Happy New Year! Have you made any resolutions? Was one of them to lose weight? If it was, you are not alone. This is one of the most common New Year’s resolutions and it is also one of the most commonly broken New Year’s resolutions.
One well-documented approach to weight loss is to keep a food diary. See Weight Loss During the Intensive Intervention Phase of the Weight-Loss Maintenance Trial for some research in this area. Recording your food diary on a smartphone can make this process even easier.
There are several apps out there that will help your track your food, drink, and exercise. Some examples include: Lose It, Weight Watchers, MyFitnessPal, LiveStrong MyPlate, or if you don’t have a smartphone you can use texting with Text Calories.
I am focusing on Lose It for this post, but most of these apps have the same basic functionailty. I chose Lose It because I had some friends already using the app. If you like peer accountability, then I would chose an app that your friends are using or ask your friends to use the same app you are using. Also, most of these services have a website interface to enter your information. This may be easier initially; however research indicates that you will have better adherence if you adopt an app on your phone.
Goal setting in the Lose It app
After inputting in your personal information, Lose It asks you to set a goal weight. Lose It will use information from your profile and your goal weight to put together a daily calorie budget. You decide how often you want to step on the scale. Personally, I prefer not to use a scale too much.
This is the main part of the app and allows you to track what you eat and drink. You can quickly check to see if a certain food or drink is in the database with a search or you can use the built in barcode scanner. The barcode scanner is great since it will automatically retrieve the food with the appropriate serving size, calories, and macronutrients. You will find food from several national chain restaurants and food brands. If you cannot find the food/drink item in the database or if you made a homemade meal, you can enter it manually. If you are really hard core and interested in your nutrient intake, search the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. If you have the same thing for breakfast most weekday mornings, you can quickly add them using the “Previous Meals” tab in the app. You can also enter full recipes into the app and retrieve them without having to enter the individual ingredients again. I manually entered some of my favorite local craft beers from Good People Brewing. Once I entered them into my database, I have the option to share the entries with my friends.
iOS Food Diary
In addition to the food diary, there is an exercise diary. Entering exercises you do will give you caloric credit (no interest fees) toward your daily calorie intake. There are several common exercises (e.g., aerobics, running, bicycling, yoga) and several everyday activities (e.g., yard work, gardening, vacuuming, and yes… even sexual activity).
Carefully crafted encouragement
OK, I admit it. I am a social person. I like the community features of the app. Not only can you talk smack with your friends and look at their last meal eaten, you can also form teams and compete against other teams to exercise the most minutes, take the most steps, or burn the most calories as a percent of RMR (Resting Metabolic Rate). I think these features keep you motivated to exercise more or at least motivated to log your meals.
Don’t mess with the Librarinators! We take no prisoners!
All of the features I have discussed so far are part of the free version. If you want more features, a Premium version is available for $39.99 a year. The Premium version allows more detailed goal setting such as nutrient intake. For example, you could set a goal that you want 35% of your calories to come from protein. Plus there are goals for exercise, blood pressure, blood glucose, sleep, and body measurements. The app is further enhanced by connectivity of other apps and devices such as Fitbit, Withings Scale, Nike+, and Zeo Sleep Monitor.
The first step (after choosing the app) is USING IT! Lose It allows you to set up reminders to log your meals. You can set reminders at specific times after meals or at the end of the day. This will help get you into the routine of logging your meals.
Don’t get discouraged! You will go over your calorie budget sometimes. It happens. I am afraid to show you my New Year’s Eve. Well… since you asked, look here!
I know it is a pain to enter homemade recipes or foods that are not in the app. If you don’t want to do that, just chose a restaurant or grocery store equivalent. I know this will be a estimate but I think the important thing is to enter something!
Over the past four months, I lost 12 pounds. I was not trying to lose weight but the Lose It app helped increase my awareness of what I was putting into my body. When I wanted to eat a 400 calorie cookie from a local sandwich place, I asked myself whether I would rather eat the cookie or drink two craft beers. It’s all about choices!
Disclaimer: I am not a dietitian or a nutritionist (and I don’t play one on TV). Before starting any diet or exercise plan please consult a professional.