Weight loss and well-being apps – do they help?

As Christmas shopping deadlines get closer, devices and apps that track food intake, exercise frequency and duration, as well as sleep cycles and stress, will be advertised as an important aid to living a healthier lifestyle. But is it a wise investment – can tech help us achieve our health and well -being goals?

Those of us who already have such devices are probably putting them away until the new year when the country seems to go on a loose weight/get fitter/ feel better/fit in those jeans resolution. And others may be trying on their new watches and wrist bands, and scanning their newly downloaded apps for advice and data clues to help them power into the new year.

But will it help?

Apps and devices are of course, easier to use than a paper and pencil record of food intake or exercise, but they also require discipline and motivation and a liking for being organised and and a willingness to be totally honest with yourself. Apps that track exercise are on the whole easy to use as well, but are irrelevant if the individual wearing the activity tracking device is nit actually moving or has left the thing at home when they hit the gym. Suggestions on changing behavior to reduce emotional overeating or decrease portion size are sensible and may work, if followed. Users can benefit from these Apps because they are able to improve the nutritional quality of what is eaten, or motivate exercise because the App gives instant praise when physical activity occurs. But are Apps able to motivate the disinterested or discouraged dieter? Are there Apps that entice users who stop tracking food consumption or refuse to exercise to begin again? Are there Apps that really understand why we eat too much? Maybe the next generation of such devices will accomplish this. Or maybe not.

We asked our practitioner ambassadors for their views.

Adam Mufti Physiotherapist commented :

Apps can be an excellent way to keep yourself motivated and keep yourself on track with exercise. Apps which incorporate programmes such as the couch to 5K can help pacing, build endurance and get people into running while keeping achievable goals.
Other apps can show you good technique for exercises in the gym, and others, such as strava, can be a great social platform to share activities with friends and family and keep you motivated.

Susan Burry Dietitian comments:

Dietary apps can be helpful for some people in the short term, they can help people know if they are eating the correct macronutrients and portion sizes. dietitians can help with this process by giving guidance on how to meet the clients targets. But important not to use in the long term, just enough to get you on track!

And finally Catherine Steele Psychologist added to the summaries:

Diet and wellbeing apps are a great way to track your progress against set goals and the notifications can be really helpful in keeping us motivated. But.. they do need to be carefully managed to make sure they are supporting us not creating more pressure!

For example the need to regularly enter data such as food and drink can become another task on top of our already unnamable to list so think about how you can best make it work for you. Be careful not to check in too often and become don’t obsessed with the device. If you miss a day or two of tracking it will be ok!

Can health apps plug the motivation gap?

Whether we like it or not, health apps are becoming the norm. Not only are they being used all over the world for everything from sports performance tracking, diet and nutrition, meditation, weight loss and speaking to Practitioners. Apps now not only are for personal use and gain but are endorsed by the NHS with 40 of them being listed as useful.

Health apps and Mhealth solutions meet us where we already are – our phones and devices. There’s no need to change how we already live our lives apps integrate into our every day and synch up with wearables too. In this way, it is easy to make their use routine just like checking our emails or scrolling through social media might be.

But what about that first step? Good healthy habits are the goal, but how can apps really tap into our psyche and motivate us?

One type of health app that’s looked to do just that are those that play on the human need for reward. Making a change to our health or lifestyle, no matter how big or small can be tough. “Motivation has always been a key stumbling block when it comes to keeping fit and healthy. Health apps aim to bring a goals-based approach to the problem giving us unprecedented access to data about ourselves. This data helps us feel good about achieving new personal bests and seeing improvements over time.”, says founder and creator of fit-count Marc Asher.

But for some this type of data can be overwhelming or have no real meaning to people, especially in the beginning when progress might be slow. This stops them from having true ‘intrinsic’ motivation – pursuing changes because it makes them feel good because they enjoy it or get a mental benefit. And this is what Marc cleverly played on, “Combine data with a rewards-based approach such as financial incentives to do exercise that an app such as fit-count provides, and you have a powerful tool to make a positive lasting change to your lifestyle.”. fit-count effectively pushes people through the initially tough stage by giving a form of extrinsic motivation – offers and discounts in reward for steps and other activities.

In this way, you can really see the potential of health apps, not only fitting into our everyday lives but challenging our everyday habits. We’re proud to be represented on fit-count, with offers from us being unlocked at different stages of steps. They are soon to release their Android version and are already live on iOS. So, if you’ve got an iPhone, make sure you download fit-count today to get access to offers from us and plenty of other great businesses and brands.