Today almost everyone has a smartphone. Mine is usually glued to my side. I count on it for so many things—emails, texts, Twitter, Facebook, phone calls, and, okay, Words with Friends.
Research recently published in the Journal of Internet Medical Research found that using a smartphone can also be ideal for weight loss. “My Meal Mate,” an app that was created by the researchers (which is not available for download on the iPhone), helped study participants record their meals and exercise; it also sent them messages to help keep them on track. After six months, app users lost an average of 10 pounds, compared to 6.5 pounds for those keeping a paper journal and 3 pounds for those using an online food journal.
The results did not surprise me. More and more of my patients come in to my office with a new app they are using. At the beginning, it is a fun new tool and they are diligent with it. However I warn them about the accuracy of the calories for many of their foods and the daily calorie allotment that many of the current apps provide. I try to get them to use the app more for the ease of record keeping instead of calorie counting. And if technology isn’t their cup of tea, I'm still a fan of the old-school pen to paper since the accountability of their choices is what I am after.
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I would be interested in seeing this study continue for a longer length of time and to see if the participants keep the weight off. I agree that food journaling is a very important tool—all my patients who have been successful journal 100 percent of the time. But what works for my patients for long-term success is the understanding of what their meal should look like (i.e. portion control, plenty of fruits and veggies, 100-percent whole grains), not how many calories it has.
So should you download an app if you are trying to lose weight? It definitely can’t hurt. But most importantly, you need to be completely honest with your record keeping—until an app is developed that can tell when you’re lying.