How to eat well: Are these apps advisable?

By Ian Marber, December 6, 2012

Anyone with teenage children will know that smart phones require attention. So much so that they seem to have to be checked every five minutes.

Adults can be just as keen to glue themselves to a small screen — aside from urgent emails and text messages, there’s social media, bank balances, the weather, the news etc, all of which need to be checked regularly just in case something has happened.

You can get apps for practically anything you can think of, and some make life easier, while others just give you yet one more thing to do. For those of us who have lost the ability to make food decisions for ourselves, the giants of the weight-loss industry have a range of apps too, so that even choosing food or eating a meal requires time spent staring at a phone. WeightWatchers have a new app in the offing that gives advice on how to “minimise challenging food situations”.

It has long been understood that we don’t make food decisions just because we are hungry, and that various other issues will influence eating. These include reward, compensation, guilt, rebellion, power and control, although there are a multitude of other possible feelings that play a role. The app offers support and advice, some of which is as basic as keeping a food diary or chewing gum to stop you picking when cooking a meal.

I am sure that this counsel is sound for many people, but for me it perpetuates two notions that I am uncomfortable with. The first is that food is something to be feared and controlled, without any reference to pleasure, flavour, or even the social aspects of eating that add something positive to life.

The second is more worrying — this sort of guidance reinforces the idea that human beings are gluttonous and out-of-control, who would eat without any self-monitoring.

I wholeheartedly support weight-loss groups as research shows that the group dynamic can be very positive, but any advice that patronises the individual while allowing them to think they are at fault should be left alone.

Some people do have problems around eating, but for the majority, food is not to be feared, and the chances of you being really out-of-control are about the same as a teenager deciding not to check their phone for a few days.

Ian Marber is one of the UK’s most highly regarded nutrition experts and the author of 11 books.

Last updated: 10:26am, December 7 2012