January 2022 Issue
Popular Weight Loss Apps
By Densie Webb, PhD, RD
Vol. 24, No. 1, P. 20
Shedding excess pounds in the new year may be just a tap away for clients.
Do you have clients who want to overhaul their diets and lose weight as they monitor their physical activity, but they need more assistance than you can provide or they can afford? Regular tracking of water, food, and activity; dietary guidance and tips; sharing of recipes, and more may be just a few taps away with one of several dieting and fitness apps.
While advice from a dietitian is invaluable, especially in the beginning, some clients may want to go it alone after a counseling session or two but still need some virtual handholding. There are several dieting/fitness/weight loss apps available that vary greatly in how they work and what they cost. And because not every app will work for all clients, it’s up to dietitians and their clients to choose the one that best fits their needs and budget.
“Food and exercise tracking apps are one tool of many that clients who are working toward certain nutrition or exercise goals can utilize to help them reach their goals,” says Caroline Susie, RDN, LD, a national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in Dallas. But, she says, these apps can be harmful for people with a history of disordered eating because of the daily focus on food intake.
Today’s Dietitian evaluates five popular weight loss apps and speaks with experts to find out what they can and can’t do for users and which ones can possibly fit into clients’ budgets. Some apps are free to download and use, while others require a subscription, and still others pose additional charges for certain premium features. All are available for iOS and Android devices, but it’s suggested that clients check whether their device has the required software version.
As you may have guessed by the name, Baritastic is an app designed for patients who have had bariatric surgery for weight loss. Claiming to be the No. 1 app for bariatric patients, Baritastic is different from all other weight loss apps in that it’s provided only by doctors and clinics who pay for the service and offer it to their patients free of charge. Dan Abeling, the founder of BariApps, says his company makes custom smartphone apps, including Baritastic, which is used exclusively by bariatric facilities and bariatric surgery practices and accessible to clients via a code from a clinic or health care facility. According to Abeling, Baritastic has had about 1 million downloads and more than 200,000 patients in the United States use the app each month.
Baritastic tracks a wide range of parameters that help clients stay on their postop program, including the following:
• inches lost;
• daily reminders for water, protein shakes, vitamins, and supplements;
• taking photos and creating a timeline;
• tracking hunger, moods, and bowel movements;
• integration with major wearable devices to track steps;
• a timer that separates food and water intake; and
• a bite timer that helps users slow down while eating.
Educational modules and videos also are available. The patient’s provider specifies the diet, and once patients are connected to their providers on the app, all of their providers’ diet guidelines are displayed within Baritastic.
There’s no need for clients and patients to worry about providing their personal health information, as the app is HIPAA compliant. Providers have access to a HIPAA-compliant dashboard to monitor patients, set up checklists, review nutrition, send messages and reminders, and update content. Providers are alerted to events such as weight gained or when patients stop logging food, etc, enabling patients to reach out for support. Community support and accountability groups are available both on and offline. The reviews from users are overwhelmingly positive.1 For more information, visit baritastic.com.
Fitbit is not a single app or a single device. Rather, Fitbit, which is owned by Google and is the most robust and most expensive of wearable trackers, offers entire lines of smartwatches and fitness trackers for a range of prices, anywhere from about $70 to $330. Which device bests suits your clients’ needs depends on their budget and just how deeply they want to delve into self-monitoring of not only their diet but also their heart rate, blood pressure, stress level, and more. The Fitbit device comes preloaded with a variety of apps, including Alarms, Weather, and Exercise, and there’s a basic food tracker included. But users can download third-party food-tracking apps, along with more than 3,000 partner apps that can sync with their data.
If clients want more detailed information about fitness and health metrics, including workout and yoga videos and training plans, along with reminders, tips, and recipes, and programs to help them reach nutrition goals, Fitbit offers a Premium option that costs $10/month—less if they sign up for a year—and there’s a free 90-day trial. Fitbit also offers challenges and games to bring people together to compete. The more expensive Fitbit devices offer six months of the Premium with purchase. Today’s Dietitian reached out to Fitbit, but the company declined to comment on their devices and apps.
Researchers have conducted a wide range of studies to determine Fitbit’s efficacy to monitor and improve physical fitness, sleep, chronic pain, and mental health.2 Based on customer reviews, Fitbit devices can sometimes be glitchy, but CNET ranks two of Fitbit’s devices as being among the best trackers on the market.3
There are far too many options for devices and plans and downloadable apps to discuss in this article, but dietitians can learn more about Fitbit and all the options and functions at fitbit.com.
This singular app with more than 11 million registered users has a staff of RDs experienced in weight management, diabetes, cardiovascular health, food allergies, and pulmonary medicine. MyNetDiary boasts the largest validated food-nutrient database for English speakers. Like most apps, it offers a free and a Premium option, which costs either $9/month or $60/year. The Premium option offers a way to track body measurements, blood glucose levels, A1c, LDL and HDL cholesterol, and more than 50 nutrients. Users also can set up custom trackers to record anything they choose, such as hunger, mood, and emotions.
While there’s no published research to evaluate the efficacy of the app for weight loss, according to Sue Heikkinen, MS, RDN, CDCES, BC-ADM, ACE-PT, a consultant for MyNetDiary, internal assessments found that subscribers who sign up for Premium stick with it longer and lose more weight than free subscribers. Premium users can choose from eight customized diet plans: Calorie Counting, Low-Carb, Keto, High-Protein, Low-Fat, Mediterranean, Vegetarian, and Vegan.
All subscribers, both free and Premium, have access to daily coaching messages that encourage reflection on goals and obstacles and use a community forum for support. Users may form subgroups within the community forum and can “friend” each other and share data. There’s an “Ask a Registered Dietitian” forum, where all subscribers can ask a nutrition expert for guidance on their diets and wellness plans.
