30 million people in the United States are diagnosed with an eating disorder at some point of their lives. In addition, so many more people struggle with their body images, their relationships with food, and how to eat properly. These people often lack the means or accessibility to clinical diagnosis and treatment, and oftentimes do not realize they have eating disorders or concerning eating habits that can lead to short and long term negative effects on their health. For these people, getting out of the vicious cycle of an eating disorder is extremely difficult due to lack of professional help, and sometimes no one around them will notice until something drastically terrible happens.
It's heartbreaking to hear about people who end up hospitalized in life-threatening conditions because they starved themselves. It's heartbreaking to hear about people who have osteoporosis and multitudes of other health problems because they deprived themselves of nutrition. It's heartbreaking to hear about people who look into the mirror every day and think they aren't beautiful enough skinny enough, strong enough, worth enough.
It's absolutely heartbreaking to realize that there are so many people who have to hurt themselves and make themselves sick thinking about something as important to self-care as eating properly, just because they don't think they are good enough.
Over the years, we have noticed a pattern in online and mobile apps that help people track their diets to either lose weight, gain weight, eat healthy, and/or maintain weight. Although it is often useful for people with unhealthy relationships with food to track their daily intake of food and exercise to calculate if they're eating well and enough, we believe these existing food tracking apps are way too focused on calories and not on nutrients needed. Thus, people often end up limiting their caloric intake even more, or believe it is okay to eat mostly unhealthy and nutrient-deficient foods as long as the calorie count is low enough. We also believe that the solution to eating healthily and improving people's relationships with food should not be based on a number like calories or weight. What really matters is being able to eat healthily and help bodies metabolize properly without worrying about calories and numbers on a scale. Changing the mentality of people is the most important part of helping people recover from bad eating habits and thoughts. Thus, we were inspired to create a food tracking application that allows people to follow meal plans catered specifically to getting metabolisms back to normal and eating healthily without focusing on numbers.
What it does
FOODpedia uses a database of food types to decide different food options in the form of meal plans for users to follow and eat. Users enter in their information (age, height, weight, activity level etc.) and FOODpedia generates eight meal plans that users can follow based on their physical statistics. Each food presented in a meal plan assumes one serving of each food, and no caloric counts are viewable by users. Instead, FOODpedia calculates the amount of calories in each meal plan behind the scenes to make sure that the total caloric count is within the range of a healthy amount of food the user should be eating based on the physical statistics. The meal plan will also be composed of food that covers the necessary amounts of each nutrient the user requires.
Users can customize their meal plans by filtering out certain foods they have an allergy to and/or dislike eating. Based on the profile information, FOODpedia will decide which nutrients the user needs more, and thus change meal plans to prioritize certain nutrients.
Another feature FOODpedia uses to help users improve their relationships with food is the journal feature. In this feature, users can input in a food they have eaten, how they felt about eating the food, and additional notes. The emotions over the food are expressed in emoticons users can choose - these emoticons will have no words attached to them, so users can track their feelings on the food based on their own interpretations of the emoticons. Users can also view past entries through the calendar features so they can see patterns in their feelings over food and thus deduce what foods they prefer eating and how they're progressing in terms of their relationship with food.
Lastly, there is a links page on the webpage that has a list of resources users can access for help through many different organizations that deal with getting help for people who struggle with eating disorders and other related issues.
How we built it
For backend code, we had a two-step process. Firstly, we took the user profile information to generate hidden values based off of the physical attributes of the user. We stored values of the minimum and maximum calories the user should eat, min/max nutrients, and caps for certain foods and food groups all based off of the information the user provides.
Secondly, we took information from the Nutritionix API to sort food that matched the min/max values of the nutrients and calories. We then matched the foods together to make multiple meal plan combinations to present to the user.
For frontend, we designed a logo, a background interface, and handwritten fonts and drawings to make the site more accessible for users. Oftentimes, sites regarding eating disorders often use solid blocks of color and standard fonts. However, these designs can feel impersonal and formal, which disconnects users and readers from feeling emotionally connected to the information and advice being provided. Since eating disorders and other unhealthy relationships with food are largely emotional and mentally connected, we think it's important to have handwritten fonts and drawings to make the site seem more human and less robotic. Thus, users can feel more comfortable interacting with the contents of the site.
Challenges we ran into
The communication between backend and frontend code at times were inconsistent and difficult to integrate with each other, which resulted in a lot of interfering code. Part of this was because as individuals, we each had a separate role that we were used to focusing on. However, for most of us this was the first time we worked on a such a large project in such a short span of time, and so we all had to work in roles we were not used to. For example, the backend people had to work on frontend, and the designer had to work on some frontend coding she was not very familiar with. This created difficulties in the communication of the code and being able to integrate code together (sometimes the code just didn't work, or wasn't done in a way that integrated with previous code written by others).
Accomplishments that we're proud of
However, because everyone was introduced to new roles and assignments we were not used to, we were definitely able to explore a lot of areas we had either never experienced before or had very little interaction with. The fact that we could create this project on a topic we were all passionate about and honestly think, wow, I would actually use this app for myself, is something we're very proud of. We're also proud of the fact that we were able to use such an opportunity to explore areas of coding and design we weren't necessarily comfortable with before.
What we learned
Coding a cohesive, working project is hard. It's extremely difficult to get everything working and perfect and designed well in such a short span of time. We learned that it's not necessary to have something perfect - the fact that we are genuinely proud of what we've made and genuinely satisfied with the idea and help this application promotes is something that is really important to keep in mind. We also learned that coding projects under a short time limit is fun, despite the lack of sleep and frantic last-minute debugging and troubleshooting. We learned that communication is really important, and that once code starts working, it's extremely satisfying to see all your hard work and effort click together.
What's next for FOODpedia
We definitely want to add more features and options in the FOODpedia that will make the meal plans more accurate, the information provided more specific, and overall more helpful to users.
For example, it would be helpful to users to have their meal plans divided by different meals and times of the day. Being able to sort foods by breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks could help users better plan out how they should divide food consumption throughout the day. Additionally, if a user really enjoys eating a certain food or feels more comfortable financially eating more of a certain food (along with other reasons), it would be helpful to implement a feature that can put an emphasize on certain foods appearing in the meal plan choices more often.
We also want to provide a feature that allows users to input food they have already eaten so far in the day and returns what food groups and foods they should eat for the rest of the day to ensure that the necessary amount of nutrients and quantity of food will be reached for the day.
More emoticons can be added to the journal - there is such a wide possible range of emotions people can feel in regards to food. Thus, having a wider range of emoticons an help people express their feelings about eating certain foods more accurately.
We would like to be able to add metabolism boosting foods in each meal plan to focus on helping people with slower metabolisms due to starvation or irregular eating patterns to boost their metabolisms back to normal so they can get their bodies to function better again. A problem that arises with many eating disorders is that people tend to starve themselves or have unnatural eating habits that completely slow down their metabolisms. This creates an unhealthy and vicious cycle of eating less and less because people stop losing weight even when they are eating very little. Thus, introducing metabolism boosting foods into diets can also be beneficial in helping people speed up their metabolisms back to normal so they can also eat normally without feeling like they're eating too much.
We truly believe this application can help many people who need plans to help them eat normally again and understand that eating food healthily and without mental and emotional stress is an important way to take care of themselves.