Cell phones and apps- nutrition tech could save us all.
Updated: Jun 14
Back in the old days, if you wanted to keep track of your weight or eating, all you had available was a scale and a piece of paper. Now in the age of computers and cell phones we have more diet and exercise information available at our fingertips than ever. Why are our smartphones not making us smarter when it comes to food? Obesity rates are up as technology becomes more sophisticated, but there is a way to use that information to make us all healthier?
Personal technology is the new frontier in today's medicine, as it allows 24/7 data collection and early detection of physical problems. Wearable tech such as Apple Watches, Fitbits, and more can be used to measure:
-Blood sugar levels
-Menstrual cycles and fertility
-Steps walked in a day
-Brain waves (ECG)
-Length and quality of sleep
-Exercise data- calories burned and distance distance running, walking, or cycling
These are great for general health, but since we're examining weight loss specifically, we need to look at the most popular personal electronic device- the smartphone. Smartphones are less phones and more computing and entertainment devices today, and the weight loss industry has found many innovative ways to interact with people who want to lose weight.
The smartphone app is a window into a world of accountability for those struggling to figure out their diet and exercise plans. Using these apps, you can get immediate feedback on the nutrition profile of any food you're thinking of eating, plus a summary of your nutrition for a day, week, month or year. You can also get data on how many calories are burned by various activities, and a personal log of all the activities that you choose to track. And best of all, the apps provide advice and guidance, either from nutrition and exercise professionals, or from others who are also trying to lose weight.
Weight loss tip #19. Use technology to help you in your goals whenever it can help.
I have relied on some of these apps for years, and here is a brief summary of the ones on my smartphone. All are free to download, but premium features cost more.
1- My Fitness Pal. This is a basic food and calorie tracker that I use. You can enter any food and it will immediately calculate the nutritional information per portion to help you keep track. You can track your weight easily on this app, and set calorie goals for each day. Another plus is a social feature that lets you find friends, follow their progress, and give and get encouragement to each other.
2- Map my ride/walk/run. Also by Under Armour, the company behind My Fitness Pal, this app lets you keep track of exercise outings with maps, photos, and feedback on the terrain. It tracks you speed and distance traveled and stores all it all for later reference. This app also has a social feature that lets you share your rides or runs on social media, or find new friends in the app who can see your exercise feed as you can see theirs.
3- Diet Bet/ Step Bet/ Run Bet. These three contests from Waybetter are an ingenious way to use financial incentives and the power of the smartphone to motivate people for transformative changes. The concept is simple- set a goal with a start and end date, invite people and have them bet a set amount (usually $25-$100), and those who reach their goals get their money back PLUS they get to split the money from the players who didn't reach their goal. To keep things honest, they require photos at the beginning of the challenge and at the end, including the you, the scale, and a secret code word that changes daily. During each contest you have access to encouragement from a moderator and all the other participants, and the group goal gives some the strength to resist temptation from all the other distractions out there.
4- Fit Index. Scales have come a long way, and many newer scales interact with cell phone apps like this one to keep track of your weight for you automatically. Fit Index also tracks body fat, body mass index, metabolic age, and many other variables.
5- Health app. For I-phone users this is a little app that comes with the I-phone. (You can't download or delete it) It automatically counts your steps, and I was unaware my phone did that for several years. It also sneakily gathers data from all of your other apps so you can see your health data from everywhere all in one place. This app also has the ability to connect with your doctor's office and download lab results, medications, and other health records for easy access.
There are many, many other popular apps that I haven't tried. Some of the most popular include:
- Noom, a new app that's pricey but includes personalized coaching.
- WW from Weight Watchers.
- NuMI from Nutrasystem
- HealthyOut- help with eating at restaurants
- Fitbit, requires you own the wearable device.
- My Net Diary- voted best free app by Business Insider
- Fooducate- for at-home cooks
- FatSecret, HappyScale, LoseIt!, Rise, Cronometer- there are dozens and dozens of them.
Find an app that works for you if you choose to go this route. Some are loaded with features and support, and others leave you pretty much on your own. Knowing the basics about what you're currently eating and doing is central to figuring out how to get better. Keeping track of nutrition and exercise empowers us to be able to plan our lives and say no to the things we don't truly want. Some 80% of Americans now own a smartphone and rising. You have enormous power sitting in your pocket. Don't waste it.
Have an app that you recommend? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I can include it here with further updates.