MyNetDiary uses Dietary Reference Intake equations from the National Academy of Medicine to predict subscribers’ energy needs for maintenance, and the “AutoPilot” feature adjusts users’ energy needs as they get closer to their target weight.
The company offers free Premium memberships to RDs, as well as free trial subscriptions and discounted subscriptions for RDs to share with their clients. The app enables users to share their reports with dietitians or other health care professionals. There are plenty of positive reviews posted on the company’s website, and the company claims to have the highest user ratings of all popular diet apps.4 For more information, visit mynetdiary.com.
Noom is an exceptionally popular app that’s widely advertised. According to the website, “Noom uses science and personalization to help you lose weight and keep it off for good. We’ll help you better understand your relationship with food, how to be more mindful of your habits, and give you the knowledge and support you need for long-lasting change.” Noom boasts 50 million users. Users start with a quiz to determine calorie requirements for weight loss. The app then offers calorie counting, activity tracking, group support, personal coaching, and daily “bite-sized lessons.”
The focus of Noom is on making permanent lifestyle changes, including diet and physical activity. It has offered a diabetes prevention program since 2013, and the program was recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2017.5 The diabetes prevention program is a year-long, evidence-based lifestyle management intervention for those meeting clinical criteria for prediabetes.
One study found that Noom’s diabetes prevention program had weight loss outcomes similar to those seen in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Diabetes Prevention Program.6 The website also cites 30 research studies that have found Noom’s tracking tools to be effective for weight loss and diabetes prevention.7
Today’s Dietitian reached out to Noom, but the company declined to comment on its program.
Noom has a range of pricing options. A monthly autorenewal is $60. The price per month drops the longer the renewal period, with an annual auto-renewing plan costing $199. Promotion codes often can be found online, and there’s a 14-day free trial to test the waters before committing to a monthly subscription.
One review site found that among tens of thousands of reviewers, 84% gave Noom four or five stars. However, other reviewers have commented that some of the coaching tips didn’t feel individualized.8 For more information, visit noom.com.
As a weight loss program, Weight Watchers has been around since 1963. It became known as WW in 2018 and now, of course, there’s the WW app. As of mid-2021, there were 5 million subscribers to the app. The weight loss and weight maintenance programs WW offers change frequently, often on a yearly basis, but the philosophy remains the same—to offer an adaptable, livable weight loss program that’s a lifestyle, not a diet, and provide sustainable food plans, activities, behavior modification, and group support. WW still uses the points system, called SmartPoints, to tally users’ intake and offers a SmartPoints Calculator.
According to Michelle Cardel, PhD, MS, RD, WW’s director of global clinical research and nutrition, WW has a science team of 12 experts specializing in behavior change, implementation science, clinical research, nutrition, and exercise science, who ensure all the weight management solutions are rooted in the research. She adds that, according to a survey of 14,000 physicians, WW is the No. 1 doctor-recommended weight loss program.
The app offers a barcode scanner that enables users to scan barcodes of packaged food products in the supermarket and see how many points it contributes to the user’s daily total. It also enables users to create and save recipes and provides a Connect feature, a members-only social network where people can share their weight loss journeys through photos and videos. While none of the apps discussed here are paired with delivery of foods for the weight loss programs, WW offers Smart Ones frozen entrées and desserts in the supermarket that fit within the WW point system.
Users can choose a free trial for 30 days. Afterward, if they want to use the app, they can select from the following payment levels:
• Digital includes app access with food plans, tracking, workouts, progress reports, and a 24/7 chat service for $21.95/month.
• Digital 360 is a new membership option that offers group coaching, community, and live and on-demand experiences for $29.95/month.
• Unlimited Workshops + Digital includes unlimited in-person and virtual workshops. Price varies by ZIP code.
• 1-on-1 Coaching includes one-on-one support with a coach and access to digital tools for $59.95/month.
The WW app has close to 2 million reviews on the Apple App Store with an average 4.8-star rating. For more information on what the WW app offers, visit weightwatchers.com/us.
Susie says that, for the most part, “digital cognitive behavioral therapy programs and components in conjunction with nutrition education can be effective in long-term successful adult weight management. Weight loss apps can work best with clients who have no history of disordered eating and who have a need for accountability and data collection.” But, she says, because there’s so much inaccurate weight loss information on social media, “I think it’s imperative for patients to work with an RDN.”
— Densie Webb, PhD, RD, is a freelance writer, editor, and industry consultant based in Austin, Texas.
1. Baritastic – bariatric tracker reviews. Justuseapp.com website. https://justuseapp.com/en/app/899131093/baritastic-bariatric-tracker/reviews. Published July 1, 2021.
2. Fitbit publication library. Fitbit website. https://healthsolutions.fitbit.com/research-library/?term=&studyTypes=&areasOfInterest=Physical%20Activity&devices=
3. Orellana VH, Savvides L. Best fitness trackers for 2021. CNET website. https://www.cnet.com/tech/mobile/best-fitness-tracker/. Published November 3, 2021.
4. User reviews. MyNetDiary website. https://www.mynetdiary.com/user-reviews.html
5. Caffrey M. Digital health provider Noom wins full CDC recognition for mobile, online applications. AJMC website. https://www.ajmc.com/view/digital-health-provider-noom-wins-full-cdc-recognition-for-mobile-online-applications. Published April 12, 2017.
6. Michaelides A, Major J, Pienkosz E Jr, Wood M, Kim Y, Toro-Ramos T. Usefulness of a novel mobile diabetes prevention program delivery platform with human coaching: 65-week observational follow-up. JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2018;6(5):e93.
7. Research. Noom website. https://web.noom.com/research
8. Noom. Trustpilot website. https://www.trustpilot.com/review/noom.com