Digital Weight Loss (Part 2): Why Use an App?
A diet app is more than a tool; it is your 'App of Courage'
Posted May 16, 2015
As I wrote in Part 1, apps can be very effective tools to support weight loss, but there is some work you need to do first: make a commitment, visit your doctor or a nutritionist to get a good sense of a healthy diet plan and reasonable weight loss goals and visit a trainer or coach to get an idea of what exercise plans make sense so you don’t hurt yourself. In this post, I’m going to talk about what it is that apps CAN do, once you get all the information you need to make informed decisions about a diet. The reason most diets fail isn’t due to lack of willpower; it’s due to unreasonable expectations and nutritional knowledge gaps.
It’s fair to ask, however, if you need all this information before you even haul out your iPhone, what does an app actually do?
Apps are extraordinarily good at tracking, motivating, providing feedback and connecting you with others.
Apps help you keep track of what you eat. They make it easy and this keeps you honest. Many apps also link with other apps and wearable devices, like the Fitbit and Jawbone Up! and use your phone’s GPS to sync your activity with the companion app on your phone. For example, the apps LoseIt! and MyFitnessPal make recording calories very easy and sync with fitness devices such as the FitBit. Runkeeper records exercise and links it to the Up! app so you have a better idea of your activity “reality” compared to your goals. Seeing a record of your exercise, a map of where you walked, or calories translated into compelling visuals can be very inspiring. Some days I take a walk just so I can see the map. Some diet systems, like Weight Watchers, have simplified the calories counting process into a point system to make recording easier to sustain. It’s keeping track of what you eat and what you do that matters, not the method you use.
Social support, whether it’s online or in person, also provides accountability with a human touch. We are, after all, social animals and take pleasure from emotional encouragement and even friendly competition. It is much easier to stick to an exercise plan if you have an exercise or diet buddy. Research shows it doesn’t matter very much if it’s online or waiting for you at the gym.
Social support can also be helpful in sticking to a diet because you can share successes, normalize (and laugh at) failures and exchange tips. Many apps now link to social media so you can post progress with friends, publicly or privately. Some apps have web support that allows you to make teams and participate in forums so that you can encourage each other asynchronously and virtually. Weight Watchers offers members the ability to text a mentor 24/7 in case you need someone to talk to. Making change over time is hard. Social support helps you stay on track by keeping things in perspective.
Weight loss is a long game, not a sprint. Be reasonable and be kind to yourself if some days don’t go as well as you’d like. App or no app, don’t allow one bad day to make you give-up. Don’t throw in the towel if you forgot to record your food for a few days. The app doesn’t care.
You can use all weight loss strategies without an app, of course. You can keep track of your food with pen and paper. A good app just makes it so much easier.
You can connect with friends without the app, too, but make sure they are friends who support your goals. The advantage of joining a weight-loss community such as those offered by LoseIt! or Weight Watchers is that the members are people going through the same challenges you are and they will want to support your goals. Sometimes friends and family have a hard time seeing people close to them make changes and, even if they have the best intentions, can subvert your efforts by pressing you to clean your plate, have the birthday cake or enjoy a second glass of wine.
The App of Courage
When you take charge of your life by losing weight and getting fit, it changes how you feel about yourself on the inside—it gives you confidence in your ability to tackle other hard challenges and succeed. This will impact your confidence about other things as well; so don’t just view this as a weight loss campaign with a diet app. Think of it as an investment in your courage and strength. Who knew there was an app for that?
In Part 3, I’ll give you some pointers for picking out your app of courage.