Health Advice



Weight Loss by the Numbers

Charlyn Fargo on

When I see someone serious about losing weight, they typically have a habit of tracking their calories. Most use an app on their smartphone such as MyFitnessPal or Lose It! or MyNetDiary. There are many others as well. These happen to be free (although some offer premium upgrades for a fee).

Besides tracking calories, these apps can help improve the quality of your diet by helping you know how much fiber, vitamins or other nutrients you are consuming (or not consuming).

Some include motivational challenges; some let you connect with others on the same app; some scan barcodes of products to get the most accurate nutritional information. Look for one with a huge database of foods and prepared dishes. It's also helpful to have one where you can import a recipe.

If all this seems like too much to do, realize that most of us eat the same foods over and over. So, once you add a food to your app, it's there, ready to pop in a day's calorie count.

Why use an app? Accountability. Tracking your food intake with an app can help keep you accountable and open your eyes to where you're falling short nutritionally.

A meta-analysis study in the journal Obesity Reviews found that app-based mobile interventions can improve diet quality and help with weight loss. In another study, researchers found those who used mobile apps lost nearly 2 pounds more in weight compared with those not using an app. Researchers used data from 14 studies involving over 2,000 people.


While there is plenty of room for human error -- overestimating or underestimating portions -- there is something powerful about keeping track of what you eat. Many people have no idea how many calories a simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich might have or how many calories are in a glass of wine.

A wise dietitian told me (as I worried about losing my pregnancy weight) that it really boils down to calories in and calories out. For most of us to make a change, we have to know how many calories we're taking in. That's where an app might help.

Q and A

Q: What's the difference between a sweet potato and a yam?


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