Apps can be handy tools to help you lose weight and eat a healthier diet, but how do you get the most out of the app you use? For advice, we turned to registered dietitian nutritionist Angela Lemond, RDN, CSP, LD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics who practices in Plano, Texas. She’s a big proponent of apps.
“We know that apps can help with accountability, and the research tells us that accountability is key when it comes to consistency and being able to make and maintain changes,” says Lemond. “And changes are not easy.”
The Key Feature to Look For
The most important feature of any app designed to help you lose weight and improve your diet, says Lemond, is its ability to track your eating patterns over time. Why? Because what’s important is not a single meal but what and how you’re eating over the long haul. “Look at your food patterns as much as your total calories,” she says. This means using the food diary function to track your meals, snacks and beverages on a daily basis.
Most people underestimate how much they eat, so the diary will help bring you back to reality. It will also show you where you need to improve your eating habits. “For example, I see that many people don’t eat enough in the first parts of the day and so they have a tendency to overeat at the end of the day,” says Lemond. “You need to get enough food throughout the day rather than worrying about meeting that one calorie goal.”
But she says the diary can also tell you when you eat too little. Lemond sees this often with people who follow who a good exercise routine. They don’t support their workouts with enough food and the proper nutrition. Once your app shows you the pattern, you can correct it.
It’s Up to You
Apps may be a big help, but you have to do most of the work. After all, to gain insight into your eating habits, you must track EVERYTHING, says Lemond. Here’s what she tells her clients: “If you’re only going to log occasionally, you may as well not do it at all. I have to see the patterns. If you are not losing weight, I can’t tell you why that is if I don’t have that data.”
Fortunately, many apps have large databases that include nutrition information for both common and not-so-common foods. Some allow you to simply scan the barcode on the package of whatever you grab from the fridge. All you have to do is enter the portion size, and the app calculates its calories and other info and automatically adds it to your diary.
Lemond has a few favorite apps that she recommends to her clients:
The first two, which have both been around a while, offer vast food databases and plenty of helpful features in the free versions. Lemond recommends you try those first before you commit to a monthly subscription fee, which opens up features such as community challenges and more in-depth food analysis.
Sage is a more recent entry to the weight loss app lineup. It’s web-based, and while its database is not as large as that of the other two, it provides a lot of interesting information. For example, find a food in its database, and the app will tell you how long you’ll have to bike to burn off the calories consumed. “It is doing things with food that other apps have not done,” says Lemond.