(Montreal) While it may prove beneficial and helpful for some, using apps and smartwatches to measure food intake and physical activity levels isn’t necessarily for everyone, warns the premiere. longitudinal study carried out on the subject.

Researchers at the CHUM Research Center have thus detected a correlation between the monitoring of diet and physical activity and compensatory behaviors and eating disorders.

In other words, while the use of these technologies can help some people eat better and move more, it can also encourage behaviors that are harmful to their health in others.

Basically, the use of applications and smart watches may seem logical, explained the author of the study, researcher Erin K. O’Loughlin of the CRCHUM, since it is by monitoring something that we can monitor progress and see if adjustments are needed.

“But that may not apply to everyone,” she added. It depends on the reasons why you want to track your lifestyle habits like this, or your psychological behaviors before using apps.

“Our findings indicate that there should be a nuanced approach and careful consideration of potential consequences when recommending these technologies. »

The researchers sifted through data from 676 young adults, some from 2017 to 2020 and some from 2021 to 2022. A third of participants revealed they had tracked their physical activity in the previous year, 14% their food and 10% both.

The study authors found that people who described themselves as overweight and those who were looking to lose weight were more likely than others to monitor their diet and level of physical activity.

The subjects most likely to monitor their diet were those who said they felt negative emotions related to their body appearance, as well as women.

Overeating was associated with diet tracking, and compensatory behaviors after overeating (such as vomiting, skipping a meal, exercise, or increased fruit and vegetable intake) were associated with both. forms of follow-up.

Likewise, study participants who were already paying close attention to their physical activity levels were more likely than others to use technology to monitor it even more closely, to make sure they were hitting their targets.

“There are potential negative consequences,” Ms. O’Louglin warned. If someone is reporting compensatory behaviors after perceiving they overeat […], it might not be to their benefit to use an app like that, because it increases focus on food. »

And if ever the user is still hungry, but the app deems that they have reached their maximum calories for the moment, one could eventually find themselves struggling with an eating disorder, she added.

So it’s important not to go with one-size-fits-all recommendations for the use of these technologies, O’Loughlin said. Whether it’s doctors, coaches, teachers, or even parents, “our study says that’s not the kind of thing to recommend before you really get to know an individual,” said Mrs. O’Loughlin.

“You have to know the psychological profile,” she said. Does the person ever have problems in their relationship with food? If someone wants to lose weight and they are in trouble, giving an app like this can exacerbate negative psychological behaviors. »

The findings of this study were published by the scientific journal Health Education