Weight loss doesn't happen overnight, but apps can help. Be sure you're getting the most out of yours with these easy tips

By Paige Fowler

Weight-loss apps are a dime a dozen (and many are free, like these Top Healthy Living Apps for Weight Loss), but are they even worth downloading? At first glance, they seem like a great idea: After all, plenty of research shows that recording what you eat can help you eat less. However several new studies show that using a weight-loss app to record your intake may not actually help you slim down. According to a recent University of California-Los Angeles study, participants who downloaded a smartphone app for weight loss didn't lose any more weight over six months than those who didn't. And another study, by researchers at Arizona State University, found no difference in weight loss among people who recorded their intake using a smartphone app, memo function, or paper and pen.

The biggest issue: Many people stop using the app, which makes it completely unhelpful. In the UCLA study, app usage dropped sharply after just one month! However, there's still hope-in the Arizona State study, researchers found that people who used a smartphone app were more likely to input their dietary intake than those using the other methods. "It's likely that entering data into a device you use for so many other technological functions makes it more convenient," says Christopher Wharton, associate professor of Nutrition at Arizona State University. You just need to remember to do it!

Entering your eats is the first step, he says, but it takes even more than that to lose weight. Here, three ways to make weight-loss apps work for you.

1. Choose an app you love. It sounds like a no-brainer, but if an app is overly complicated or requires too many steps then there's a greater chance you'll end up deleting it or forgetting about the app. While apps that generate accurate nutrition info just by taking a photo of your grub are still being developed (we're keeping an eye on them for you!), we like Calorie Counter & Diet Tracker (free; itunes.com) and GoMeals (free; itunes.com) for their ease of use.

2. Find an app with feedback. Another factor that sets your device apart from pen and paper is that weight-loss apps can give you feedback on how many calories you've consumed and how many calories are left in the day before you exceed a limit you have set, Wharton says. This can help you keep tabs on how you're doing and make you rethink a treat when it'll put you over the edge. Noom Coach (free; itunes.com) and My Diet Diary (free; itunes.com) have this feature built-in.

3. Pick an app that emphasizes diet quality. "It's possible to lose weight on a low-quality diet, but it's important to consume a high-quality diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, protein, and whole grains so you can lose weight and be healthier for it," Wharton says. The app LoseIt! (free; itunes.com) tracks your macronutrient intake and Fooducate – Healthy Weight Loss, Food Scanner & Diet Tracker (free; itunes.com) grades foods on an A to D scale (just like in school) based on nutrient quality, quantity, and ingredients. It also offers healthier alternatives for certain packaged foods.

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