In Part 1, I talked about the importance of consulting with a healthcare professional to learn about healthy diet approaches. Most apps are not based on behavioral change theory. As I wrote in Part 2, apps are uniquely suiting to providing easy ways of self-monitoring diet and activity and facilitating social connection. These two features are very important because they are consistently associated with successful weight loss.
What makes a good diet app? Something that works for you because, while I know this seems obvious, you want to find an app that you will actually use. Sometimes that involves a little trial and error.
Here are seven pointers to help you figure out which app will work best for you:
- Preview the apps before purchasing and read the reviews. Every app has different qualities and the things that work for you might not work for others and vice versa. Learning how the ins and outs of an app before you jump in for real will help you pick one that supports your personality, tech-skills and willingness to pay attention to details. Most apps are free to download and have In-App purchases for more content or to remove advertising. The free versions will give you an idea of how they work before investing—although none are very expensive. You may also find that the free version is good enough. Check with friends to see if any of them have been using these tools, especially if you might want to team up with them.
- The best apps try to offer some nutritional guidance. While you shouldn’t rely on them alone, a good app should warn you if set a calorie goal that is too low for your current weight. It should also provide information so you can judge whether you’re getting the right balance of protein, carbohydrates and fat.
- Check to see if the app offers the things you will find helpful. These might include:
- Reminders or daily inspiration
- Ability to form teams or connect you to a community of people with similar goals.
- Ability to scan food items using your phone’s camera. Most packaged food has bar codes these days and the ability to scan streamlines the food entry process
- Ability to create menus so repeated items can be entered quickly. For example, I have “coffee with milk” in a three serving quantity in my database so I don’t have to enter my caffeine infusions separately.
- A place to keep notes about events that might be ‘food triggers’
- Take any contenders for a real test drive. Download the free version and try it for a day or two or five. Don’t be afraid to change your mind and get a new one. I tried two apps at the same time for a week. They had completely different systems and I wanted to see how easy it was to enter data, if it was aesthetically pleasing to use, how accurately and consistently they recorded information, and which one was least likely to drive me nuts. Be picky. You’re going to spend a lot of time with the app as you learn to realign your relationship with food.
- Combine apps. Some apps are better for exercise, others are better for diet logs and some have food and nutrition information. If you can’t find the perfect app in one, combine them. Look for ones that link to one another to make your recording easier. If you travel or eat out frequently, add an app that helps you find healthy choices among restaurant meals or gives you recipes and shopping lists to start building your new ‘food savvy’ life. The Food Network app has over 45,000 recipes but there are others depending on your diet preferences and cooking skill, ranging from fast food calories to Paleo recipes.
- Weight loss isn’t just about food and exercise. It’s a serious head game, too. Don’t neglect the mental portion of weight loss. Be ready to make a commitment and begin to cultivate mindfulness skills, for example, spend a moment each day feeling grateful, set a beautiful table and take time to enjoy the food you prepare, and invest a few minutes in some relaxation exercises. Overeating often occurs during periods of stress because this is when you have the least ‘cognitive energy’ available to exercise willpower. Relaxation and mindfulness skills will help you counter balance stressful times. You can support and cultivate your inner calm adding a mindfulness, meditation or relaxation app to your phone along with your diet app. I alternate between Simply Being and Headspace, but there are lots of good ones, some free and some for purchase. I like these two because they include short meditations for when I’m overrun by my Type A “I don’t have the time” mentality.
- Dieting shouldn’t be dreary or you won’t stick with it. Have a fun app, like a game app, that absorbs your attention when you feel like grazing in the cracker bin or to reward yourself when you exhibit a masterful bit of self-discipline. I enjoy Bejeweled and Solitaire–oldies but goodies–but there are likely hundreds more that will do the trick when your brain needs a quick redirect.