at recovery. Launched in February as a partnership between NEDA and the mobile mental health platform Recovery Record, it has already led to 50,000 views of NEDA’s helpline, Mysko said. It was developed with Stanford University and the National Institute of Mental Health, which provided a $1.2 million grant.
But the app cannot replace in-person treatment, said Jenna Tregarthen, co-founder and chief executive of Recovery Record.
“It is often years before people tell someone about their silent battle with eating disorders,” said Tregarthen, whose own sister kept her eating disorder from her family for three years. “With more than 80 percent of Americans now owning smartphones, we have an opportunity to provide immediate, private and evidence-based support. And we hope the app will break down barriers and empower more people to speak up and reach out as a result.”
Rebecca Blitzer, a certified eating disorder dietitian in Greenbelt, Md., also noted benefits from the app but echoed the importance of in-person counseling.
“My concern is not only that the person struggling with an eating disorder would stop using the app; it is that the person may not realize the importance of having an entire team in place to foster eating disorder recovery,” Blitzer said. “I am also concerned that using the app instead of getting a professional evaluation may make it easy for some people to stay in denial about the psychological and medical severity of the eating disorder.”
Lindsey Hall, who writes about struggling with her eating disorder on her blog I Haven’t Shaved in Six Weeks, said the app would be most useful to people on the cusp of coming to grips with their illness.
“The app has so much information, which is a great thing for anyone who is at the beginning of their recovery process,” she said. “It’s exactly like having a counselor sitting right there with you when you need help. This did not exist when I first came to terms with my eating disorder, and I wish it had.
“But I think the app gets less useful the further down the road you get into your recovery,” Hall added. “Although I’ll forever be struggling with my eating disorder, learning how to live in the moment and not be obsessed with logging in every meal along with your feelings, that’s also part of your recovery.”