Our team’s central mission was to design an app that helps people recovering from eating disorders through food logging. Although there are apps that allow for food logging, users have described them as “clunky” and difficult to understand, and the app worked much better for clinicians who hoped to monitor progress than people with eating disorders. We therefore set out to make an app that is user friendly for people with eating disorders and helps them track their progress.
Our team conducted five interviews: three with experts in the field, and two with people who have experienced eating disorders. We also conducted background research, including reading a scientific review of eating disorder apps, which specified the criteria for a successful app. Our fieldwork yielded three key takeaways:
1. Eating disorder recovery involves more than just logging food, so our app should log other aspects of life as well (e.g. exercise and feelings).
2. The app should be supportive, by allowing friends and family to provide support to those recovering, and offering affirmations to help people who may be vulnerable to a relapse.
3. A successful app will be customizable, as people have very different needs when it comes to eating disorders.
Our final product is an app created in partnership with Headspace that allows users to log their food, exercise, and meditations. The app allows users the option to either take pictures of their food or simply select the food groups they ate in a day so they can see which food groups they may need to eat more of. The app offers affirmations, and users can rack up “streaks” for how many days in a row they log their food. Users can also track their moods during mealtimes, and the app offers meditations for how they can think about food. The more days a user logs their food, the more meditations they will unlock.
Our design uses several principles from the course, most important of which fall into the models of Don Norman and BJ Fogg. Although we designed this app to fit a need, we still want our users to enjoy it, and to want to log their food, exercise, and meditation. The app uses bright colors and fun images, hopefully giving the user the visceral pleasure of looking at the app. While the app also attempts to influence behavior, as we will discuss in more detail in the next paragraph, it also provides the behavioral pleasure of being easy and fun to use. For example, the app can suggest meditations or restorative, relaxing exercises, making it easy for someone unsure of how to help themselves to find a coping tool. The tools for logging food and exercise are also simple, and ask questions about mood, which makes the app similar to a journal for recovery. This hopefully will allow the app to be a virtual safe space for users, giving them the behavioral pleasure of being able to log their foods and emotions. Finally, the streaks function gives the user the reflective pleasure. The point of this app is to help with recovery, so the streaks and simple graph functions allows users to see how far they have come and reflect on how they have recovered.
The app also influences behavior not only to help people eat, exercise, and meditate more, but also to log their progress more. Our biggest tool for influencing behavior is increasing the ability of people to log their meals, and to exercise and meditate. While other apps ask repetitive and overly complex questions, this app uses scale to assess mood, hunger, fullness and also asks for a description of the food with the ability to add a “before and after” picture of the user’s plate. The questions about hunger and fullness–which other eating disorder recovery apps surprisingly don’t include–are integral at the start of the recovery process to assess the user’s hunger cues. Normalizing hunger and fullness cues after an eating disorder is challenging and an essential part of treatment. If the user no longer struggles with these cues, they can toggle off those questions, and instead of adding a picture and writing out what they ate, they can turn on the option to log meals by clicking on food groups. As they continue on their recovery journey, it is essential to ensure they are eating a balanced diet and not avoiding certain foods. This means that as the user recovers, the logging process becomes easier, meeting their exact needs. This drastically reduces the number of cognitive cycles necessary to log food. By suggesting exercises and meditations, the app also reduces the number of cognitive cycles it takes to exercise and meditate. Whereas without the app, users have to find exercises and meditations on their own and may suffer from decision paralysis from having too many different options, HEAL puts all coping mechanisms in one place. HEAL also aims to increase motivation to use the app, and therefore to eat and use coping mechanisms. Because the app relies on streaks, the user has the motivation to keep the streaks alive. Compounding this motivation is the function that allows users to “unlock” more meditation as they have longer streaks. This provides a reward for the desired behavior, and encourages users to keep using the app, and therefore to keep eating. Finally, the app also offers a “trigger,” or a reminder to eat. At mealtimes, the app can send a notification with a positive affirmation and a reminder to eat a meal. This can be a helpful reminder to people who might not eat otherwise, and the affirmation promotes positive feelings about food, instead of anxiety and fear.
The full prototype and its functions are in the following slides: