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Want to lose 10, 20 (or more) pounds? Your smartphone could well be one of your best allies — but only if you use it consistently.
Even without following a specific diet, people who were overweight and tracked daily food consumption with a smartphone app (while receiving broad advice on healthy eating) lost significant weight, according to a recent study by Duke University. Why? Because self-monitoring is one of the strongest predictors of weight-loss success. And apps help keep us honest when it comes to tracking our food intake.
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"It's human nature to overestimate our exercise and underestimate what we eat,” says Jason Ewoldt, a wellness dietitian at the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program. “Trackers help create an awareness — if the user is being honest. If you have a Snickers bar in the afternoon and don't record it, you're only hurting yourself."
You also have to be consistent using apps. “People who are tracking their calories — and hitting their calorie goal — tend to lose weight. But the million-dollar question is: How do you get people to do it consistently?” says Sherry Pagoto, a licensed clinical psychologist and professor in the Department of Allied Health Sciences at the University of Connecticut who researches behavioral weight management and advises Fitbit.
A recent study found that only 25 percent of the participants who used a commercial app during a 12-week study stuck with it. So look for an app that you find easy to navigate, experts say, because you will be more likely to use it faithfully. “Keep it as simple as possible,” says Christine Pellegrini, assistant professor of exercise science at the University of South Carolina. And, though exercise is always important, focus on calories: “From a pure weight loss standpoint, tracking your dietary intake is the most effective strategy,” she says, “because it's a lot easier to not eat 500 calories than it is to burn off 500 calories."
Finally, remember: Apps alone won't melt away the pounds. “Losing weight isn't just one behavioral change; it's a thousand, including exercise, dietary choices, cooking habits and shopping habits,” says Pagoto, who recommends also consulting with a nutritionist or weight-loss coach.
That professional help is particularly important for older populations, who are often dealing with additional health issues, like diabetes or heart disease, says Pellegrini. “Apps and other kinds of technologies are not a magic pill,” she says. “They are great for tracking what you're eating and your physical activity, but to be the most effective, they need to be combined with other interventions or strategies."
These four weight-loss apps are popular for good reasons: