HEAL by Headspace

by Natalie Yang


It is estimated that 20 million women and 10 million men will experience an eating disorder in the U.S. alone (NEDA). Food logs are research backed tool to help those experiencing an ED to self-monitor their intake and eating behaviors. According to user-reviews, current apps that support eating disorder recovery are ‘overwhelming’ and have ‘outdated’ features that decrease ability to complete self-monitoring. The old behavior we seek to change is incompletion of food logs and emotion/behavior check-ins on a routine basis. Self-monitoring can be a tedious process, but with the right design for simplicity, ability can be increased to complete food and emotion/behavior logs in a daily, regular basis.  Why shouldn’t ED apps feel modern and beautiful like Headspace or Moody? In partnering with Headspace and utilizing its features that create a pleasurable experience, we hope to


Users are motivated by their own personal experience with EDs and food. Motivation exists because of hope (to heal and recover), pain (mental & physical caused by ED), and fear (of rejection by society). Our journey maps describe the combined motivation and ability users experience from start to finish using RR (old ED app) versus HEAL (new ED app).


The greatest pain point discovered in old ED apps exists when users log meals and mood. To a log a meal, a user must complete 14 questions. Existing ED apps such as RR and Rise Up utilize a continuous scroll feature that causes users to lose interest and skip questions that provide key details for clinicians.

This demo also shows the ‘outdated’ interface that users experience when logging their food and behaviors. This experience does not offer anything engaging or stimulating to the user. The pop up at the end of a food log varies, and is not as rewarding as it was intended.


Overall, our design aims to create greater simplicity for the user. The following specific features of our design are intended to increase the target behavior of completing meal and mood logs.


Other ED apps do not have features for personalization, such as a login or character feature. Create your own personalized account with HEAL. Characters create ‘stimulation’ and greater ‘engagement’ for users, which in turn can increase motivation to use this app.


Track your progress with a visual food log. Set goals with your clinician and see your progress. Clinician engagement creates an ‘authority’ for users to look to. Unlock rewards when you attain goals and streaks. These features combined can increase motivation in all types of users, whether ED specific or someone seeking to create good habits.


Prior ED apps (such as RR) require you to fill out all of your data (14 questions) related to logging your meal/mood on one page that has a continuous scroll. By employing a swipe feature that divides these 14 questions over 3 pages will decrease the amount of ‘brain cycles’ and ‘effort’ required to self-monitor and capture detail.

When logging meals, our interface is more minimalistic and aesthetically pleasing. Prior apps seemed cluttered with unnecessary color and features.


Instead of having triggering quotes and random images attempt to encourage you on your journey, see your own progress after you complete your log. This feature creates consistency and routine in what you can expect once you complete a log. This may create routine and incentive to be consistent in your logging.


Tailor your experience to you. To some users, this may be a private, personal journey. For others, some may need extra support, validation, and accountability (‘social proof’) on this journey. No other ED apps have the ability to connect with friends yet, by creating the ability to connect with clinicians, friends, and other support services, HEAL can accommodate all preferences.


We employ two kinds of notifications. The first assumes low motivation and low ability. Those with EDs may experience a dip in motivation from time to time (i.e. not filling out log routinely). We employed a “Just checking-in, start a streak by logging your next meal” notification for when the user does not log a single meal in a full day. By utilizing a motivational element with this prompt notification, we are using a ‘spark’ prompt. The second one assumes high motivation but low ability. This ‘facilitator’ is a personalized and timed notification that will remind you to fill out your log around your “meal time” and “snack time”.

LINK to prototype

LINK to presentation

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Su Yang March 2, 2020 - 3:14 pm

I love the idea of connecting HEAL to Headspace and incentivizing people to continue logging their food by progressively unlocking meditations in the main app, especially because you typically have to pay for a subscription. I also love how the app looks—the interface is super pretty and the colors are simultaneously visually engaging and calming! One thing to consider might be preventing people from relapsing—the presentation briefly mentioned connecting users using the app to dietitians who could monitor their food logs, but it’s fairly easy to fake (post a photo but not actually eat it because of guilt), so experimenting with positive affirmations inside the app and through notifications might be helpful.

Tobias Haefele March 2, 2020 - 3:16 pm

Think this is really cool and could help a lot of people. Particularly the instagrammy photo section seemed cool to me. I wonder whether one could be doing some machine learning there by somehow extrapolating calory ranges from the photos (or getting diet information by tagging the food displayed).

Marisa Trapani March 2, 2020 - 3:50 pm

I am slightly wary of the “friends” element of this app… a blatantly social component becomes very tricky when it comes behaviors that often produce a intense sense of shame… I also think disordered eating can sometimes represent an exaggerated form of self-monitoring, an excess of “accountability”… and while I understand how friends’ input may be useful in correcting misperception about how adequately one is nourishing themselves, I think the lines between supporting, policing, and pathologizing can be thinner than we think despite best intentions. This is especially true in that friends are not clinicians who are trained to handle discussing disordered eating in a tactful, expert way (which, of course, is no fault of their own).

Kate Travis March 2, 2020 - 4:47 pm

I loved this presentation! I thought you did a great job of making the app not just helpful, but cute and fun. I also really liked the idea of being able to add friends, if the user wants. As someone who has watched friends struggle to recover from eating disorders, and felt unable to help them, this is a great way for people who care about someone recovering to support them. I think this app could also be helpful to people who haven’t been diagnosed with an ED, but still struggle with food and body image. If you made this app accessible to those people, too, and let people use it to hold themselves accountable, even if they don’t have a clinician, it could appeal to a broader market. Finally, I think if you were to develop this further, you could also add an option with suggested recipes or even an Instagram-like feed of people posting healthy, nourishing recipe ideas without subscribing to diet culture or calorie counting.

Malila Freeman March 2, 2020 - 10:34 pm

I very much appreciate the idea behind this app, especially because the processes that you’ve described are well established in the psychological literature to be effective for treating eating disorders. My only suggestion would be to clarify the role of social engagement and sharing your meals with friends. I know several people who have suffered from eating disorders, and a lot of their anxiety surrounding food consumption comes from social pressures. Thus, it might be a good idea to match people based on their goals or have a better system overall for ensuring that the social interactions that people are having on HEAL are positive for their progress and not detrimental. I think that the social engagement aspect could be a really beneficial aspect, but I would encourage you to put a bit more thought into what this would look like practically as to reduce any potential negative effects.

Ying Zhang March 4, 2020 - 3:44 am

Although I do not have eating disorder, I still think this idea is really awesome! It has its specific target audience and there is a social aspect lying behind this app. It is very warm and considerate in terms of its design outlook. The figures are really cute and motives the users. I am a little unsure about the design of posting photos of your food. It certainly has positive effects of making people wl eating disorder to keep track of their meals. However, when we are taking photos of food, it becomes something that is sharable and instagram-like. Therefore, it compels the user to focus on taking good pictures of their food. If the picture does not look desirable, the food may taste bad, which will bring negative effects to the users.

TJ Song March 4, 2020 - 5:18 am

I think that Headspace is a widely used app with great potential for further therapeutic application. I think that the increased engagement with the app is a good idea from the apps perspective but I wonder if there is somewhat of a product/market mismatch in the irony that a lot of people using headspace might be trying to find more time away from technology and social interaction to center themselves.

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