Weight Loss: There’s an App for That

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Old weight loss wisdom says that writing down what you eat is one of the best ways to lose weight. That’s because it helps you analyze what you eat and also keeps you accountable. Luckily, with handy cell phone apps that help you track your diet, you don’t need to lug a notepad and pen around with you everywhere.

Now there’s even more of an incentive to track your eating and activity throughout the day. A study from Northwestern Medicine says that those who used their weight loss app lost an average of 15 pounds. They also kept it off for at least a year on average. 

However, just tracking food intake and activity alone isn’t enough to truly help you succeed. The study concluded that the mobile app should also give feedback and advice to the user to be effective.

“The app is important because it helps people regulate their behavior, which is really hard to do,” says Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine professor Bonnie Spring. “Most of us have no idea how many calories we consume and how much physical activity we get. The app gives you feedback on this and helps you make smart decisions in the moment.”

The study followed 69 overweight adults, mostly men, over the course of a year and offered all of them health education classes that focused on nutrition, exercise and behavior change. After being given calorie and activity goals each week, some participants tracked their progress on paper and other used an app. The particular app developed by the university transmitted the study participants’ data to a behavioral coach who then coached the participants over the phone twice a month.

At the end of the year, the study found that those who used the app and attended 8 percent of the health classes lost about 15 pounds. If you include those who did not attend the classes (hence, they didn’t receive coaching), the average weight loss for the app users was 8.6 pounds. And sadly, those who did not use the app, but did attend the classes, didn’t lose any weight. 

It turns out that the coaches played a vital role in the participants’ weight loss, along with the help of the app. The study authors found that in order to treat obesity, behavioral treatment is necessary to be successful.

“This approach empowers patients to help themselves on a day-to-day basis,” says Spring. “We can help people lose meaningful amounts of weight and keep it off. To do that we need to engage them in tracking their own eating and activity, learn how that governs weight, and take advantage of social support.”

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