We know that people are historically inaccurate in remembering and recording what and how much they eat. Using a food and exercise app on your smart phone might be the missing link to achieving weight-loss success.
What to Look For
Simplicity. How easy is it for you to enter food items, portions, and activities? A good food and exercise app shouldn’t take you more than 10 minutes to enter a day’s worth of data.
Customization: Can you build your eating plan according to your personal nutrient needs?
Database Size: Ideally, a good diet app should offer a selection of at least 100,000 foods.
Dining Choices: Does the application have information on chain restaurants?
Recipes: Can you input and analyze popular recipes for nutritional content?
Positive reinforcement: Does the app provide positive feedback when you’re achieving your goals? Look for programs that track your progress towards your nutrient and fitness goals
Graphics: Some of the best smart-phone applications have pie charts, bar graphs, and time lines for measuring your diet progress. These visual cues can help keep you on track.
One word of caution: Be careful when you enter food items not found in the database to customize a personal food. In my experience, some of the information entered by end users can be inaccurate. A typographical or numerical error can skew your data and create misleading results.
Studies show that the mere act of recording your foods makes you more aware of how much and what foods you are eating. I encourage my clients to be consistent and to track and report their food habits any which way they can. If you are using a smart-phone app that is convenient, accessible, and accurate, it can be a good complimentary tool to achieving your wellness and weight-loss success.
Because self-monitoring makes you much more aware of the amounts you’re eating, of your eating behaviors, and of those situations that threaten positive eating behaviors. To the degree that a personal journaling program can keep you honest and on track, it serves an important function in reinforcing and directing your health habits.
Popular Food and Exercise Apps
Recently the Huffington Post, along with Food and Nutrition, the magazine of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, discussed some noteworthy tablet and smart phone apps that they thought might help people to better monitor their food and exercise. Here are some of their recommendations.
Calorie Counter and Diet Tracker by MyFitnessPal
Offers a barcode scanner feature. This free program allows you to build your own eating plan according to your own personal goals while it provides you with detailed motivational reports summarizing your progress. It’s compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad and can be found at www.myfitnesspal.com.
SparkPeople Diet and Calorie Tracker
Tracks consumption of calories, carbohydrates, fat, and protein. Does not measure sodium or fiber levels. Find it at www.sparkpeople.com.
MyPlate Calorie Tracker at LIVESTRONG
Monitors calories, fat, carbohydrates, cholesterol, sodium, sugars, fiber, and protein. Offers customized meal plans to meet specific goals. This app stands out because of its large database. It’s available at www.livestrong.com/mobile-apps/.
Lose It! by FitNow, Inc
Uses the simple approach of “calories in, calories out” to create a food and exercise log that’s straightforward and easy to use. Once you’ve added your personal data, you are given a daily calorie allowance–then you just add foods and watch the calories add up, while you’re also entering your exercise routines and watching the calorie count go back down. Available at www.loseit.com.
Lets you scan the barcodes on grocery items to get a full nutritional rundown, as well as a “grade” for a particular food’s overall quality. Provides information on potential hidden ingredients such as added sugars, trans fats, and food additives. Available at www.fooducate.com. Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.
Snap a Picture!
Use your cell phone camera as a diet aid. Recently, a client sent me a photo of her shrimp-salad lunch and asked me to critique it. Another sent a photo of a chicken cutlet nestled in his palm, to prove to me that he was limiting portion sizes. This type of photo-tracking helps you remember your meals and helps your nutritionist to assess your eating style.
The Bottom Line
Become a “tracker.” The more aware you are of your eating and exercise habits, the better your prognosis for weight loss success. According to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine keeping a “food diary” might actually double your weight-loss efforts.