In today’s culture, there’s an app for just about everything, from dating to dieting.

They seem like good ideas — helping us turn our lives into healthier ones — but like any form of technology, they come with their own pros and cons.

Applications like Lose It!, MyFitnessPal, Noom Weight, and Fitness Buddy haven’t necessarily been evaluated for accuracy and aren’t approved by the FDA. While the intentions behind them are all good, it’s important to know what you’re really getting yourself into when you tap on your smartphone.

A study by the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that weight loss smartphone applications may not be as effective as they appear.

Real, long-term weight loss can only happen when certain life habits are altered. Proven weight loss is based on 20 strategies that affect these long-established habits or behaviors.

With that in mind, 30 smartphone applications (some paid and some free) were studied — including Livestrong, Fitbit and MyFitnessPal.

Of the proven strategies known to work, the applications did provide aid in the areas of creating weight loss goals, diet goals and portion control help. However, the majority of apps didn’t take into account important strategies like stress reduction, negative thinking or social cues.

In fact, at best, few apps offered 13 out of the 20 proven strategies. At worst, they offered none of the proven strategies.

The reality is, you’re not going to get everything you need to succeed from a smartphone application. Weight loss isn’t black and white, it’s a process that includes a myriad of tactics, and one single anything can’t keep us on the right track.

App Pros

They help hold us accountable. They can track our diet and exercise, and remind us when we start to slow down.

They educate us. They offer insight into things like our Body Mass Index, waist circumference, goal weights, nutrition and more. Things that we might forget after reading a book or speaking with a specialist.

They’re fun. Sometimes they turn weight loss and exercise into a enjoyable experience.

App Cons

They don’t provide emotional support. It’s a phone, not a friend. When we’re stressed out or frustrated, they can’t do more than let you type in your current weight and what you ate that day. Only a specialist, friend or family member can offer emotional support.

They’re not personal. It’s a generic app, geared to ensure the majority of people participating succeed. This means that they’re not catered to your specific needs as an individual.

You can’t always trust a device. A lot of apps haven’t been approved by medical professionals, and the advice or program they offer may not be the most accurate or healthy for you. It maybe a technological device, but that doesn’t mean it can’t lie to you.

Bottom line: An app is great for calculating your daily calorie intake, but it can’t give you a hug when you’ve had a bad day and just want to eat a dozen doughnuts. Real research needs to be devoted to weight loss applications, especially as they grow in popularity, to ensure that better support is being given. All strategies are important when losing weight, and apps shouldn’t skip over them.

Until then, use apps if you’d like to, but don’t rely on them. Your best bet to success is the old-fashioned way: a combination of healthy nutrition, exercise and support from a real (human) weight loss specialist to reach your goal.

Hope this helps!
wenzel Dr. Aaron Wenzel M.D.| Founder of Bariform

P.S. If you’re are looking for an app to assist you in meeting your weight loss goals, here are a few to try:

  • Lose It! — it lets you look up food to track calories, while also tracking exercise.
  • Fooducate — keeps you in the know about food health.
  • Locavore — notifies you of what foods are in season, and how much longer you have to enjoy them. It also shows you where you can purchase them locally. Eating seasonal, local foods helps you get added nutrients in your diet.