For the millions of people out there wanting to lose weight and get in shape, apps that track your consumption habits, exercise routine, and make suggestions on what to do next seem like the perfect solution. There are thousands of weight loss apps out there, some of which are highly reviewed, and if you read a handful of testimonials, it’s easy to believe that downloading one of these apps could be the boost you need to finally achieve your goals.
But are these apps worth your time and money, or could they lead you astray?
How Apps Can Be Helpful
There are definitely some upsides to using an app:
- Motivation. Opening an app every day can easily become a habit, providing you with motivation to keep your fitness program going. Some people will continue eating healthy, counting their calories, and exercising just so they don’t have to see a blank spot in their app, or so they can hit a certain milestone within the app. That motivation is important, as weight loss is a long-term strategy that requires focused commitment.
- Information consolidation. Apps are also an easy way to consolidate all your information in one place. Most weight loss apps give you the ability to record what you eat, how you exercise, and other lifestyle factors. It’s easier to log an entry in an app and have it calculate your totals for you than it is to do it manually by hand.
- Convenient progress measurement. Your app will also keep track of your progress for you, detailing how you’ve stuck to your goals and how much weight you’ve lost since the beginning. That provides healthy, positive reinforcement to keep you motivated and information to help you learn from your mistakes. In this way, apps make your weight loss progress seem more “real” and more attainable.
- The social component. Food and weight loss have strong social and emotional components that many people overlook. Participating in the same app as your friends can make losing weight a bonding experience, making you more likely to follow through on your goals. Even using the app alone, you’ll likely be able to find a community of users who share the same goals and challenges.
But before you get excited about downloading the latest weight loss app, consider the downsides:
- Medically accurate apps are rare. There are dozens of factors involved in how you gain or lose weight, including personal factors like what medications you’re taking and your genetic predisposition to weight loss. Most apps aren’t designed by medical professionals, and therefore can’t possibly offer you the full picture of an ideal weight loss plan. Consumer health and fitness won’t provide you with the information, guidance, or medical supervision necessary to follow through on a formal weight loss plan. Medically focused apps, like those that monitor blood glucose or other vital signs, are typically used exclusively by medical professionals, and are notoriously difficult to develop (especially for typical consumers).
- Weight loss apps are often treated as fads. The best workout regimen is the one you actually want to do—the one that’s likely to stick around as part of your routine for longer than a few months. If you feel coerced into following a certain program, chances are you’re going to abandon it, and if you hop on the bandwagon of excitement for a new app, chances are you’ll be over it within a few months. After that abandonment point, no matter what its root cause was, you probably won’t continue eating healthy and exercising, at which point, you’ll gain back any weight you lost while using the app to begin with.
- Apps offer limited information. Even the most sophisticated apps try to simplify things for users as much as possible, to lower the learning curve and invite more new users to participate. Unfortunately, that has a significant downside; it means people are learning less about the actual keys to health and fitness. Without that baseline knowledge, you won’t develop the skills or decision making power necessary to form healthy habits on your own.
- Apps aren’t for everybody. For people predisposed to enjoying time on apps, app-based weight loss trackers are fantastic tools. For others, they’re a tedious waste of time. That means the benefits of weight loss apps are only available to a portion of the population who actually enjoys using them.
The Bottom Line
The big picture here is that while weight loss apps can be a convenient and beneficial way to augment your fitness strategy, they aren’t a substitute for learning more about physical fitness, and committing to a healthier overall lifestyle. Weight loss apps aren’t making an impact in the obesity epidemic, partly because they’re being misused, and partly because they can’t possibly make you lose weight by themselves. With or without an app, it’s on you to make healthy decisions.