Notorious Weight-Loss Apps: Worth It or Not?
In this day and age when “there’s an app for that” of course, it would follow that there are plenty of apps out there that claim to help you shed those unwanted pounds.
As is the case with fitness trackers, having one doesn’t necessarily make you more fit just as having a weight-loss app on your phone doesn’t guarantee that you will lose weight. Both are tools that can facilitate greater fitness and weight loss but users still need to put in the hard work.
Types of apps
There are a wide variety of apps available—some are free, some require a one-time purchase and others have monthly subscriptions. Some are based on a particular diet—keto, Atkins, fasting, etc.—and others are sponsored by well-known weight-loss programs.
Some include exercise plans and workouts, some track your activity level, some include eating plans and recipes, some incorporate tips and tricks to encourage healthy habits, some track daily water intake and remind you to hydrate. Some include calorie counters and track calories burned. And others keep track of your progress in a variety of categories and award you “rewards”—online badges, trophies, etc. when you reach certain levels.
All weight-loss apps are going to require some level of user input, particularly the ones that track how many calories you eat.
The effectiveness of weight-loss apps
Although individual results will vary, there is some data to suggest that using a weight-loss app doesn’t correlate with actual weight loss for a number of reasons.
According to a study published in the January 2019 journal Nutrition titled “The use of a food logging app in the naturalistic setting fails to provide accurate measurements of nutrients and poses usability challenges,”one popular weight-loss app was found to be inaccurate in measuring nutrients and users experienced difficulties with the food database and portion sizes.
Another study, “Evidence-based strategies in weight-loss mobile apps,” published in the November 2013 American Journal of Preventive Medicine, noted that weigh-loss apps typically use only a small number of behavioral strategies that are critical for successful weight loss. Strategies like motivation, stress reduction and problem-solving were three things that apps typically didn’t include.
A later study, in 2016 and published in the journal Internet Interventions, noted that participants disliked calorie-counting apps and the amount of input they require. Instead, they reported that they prefer behavioral tools such as reviewing and setting goals and the ability to tailor the app to better fit their motivational needs.
On the flip side, writing down what you eat in a food journal is a proven successful weight-loss strategy. A 2008 study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, tracked more than 1,500 overweight or obese adults and found that those who kept a food diary for six days a week lost almost double the weight of those who kept track of what they ate only one day a week.
Keeping track of what you eat on your smart device has advantages over the old-fashioned pen and paper method. First and foremost, you probably almost always have a smart device with you, whether it’s your phone, tablet or laptop, so you can immediately log in what you are eating or you can even take a picture and log in the information later. Second, keeping a food diary on a smart device makes it easier to look up calorie and macronutrient counts, although keep in mind that these counts are only estimates and can vary depending on the app you choose to use.
How to choose a weight-loss app
Brace yourself! When you search “weight loss” in the app store, hundreds of options come up. Picking one can be just as overwhelming as the prospect of losing weight.
First, consider your needs. Do you want an app that just tracks calorie intake and output? Do you want one that tracks macronutrients such as fats, proteins, and carbohydrates? Do you want one that includes workouts and exercise plans? Do you want one with information provided by registered dieticians such as recipes and shopping lists? One that offers a community option for you to share your experiences with others? Once you determine your need(s), you can narrow your search.
Keep in mind that there might not be one app that does everything you want it to. You might find that one app is better at calorie tracking and another offers workouts/exercises for your level of fitness. Using two different apps might be a little cumbersome but it might be the best way to tailor your approach to weight loss.
You might first try a free app or two, just to see what features you like and what you don’t. Many apps have two levels…one free and another upgrade that comes at a cost but will offer more specialized features. Try the free one on for size before paying for the upgrade.
Or maybe paying for an app gives you extra incentive to use it…to get your money’s worth, so to speak. Or maybe you are already on a plan offered by a well-known weight-loss program and want the app that goes along with the plan.
There are many online lists of “the best” weight-loss apps, which could also serve as starting points rather than just scrolling through the app store.
Another option is to consult your physician and/or a registered dietician for advice on where to begin, particularly if they are directing your weight-loss program. A medical or nutrition professional will be familiar with at least some of the weight-loss apps and may be able to suggest ones that meet your specific fitness and weight-loss goals while taking into consideration your current fitness level and any underlying health conditions you may have.
Keep in mind that if you have a chronic health condition such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, etc., you should consult with your doctor anyway before embarking on a diet or weight-loss plan.
No doubt that whatever your specific needs, there’s an app for that.
- Keeping Food Diary Helps Lose Weight, web page, Jul 08, 2008 ,
- Frequently Asked Questions About Using Apps for Weight Loss, web site, ,
- People trying to lose weight dislike calorie counting apps and want motivational support to help them achieve their goals, web site, Mar 01, 2017 ,
- The use of a food logging app in the naturalistic setting fails to provide accurate measurements of nutrients and poses usability challenges, web site, Jan 01, 2019 ,
- Evidence-based strategies in weight-loss mobile apps, web site, Nov 01, 2013 ,