Diet Program Comparison: Mobile Apps

In a previous blog, we evaluated the most popular diet programs we hear about from our clients as Registered Dietitians in Edmonton. With the increase in health and wellness apps out there, we thought it was time to look at some of the popular diet program apps, that incorporate some level of nutrition.

 

Carrot Rewards

What Is it?

Honestly, I was a bit confused when I first looked at this app. The name “Carrot Rewards” implied to me that it was focused around food, so I naturally thought it was a nutrition app. I was definitely wrong about that! Carrot Rewards actually has nothing to do with food or nutrition. While I did mention that we were looking at apps that had a level of nutrition, I wanted to use this as an example of the marketing tactics that are used by health and wellness companies.

What Carrot Rewards truly is, is an app which rewards users for their daily step count. Linking to external rewards programs (such as Aeroplan, More Rewards, and RBC Rewards), Carrot Rewards allows users to purchase items by redeeming a certain number of steps they have accumulated over time.

My Thoughts

I personally feel that this app teaches individuals that all acts of wellness must be rewarded with consumer goods. Instead of reinforcing the intangible and priceless rewards of feeling better physically and mentally, Carrot Rewards appears to encourage users to become accustomed to their steps equalling ‘free items’. This could potentially be seem as creating a user addiction loop.

Also, there is a lot of research out there which challenges us to look at society’s growing reliance on step-counters for validation of daily activity and overall health. Are step counters as accurate as we think they are? Is it “just a step counter” or do we value it as something more than that? These are all valid questions to think about what health & wellness apps to use.

 

Noom

What Is it?

Noom was created by medical doctors and psychologists. The basis for this app is to provide individuals with a platform that utilizes food logging, meal feedback, virtual support, daily challenges, and one-on-one coaching to help people lose weight (or assist with chronic health conditions). It promises to help users manage the behaviours, triggers, and barriers that lead to the “sabotaging” of their health by having them complete customized courses.

My Thoughts

One major red flag is that Noom guarantees (or heavily promises) that an individual will lose a certain amount of weight in a specific timeframe. Realistically, there is no way for a healthcare professional to know 100% that a person will be able to lose a certain amount of weight in a certain timeframe.

I do appreciate that Noom focuses on the psychology behind weight loss – it was built by psychologists after all. It also encourages behaviour change in incremental steps. It appears to be more than “this many calories and track your food intake” type of program.

 

My Fitness Pal

What Is it?

My Fitness Pal is arguably one of the most popular weight loss or diet program apps out there.

Essentially, My Fitness Pal is a tracking app. There are other functions within My Fitness Pal such as calorie targets, blogs, and discussion forums, but at the end of the day the main purpose is for individuals to log their food/fluid intake, weight, and exercise.

My Brief Thoughts

One important thing that My Fitness Pal does is increase the user’s awareness of the choices they are making around food, fluids, and movement.

However, speaking towards the average population, think of a tracking app like My Fitness Pal as a large fishing net. The app will catch a small amount of people who would benefit from it, but it will also catch a significantly higher amount of people who will become obsessed with the numbers, obsessed with tracking everything, and obsessed with whether they “met their targets”. Since there is a lack of personal coaching from someone like a Registered Dietitian, there is no one to stop users from feeling this way.

For an elite athlete who has a much stronger rationale for looking at specific nutrient targets, My Fitness Pal might display some utility. However, in any case we cannot ignore the inherent error present in apps like this. There is a lack of information about the databases My Fitness Pal uses for obtaining nutrient information about foods. What does this mean for the user? You cannot be 100% confident that the nutrient totals they recommend are 100% accurate.

 

Takeaways

At the end of the day, we have to appreciate that the nutrition and wellness landscape is becoming more and more digital. This is not a bad thing! It just means that we must continue to flex the critical thinking muscles of our minds the same we do when we are looking at nutrition information online.

There are apps out there that CAN benefit you in a positive way and minimize negative effects, it just will take time to find the right fit for you. Are you a person who hyper-focuses on numbers and gets lost in tracking things? Tracking apps are certainly not going to serve you. Are you a person who has yet to understand the role that mental health plays in nutrition and wellness? An app based in psychology and behaviour change will not be your cup of tea.

 

By Brandon Gruber, Registered Dietitian (Nutritionist)

Revive Wellness Inc.

 

Looking for an app that goes beyond dieting?

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May 23, 2019