Do Weight-Loss Apps Help Us Diet?
Lose It! allows you to track and share your diet and exercise.
CREDIT: Lose It!
A recent Verizon commercial shows a father trying to lose weight for his daughter's wedding.
As he stands in line at a food cart to place his lunch order, he looks at his phone, which displays the high calorie content of the burger, and swaps his order for a salad.
At the end of the 30-second montage of exercise routines and healthy snacks, he fits slimly into his tux, and his daughter proudly hugs him.
Everyone loves a happy ending. But do we really need our phones to tell us that a salad is healthier than a burger?
While most people know the healthy merits of salads and the caloric pitfalls of burgers, we actually do benefit from weight-loss apps that remind us. That's because the best way to lose weight is keeping track of the calories we consume, and apps make that easy, according to Karen Grothe, a psychologist at the Mayo Clinic who specializes in obesity and physical fitness. Grothe said apps have helped many of her patients lose weight.
Apps keep track of food intake better than most people could on their own. They eliminate the need to carry around information regarding meals' calorie content or paper and pen, which could be stigmatizing, Grothe said.
If you want to lose weight, "you could hire a registered dietician to sit around with you," and monitor every meal, joked Andrew Rosenthal, chief strategy officer for iPhone app The Eatery. But, in Rosenthal's words, "that's really expensive and socially awkward."
The Eatery app allows users to snap and upload photos of their food to share with other users. They comment on how healthy the meal is, and when there's a consensus, the result is posted. (It's usually very accurate, the team says.) This helps users make better food choices by learning from each other to assess food options more accurately. The Eatery is not just for people who are trying to lose weight. Many aim to eat more veggies, limit fats or go organic, for example.
While users are submitting this information to manage their own meals, The Eatery has been collecting anonymized data from the submissions and is hoping to analyze the 10 million photos of food they've accumulated. The goal is to figure out the triggers that make people's diets go off track, Rosenthal said. Then, based on this information, the app could warn people when they might be more likely to make a bad decision, such as a late-night pizza.
Another benefit of these apps is their social function: Trying to lose weight with other people proves to be easier, Grothe said. "Realizing that you are not alone in your struggles to manage weight can be comforting, and patients can learn from other people's experiences," she said. Using online-based tools also helps relieve any social stigma or tension people often feel about discussing their weight in person.
Lose It!, one of the most popular calorie-counting apps (for Android and iOS), allows users to connect with people they know as well as with strangers over the app and its many discussion forums. People can choose how much information to share, and with whom.
According to the Lose It! website, users have collectively shed more than 11 million pounds, and 96 percent of active users lose weight. People can log on both through the app and the website to manage their information. Connecting with friends provides support and encourages sharing of ideas, like recipes and exercise routines.