Are apps best for monitoring food intake?

food-diaryAs a cyclist, keeping my weight done is an important part of being able to ride well.  Every extra pound of weight is something that needs dragging up a mountain.

It’s pretty common therefore for cyclists to monitor what they eat, often via a food diary.  Traditionally these may have been paper or spreadsheet based bits of content, but it’s increasingly common to use smartphone apps to do the job for us.

The advantage of smartphone diaries

A recent study suggests that when we use smartphones to record our calorie intake, we’re actually better able to watch what we eat than when we use paper or spreadsheets to do the job.

“The biggest mediator for weight loss is adherence to self-monitoring,” the researchers say.

The study saw data from previous explorations into food diary usage, before then comparing adherence to various monitoring programs over a six month period.  Participants used smartphone based diaries, PDA based diaries and a paper one.

Staying on the wagon

It emerged that people generally struggled to maintain their diaries regardless of which approach they used, but smartphone users were significantly better than their peers.

It emerged that 62% of smartphone users had stayed the course, compared to 52% of PDA users and just 34% of those using paper diaries.

What’s more, it emerged that adherence to the diary declined incredibly fast in the paper group in comparison to those in the other two groups.

User friendliness

So why did people stay the course more with digital support?  The authors suggest that it is largely because the apps were much more user friendly than the paper diaries.  What’s more, the apps also tended to give users feedback, which provided a level of support and encouragement not provided by the paper diaries.

You can also maintain your diary via phone without having to alert others to what you’re doing.  Paper diaries can be both time-consuming and conspicuous.

The limitations of apps

Of course, we shouldn’t take this to say that apps are the be all and end all.  A recent study found that dieters using an app to manage their weight did no better than a control group using lower tech means.

“For some people it did work,” the authors say. “But on average, the difference with the control group was insignificant. This doesn’t mean cell phone apps can’t work for weight control, but this one didn’t.”

Suffice to say, there is a lot more study required before any firm conclusions can be drawn on this matter.  There have been previous studies highlighting the benefits of digital interventions however, whether in text message support or community based support, so we shouldn’t write digital tools off, but more is needed to better understand what does and does not work.


6 thoughts on “Are apps best for monitoring food intake?

  1. Most of these apps are not that much effective. Look you have to scan the barcode and then the app will check the nutrition info online. Now are you going to eat all of the food that is there in the container whose barcode you have just scanned? I believe no.

  2. MyFitnessPal so far has really worked well for me and I'm seeing results. Sync it with Endomondo and you've got yourself a great fitness tool.

  3. Nowadays, technologies has its share in keeping us fit and healthy. Many apps are developed to help monitor and keep track the food intake and other activities daily. However, the effectivity of this apps still depends on how honest and consistent we are in maintaining overall wellness.

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