Back in the 1970s, when my mom wanted to lose weight, she turned to her palm-sized calorie counter book. She dutifully looked up, wrote down and added up the calorie counts for all the things she ate each day.
I, on the other hand, can use an app on my smartphone for dieting help.
I can use one programmed with my favorite snacks. There's one that can help me when I dine out and another that alphabetizes my favorite recipes, like an ingredients-only weight loss cookbook. I have hundreds of weight loss and fitness apps at my disposal.
And herein lies my problem: How am I — how are any of us — supposed to choose?
Luckily, a physician at the University of Texas has done some research on this question. "The best apps are the ones that engage people more," said Dr. John P. Higgins, a sports cardiologist at McGovern Medical School at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.
In a paper published last year in the American Journal of Medicine, Higgins reviewed dozens of weight loss and fitness apps. One finding: "With respect to apps," he said, "new is not necessarily better."
For those just entering the weight loss app world, Higgins has a counterintuitive suggestion: Start with an older app with a proven track record, such as Lose It! or MyFitnessPal (which, despite its title, is very much a nutrition and weight loss app). Those apps will help you figure out what you like and don't like — and will ultimately help you decide what you really want in a weight loss app.
"The apps that have been around a little while and are high on most lists, they are the ones that have gotten the most feedback from their customers and gotten better over time," he said.
But if these aren't to your liking, or you find yourself wondering what else is out there, here are four more apps we like, each with its unique twist on weight loss:
Noom Coach: This app takes its title seriously. It is as close to a coach as an electronic clipboard can be. It offers users articles on weight loss and healthful eating. It asks users to set exercise goals, then reminds them to do their workouts. It also sends inspirational tips. The basic version is free; users can pay $9.99 a month for access to recipes and a community forum, or $39.99 a month to communicate with a personal trainer.
Weight Loss Coach by Fooducate: This app uses a scanner to grade food brands. I scanned the bar code on my Milton's Gluten-Free Baked Crackers. The app gave the chips a B-minus. "Highly processed!" it warned. "Contains MSG-like ingredients." The basic version is free; a one-time payment of $39.99 tailors the program for specific diets like vegan, paleo or gluten-free.
HealthyOut: This app addresses one specific challenge of the determined dieter: How to know where to eat, and what to order, when eating out? A quick search in my West L.A. neighborhood did not include fine dining eatery Valentino but did turn up a Thai place, Chan Dara, a few blocks away. I could filter the menu there by ingredients or dietary preference. For those weary of lettuce, you can filter for "Not a Salad." At a national chain restaurant like the Counter, I could get calorie counts as well. The app is free.
Diet Point: If you want to lose weight without strategizing, this is the app for you. It allows you to select a diet from a long list (some are free; some are one-time, in-app purchases), then gives you a meal-by-meal plan for that diet, along with a shopping list for the week. The app is free, but in-app diet purchases run around $5.