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February 3, 2014

There's An App for That: Pros and Cons of Four Popular Weight Loss Apps

Trying to lose a few pounds? Looking to live a healthier life? Most of us have been there before, hearing those inner voices motivating us to “eat healthier, tone up and exercise” at the start of every New Year. How can you make sure that new found motivation isn’t dashed by office donuts and weekend fries? There might be an app for that. So which ones actually work? Here are four apps used for weight loss along with the pros and cons for each.

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Pros: Lose It! allows users to set weight goals, track weight and keep on top of calorie budgets. This easy-to-navigate application tracks exercise, scans food barcodes for nutrition information and saves recipes. And for those of you who hate dieting alone, you can add friends or join teams to keep you motivated.

Cons: The food database is missing a number of foods or certain foods can be difficult to find. Additionally, some nutrition facts are missing from certain foods so the total for all nutrients may not be accurate at the end of the day.

Pros: MyFitnessPal has a calorie counter for food and exercise, keeps track of macro (what we need in large quantities) and micro (what we need in smaller quantities) nutrients, includes a barcode scanner for food labels and offers 350 exercises to help you burn calories. You can also join a support network by adding MyFitnessPal friends.

Cons: Counting calories is not necessarily the best way to lose weight or maintain a healthy life. It’s important to focus on other parts of food, and not just the calories that come with it. Unfortunately, MyFitnessPal falls short of providing a breakdown of your diet – no details about fiber, vitamins, etc. Additionally, the program does not allow members to edit certain amounts of consumed food. For example, if you want to record that you drank less than 8 oz. of milk, the program will not let you.

Pros: This platform gives you the ability to manage your diet plan including a database of more than 30,000 foods to track and calculate nutrition intake. It also includes a weight log and interactive chart to help you see how your weight changes over time. Lastly, the app provides recipes with shopping lists and cheatsheets to help you pick the healthier choice for meals.

Cons: The Weight Watchers Mobile app is great for subscribers but not so much for everyone else. The Weight Watchers diet centers around the concept of tracking points – every food is assigned a point value and the goal is to stay within your quota for the day. Unfortunately, to get the most out of the app, you need to subscribe to Weight Watchers Online, which charges a fee.

Pros: My Diet Coach focuses more on the mental game of dieting. It is designed to keep dieters motivated with reminders that pop up at the moment the user is experiencing potential diet derailers. Its three main components include: My Diet Reminders, My Perseverance Tips and My Diet Assistants.

Cons: The app does not create a diet plan or track nutrients. Also, in order for the user to be successful, he or she has to first identify the challenges he or she faces and the best times to deliver reminders.

If you are really self-motivated, these apps might be a good way to organize your weight loss plan. If not, then working with an actual registered dietitian is probably a better investment. A registered dietitian will not only create a personalized diet plan, but can work with you to find ways to change your habits and develop problem solving skills when it comes to food. The bottom line: weight loss apps can be useful for organization and ideas, but they do not provide accountability or assist with behavior change which research shows is the best way to lose weight and keep it off. Have a question for one of our dietitians? Tweet us your question at @foodandfriends.

One last bit of advice: these tools do not create individualized weight loss regimens that take into account personal health history. Before beginning any weight loss plan, talk with your doctor or dietitian to lose weight in a healthy way tailored to your needs.

Written by Brandy Love, Food & Friends Registered Dietitian and Sally Hammer, Virginia Tech Dietetic Intern with Food & Friends

Pagoto, Sherry, Kristin Schneider, Mirjana Jojic, Michele Debiasse, and Devin Mann. "Evidence-Based Strategies in Weight-Loss Mobile Apps." American Journal of Preventive Medicine 45.5 (2013): 576-82. Print.
"Weight Management App Reviews." Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Web. 28 Jan. 2014.

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