I had sort of been aware of the fasting apps being advertised on Facebook and Instagram, I suppose. I was aware that they were there, but it hadn’t really twigged because my pages always seem full of advertisements for diets (I guess that this is because I am a twenty-eight year old female who spends a lot of time looking at clothes and reading rubbish articles about celebrities on the internet). Then, a friend posted a status saying how upset she’d been by the adverts for two fasting apps – programs (for the uninitiated) for smart phones – and I remembered that I’d seen a video showing how easy they were to use.
If there’s one thing I know about in life it’s BMIs. Having been in various forms of BMI-based treatment for the last eight years, and obsessed by my own weight for the last ten, I’m fairly adept at working out what’s healthy and what’s not. The video I had seen had shown the app being programmed with a completely normal and healthy height/weight combination and then shown it being described as ‘overweight’. I’m not sure I even need to waste a sentence explaining how awful this is – I am lucky, I suppose: I can look at the advert and realise straight away that it’s wrong. Most people would see a weight and height close to their own and assume that they have a problem that needs solving.
I find, in principle, the apps deeply unsettling and the trend of ‘fasting’ terrifying in the extreme. Nobody needs to deprive their bodies of food. It will not achieve anything sustainable, or healthy. It is not a way of creating a healthier body, or a healthier mind. I thought carefully about whether it were safe for me to download two of the most popular apps to find out more about how they worked; whether they were as toxic as the advertisements made them appear. In practice, I hate to boast, but I could provide myself with an incredible and speedy weight-loss fasting diet if I chose (which I don’t). I already have the skills (or the sk-illness), so the app is of absolutely no use to me. I am also unaware of my own weight – and have been for five years – , so any information I entered into the apps, apart from my height, would be entirely fictional. I know exactly what a healthy weight is for my body, and what an unhealthy weight is. Having weighed up the risks and benefits, I decided to take the plunge and download both of the apps.
Upon opening the first app, it asked me what I was using it for and gave me options such as ‘weight-loss’, ‘to detox’, ‘to feel healthier’, and – most oddly – ‘to live a longer life’.. I decided to be very dishonest and select all the answers for everything as I never really got out of the ‘excited to be pressing the buttons’ stage. Then I was asked to record my height and my weight. I know my height and was able to enter that, although the app immediately judges you as being either ‘tall’ or ‘small’. When it came to entering my weight, I tried a couple. I suppose one positive is that, if you enter a weight which is deemed ‘unhealthily low’, the app refuses to move forward, instead encouraging you to visit a doctor.
I entered a healthy weight and carried on. Next, I was asked what my ‘goal weight’ is. I decided to go all in and entered a weight at which my hair fell out and I got pressure sores from lying down. The app had no problem with this, and immediately told me it had conjured up a plan for me to lose a significant amount of weight each week to reach this target. It asked when I last ate at night and then offered me a targeted ‘plan’, based on different lengths of time I could choose to fast for.
(Fasting, by the way, is basically where you deprive your body of nutrition for a long period of time in the hopes that your body will start burning fat at a faster rate. What fasting actually does is mess up your metabolism so that your body gets really confused and starts to destroy itself from the outside in. If you’re interested in finding out more about it, I recommend you start with the Minnesota Starvation Experiment – you can read it here: https://archive.wphna.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/2005-Mad-Science-Museum-Ancel-Keys-Starvation.pdf)
After that, it tried to charge me a ridiculous amount of money to see my ‘personalised’ plan, which I am guessing was mainly made up of water and boring things like seeds and not very many Starbars and Hoisin Duck wraps, which I would then have to scarf my way through in a limited time. I imagine this to be an event at the Duck Olympics. For obvious reasons, mainly because I am no fool, I wasn’t going to part with money just to be told something my brain already does AS A DISEASE, so my journey ended there.
The second app I tried has a larger social media following. I ventured onto their page and was very excited to be able to learn the difference between ‘dirty’ and ‘clean’ fasting (not a thing), why snacks are apparently ‘always bad’ (they’ve clearly never tried the classic combo of crumpet and butter) and an argument between someone called Anita and someone called Pam about the efficacy of the app.
Upon downloading, the process was pretty similar. However, when asked why I had downloaded the app, I wasn’t given the option to choose ‘weight loss’, despite the fact that this is the main point of their advertising. I felt that I was being railroaded into believing that I was choosing to live a healthier, longer life, especially as two of the options were ‘live a healthy life’ and ‘live a longer life’…I was also able to choose ‘to detox’, even though this is yet another term stolen from medical treatment and applied to drinking lemon in hot water (this does f*** all, by the way, unless you like your wee smelling like Fairy Liquid).
This time, when I added the same height and weight, I was not told that the weight I had entered was dangerously low. I continued through the steps to create a weight-loss plan which took me from a fairly unhealthy weight to a weight at which I would be at serious medical risk. Again, I was asked when I last ate at night and then encouraged to pay money to see what my ideal plan would be. As I’m not about the death-wishes, lettuce and seeds, I declined to put any money into a company which clearly encouraged unhealthy weight-loss by unhealthy methods, so I stopped there and read some more of the Facebook page instead.
Which, quite honestly, was like reading a pro-ana site. It included tips on how to say no to ‘food pushers’; a couple of comparisons of a ‘healthy choice’ (read lettuce-based) and an ‘unhealthy choice’ (a completely normal meal), basically telling me that one was sponsored by Satan himself and, most upsettingly, ways to ‘dirty fast’, the idea of allowing yourself to eat a microscopic amount because your body is telling you it just can’t cope with fasting for any longer.
At this point, I wanted to cry. I probably don’t have to tell you that my brain basically works as a fasting app. I probably also don’t have to tell you that I didn’t choose this and that I’ve been fighting against it to live a normal life for eight years. I probably don’t have to tell you that it is beyond devastating to see it being sold as ‘healthy’.
If I could talk to the people who had created the app, I would tell them that they’re irresponsible and profiting from an idea which is dangerous to both mental and physical health. I’d probably also be trying very hard not to kick them.
I can’t talk to them, because companies like that won’t want to listen to internet corner bloggers like me, but I can talk to anyone who reads this post. The first thing I did after my app experiment was to delete the apps. I downloaded them knowing that I never intended to keep them, and also knowing that I wouldn’t be tempted to do so. I would really, really urge you to delete them too. If you can’t take that step right now, please talk to someone about how you’re using them and work towards getting rid of them.
Fasting is very dangerous, both for mental and physical health. It will not help you to achieve your ‘dream bikini body’ because no bikini looks good on grey, flaky skin covered in lanugo hair; it will not help you to find a boyfriend (no-one wants to snog someone whose breath smells like acid), and it will definitely not ever, ever make you happy.
Look after yourself.