4 things to keep in mind when using apps to lose weight

August 12, 2014

There’s no denying that the widespread use of smartphones has put information overload just a screen-touch away for users. And you’ve probably heard about or perhaps even engaged in one of the many diet and exercise crazes periodically sweeping the nation—so it would make sense that the two trends would go hand-in-hand.

A quick search for “fitness” on iTunes or Google Play will result in a plethora of apps, all contending for your download. From calorie counters to sleep monitors, there are thousands of apps to monitor your health. If you’re like a significant portion of smartphone users, you probably have at least one diet or exercise app on your phone to help you lose or maintain weight. But are you using them?

“Downloading the best app in the world won’t make a difference if you don’t actually use it,” said David Leal, nutritionist and health educator at Texas A&M Health Science Center Coastal Bend Health Education Center. Leal offers the following suggestion to make the most of your next fitness app download:

Photo of woman using her smartphone to log her food information

Weight loss takes time and dedication, but using apps on your smartphone can help you stay on track.

1. Log what you eat

You probably carry your phone almost everywhere, so why not use it as a food journal? Part of any weight-loss regimen includes modifying your diet. Apps that log your daily diet can help you recognize which foods are good for you and which are derailing your weight-loss goals.

“Fifteen minutes of walking burns about 100 calories; while 100 calories can be consumed much faster in less than a can of soda,” Leal said. As almost anyone who is trying to lose weight will tell you: it’s much harder to burn calories than it is to consume them.

With a self-reported over 30 million downloads, MyFitnessPal (MFP) is one of the most popular health-related apps on the market. It offers a breakdown of how many calories you consume and expend and the nutritional values of the food you eat. MFP allows you to customize your weight loss goals, so that you don’t have to base your calorie intake on the standardized, and often inapplicable, 2,000-calorie diet.

“Apps like MyFitnessPal take the guesswork out of losing weight. They monitor your calorie consumption and the amount you burn from exercising, so you know exactly what you’re doing right or wrong.” Leal said.

While MFP is the most common food diary and calorie counter app, it is far from the only one available. Similar to MFP, CalorieKing and Fooducate record the calories you consume and communicate the healthiness of the foods you are eating.

2. Invest in an exercise app

Maintaining a balanced diet is certainly a large part of losing weight, but exercise is as well. Whether you want to start running or would rather focus on strength training, there’s an app for that.

There are plenty of programs that ease you into a work out regimen. If you want to begin running, consider the Couch to 5K app, which helps you train to run a 5K over the course of two months. This app requires only three workouts a week for nine weeks. For people who’ve always liked the idea of running, but could never muster the energy or stamina to do so, Couch to 5K will literally take you from the couch and will turn you into a seasoned runner by the end.

For those preferring a more interactive exercise routine, try a narrative app, like Zombies, Run! or The Walk, which offer episodes that tap into your imagination to help keep you motivated.

But if you don’t feel like being chased by zombies or walking to escape danger, a focused app may be best for you. Runtastic offers a variety of programs from their traditional running app, to their Sixpack or Push-Ups Pro programs. These programs guide you through your workout, and sometimes even offer photo or video aids to show the proper form. No matter what your fitness goal is, there’s an app available!

“Even if you don’t feel like using an app for working out, or are uncomfortable with the idea of taking on a rigorous regimen, walking is still a viable, and oftentimes underestimated, form of physical activity,” said Leal.

3. If it helps, tweet it

It’s common for many apps to link to social networking sites like Twitter or Facebook and exercise apps are no exception. Being social about your weight loss journey may help you stay motivated.

Expanding your social circle to a group with people who have similar interests can offer you motivation and advice. A network of people, who are all working towards leading healthier lives, can offer a wealth of experience and support.

“If you’re proud of your weight loss and want to share it, consider taking part in #transformationtuesday, which includes posting before and after photos to show how far you’ve come. If that motivates you, then do it,” suggested Leal.

4. Progress is progress

Even if your weight loss journey is slower than you want it to be, stay positive! Any weight loss is an achievement and should be celebrated.

“Even maintaining weight can be a good thing, because it signals that you’re trying. Weight loss is difficult, and it won’t always occur as quickly as you want it too, but the important thing is to know what you’re doing right and correcting what you’re doing wrong,” Leal said.

 When you feel yourself drifting into a rut, just look back and see what you have accomplished—whether it’s an exercise or nutritional goal.

So go ahead—plug in those headphones or log that snack, because every step and well-chosen bite contributes to losing weight, and your smartphone may just be the key to achieving your goal!

— Elizabeth Grimm

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