How to Use Your Diet App to Lose Weight

smartphone app
Use your smartphone to make better choices. Westend61/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Weight loss has gone high tech in the age of smartphones and tablets. Thirty years ago we used a pen and paper to count calories, but now we have easy-to-use diet apps to lose weight. So does the convenience of technology have any downside?

According to a recent study, it might. Dr. Cheryl Shigaki, an associate professor in the University of Missouri School of Health Professions conducted research and gained helpful insight about the benefits and drawbacks of using diet apps for weight loss.

Weight Loss Apps: The Benefits

Free diet apps and weight loss websites like CalorieCount.com and MyFitnessPal.com provide beneficial services that include:

  • convenient calorie tracking. Most apps provide searchable databases that allow you to input daily food choices on your home computer, tablet or smartphone. In Shigaki’s research, many participants noted that they preferred apps that provide data for specific foods by brand rather than simply listing generic items. Another convenient tool mentioned by study participants was the barcode scanner. This smartphone tool allows dieters to scan the barcode of any food to get immediate nutrition information. With these tools, it’s easy for dieters to keep a handle on their daily caloric intake.
  • simplified food choices. Not only can you evaluate your current and past caloric intake, but you can also use the calorie tracking tools to plan for the future. Healthy choices are easier to make if you know the exact calorie count of a food in question. For example, if you are trying to decide between a small bowl of creamy soup or a large sandwich for lunch, you’re more likely to make a diet-friendly decision if the nutrition data is right in front of you. You can even plan a full week of of meals or a make a daily food plan with the apps.
  • motivating visual feedback. No matter which diet you’re on, your energy balance must reflect a deficit over time if you want to lose weight. It’s helpful for many dieters if they can see a visual display of that balance. For example, if you see that your hard work at the gym and in the kitchen has helped you reach a negative energy balance for the week, you may be motivated to continue that plan even if it is a little uncomfortable. Of course, just knowing the numbers in your head can be motivating as well, but many of us respond better to a chart or other visual display.

    Diet Apps: The Downside

    Despite the convenient features provided by smartphone apps and websites, Dr. Shigaki also found a potential drawback. High-tech devices do not provide the personal support or the face-to-face accountability that many people say is important when they are losing weight. 

    Shigaki told the MU News Bureau “in-person social support was overwhelmingly preferred to creating new, online social networks based on common interests in wellness.” In short, people like real personal connection when it comes to diet-related issues. For that reason, she recommends that dieters combine the convenience of technology with “in-person social support that information technologies cannot replace.”

    How to Use a Diet App to Lose Weight

    If you are ready to start a diet, download an app. The calorie tracking and easy energy balance management tools make weight loss more convenient. And you’ll be more likely to make better choices if you have regular, easy access to nutritional data. CalorieCount.com is a favorite among many dieters but other apps mentioned in Dr. Shigaki’s study include:

    • MyFitnessPal
    • Lose It
    • Sports Tracker
    • Livestrong
    • Fit Bit
    • The Daily Tracker
    • Runtastic Pro
    • Spark People
    • SELF Nutrition Data

    But don’t let your diet preparations end with a download. Connect with friends at work, at church, in your neighborhood or in your family who share your health goals. Set up meeting times to exercise together, swap recipes or simply talk about the weight loss process to get the diet support you need for success. This face-to-face support will help you to stay motivated, stay accountable and stay on track when common diet challenges set in.

    Sources

    Shigaki CL1, Koopman RJ, Kabel A, Canfield S. " Successful weight loss: how information technology is used to lose." Telemedicine Journal and e-health  February 2014.

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