Fighting Obesity Through Your Phone - App Week

ADDITIONAL CONTRIBUTORS Gabriela Kalter

By Gabriela Kalter

Photo courtesy of Andrew Kimmell

Today it seems that subscribing to a balanced diet and maintaining a healthy body weight has become too complicated to manage without the assistance of a mobile app. It’s just not as simple as it should be; healthy vs. unhealthy is too simplistic a categorization for most foods these days.

It’s disconcerting how many calories we consume daily, despite our better efforts and good intentions. Yogurt may be healthy compared to say, a cheeseburger, but Yoplait French Vanilla yogurt has 26 grams of sugar, which is twice the amount in one serving of Lucky Charms. And Chobani, a brand that has dominated in the yogurt market, has recently faced allegations of false marketing. How many of us were under the impression that yogurt was pretty much a harmless, healthy snack? Unfortunately, misleading marketing is all too common in today’s food industry. What else aren’t they telling us?

It’s no wonder that obesity has essentially become a national pandemic, affecting one in three adults and almost one in five children. There’s so much to consider and keep track of when committing to a healthy diet and exercise regime. Aside from tracking what you eat and increasing physical activity, there are calories to count, foods to explore and fat to burn.

Luckily, with the continuous development of mobile apps, the advocates for weight-loss and obesity prevention have gathered additional tools to assist and encourage people who need to get their weight and dietary habits under control. In fact, a study from Northwestern University says that utilizing a mobile app as part of your weight loss program can help you lose as much as 15 pounds and keep it off for at least one year.

Additionally, researchers at the University of Leeds recently published results from a trial study comparing the weight loss between overweight dieters using a paper diary versus those who used a mobile app to track their meals and calorie intake. The results showed that the participants who used a weight-loss app dropped three times the amount of weight as those who strictly kept a paper diary.

So whether it’s a meal-planning focused app or one that’s centered on fitness, it’s definitely worth a try. With such a broad selection of apps to choose from, you can explore the options. They each appeal to a certain type of person and lifestyle, all in a collective effort to make our nation feel lighter and healthier.

Perhaps one of the biggest names in the weight-loss app market is My Fitness Pal. Combining the use of a food and exercise diary, My Fitness Pal provides an extensive database of over 2 million food items and exercises to choose from when tracking your meals and physical activity. There are a lot of calorie counters and meal planning apps on the market, all with the common goal of forming the habitual monitoring of our daily caloric intake.

My Meal Mate, for example, provides users with the ability to track their meals and keep an awareness of portion size. The app sends a text message update to users giving them a weekly progress report.

When the app was tested on overweight users in a trial study, the results showed that the app led to a weight loss of an average of four more pounds than those who went without it.

“Whilst we wouldn’t expect people to use My Meal Mate daily for the rest of their lives, it gives them the skills and educations to monitor their diet themselves – to have a better understanding of portion sizes, nutritional content and the effect of exercise,” Researcher Michelle Carter of Leeds University’s School of Food Science and Nutrition tells The Daily Mail.

Similar apps that help users track meals include My Net Diary, which emphasizes a fast and easy tracking process, Bon’App which incorporates a voice activated food diary, and iTrackBites which allows users to balance their meals with a calculator, weight tracker, and food database.

My Fitness Pal, as well as many other weight loss apps, offer users the ability to add and follow friends as a way for like-minded dieters to encourage one another. It has, in fact, been proven that when you diet and exercise within the support system of a group, you are likely to lose more weight.

The encouragement of community has correlated directly to successful ongoing weight-loss and nutritional maintenance. With the addition of social support provided by other people, weight loss efforts are enhanced and the chances of keeping the weight off increase. Lose It! provides users with this type of motivational support through their ‘friends’ feature, which allows you to add people to a Lose It! network that offers forums, challenges, and groups. The ‘challenges’ feature provides users with an opportunity to get competitive with their wellness goals and either form their own team or join a preexisting one to boost their weight loss stakes and get into the zone.

Fooducate is another great app for meal planning because it provides a nutrition scanner to use at the grocery store. Using a scientifically developed grading system, Fooducate grades food items to help users find the healthiest choices for their own personal goals.

Noom Weight Loss is another food tracking app, but it incorporates the use of a mobile weight loss coach to specialize your weight loss plan and maximize your potential success. Using the system of volumetrics, the app plans meals based upon the principal of eating lower calorie meals that fill you up so you aren’t suffering from hunger and subsequent eating binges.

Of course eating healthy and cutting calories are only one portion of the weight loss effort. Exercise is an equally important habit to develop for those who are overweight or just concerned about their wellness. There are countless apps that focus purely on fitness and exercise, such as JeFit which was developed by professional bodybuilders in order to enhance an individual’s workout at the gym. The app tracks body stats and creates custom routines to manage your progress.

Photo courtesy of jiten.a
Another fitness app called Remix Workouts provides real time video and audio workout instructions for users to follow, almost like working out right next to a personal trainer at the gym, except they’re on your phone. The app also includes motivational quotes and new diverse routines to try each time. Similarly, the app Pocket Yoga allows users to learn and practice yoga anywhere and anytime with the comprehensive database of poses and instructional illustrations.

Other fitness apps like GAIN Fitness, Gym Ball Workouts, and Nike Training Club also serve as pocket personal trainers with customized exercise routines and workout tracking capabilities.

Many weight-loss apps on the market today specifically target the younger demographic, battling the disease of childhood obesity. Work It Off, for example, was developed for kids in order to teach them the importance of calorie intake and how it relates to the amount of calories burned per day. Run4Good is an app that encourages exercise and running through financial incentive. For every mile ran and tracked in the app, the runner can earn money for community youth running programs. So, you’re helping yourself as well as others achieve weight-loss.

To appeal to the younger demographic of people who need to lose weight, many fitness and nutrition apps have taken shape in the form of games in order to make the process of getting healthy amusing and fun. Smash Your Food is an app that encourages players to learn the nutritional facts about certain foods by smashing them on screen. With compelling images and sound effects, the app teaches kids and families about the presence of sugars, salts, and oils in the food they commonly consume. It was named a top winner in Michelle Obama’s “Apps for Healthy Kids” contest.

Trainer is another unique app that also makes learning health information into a game. The player is responsible for taking care of creatures who have dietary and fitness needs. When the player exercises the creature, they too engage in exercise and benefit themselves while advancing the creatures in the game. Through training the creatures on the app, users learn experimentally and gain insight into important healthy habits.

Similar apps include Food Hero, where users can acquire the title of ‘Food Hero’ through completing a series of exercises, Eat This, Not That! The Game, which challenges a user’s knowledge of nutrition and healthy food choices through a series of fast food face-offs, and Food Buster, which encourages users to choose foods with the least amount of calories through a point system, giving nutrition a competitive, exciting edge.

You want to lose weight? There’s an app for that. You want to eat healthier and track your calories? There’s an app for that. Whatever dietary aid works best for you, it exists in app form, and it’s a great way to monitor your eating and exercise habits. In a country where obesity is becoming a more prevalent and more serious problem each year, it’s more important than ever to stay aware of weight gain and eating patterns. And yep, there’s an app for that.

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