Millions of people use weight loss and other fitness apps to keep their bodies in shape. But as newer apps hit the market each month, the question of how effective they actually are in helping people control their weight still remains uncertain.

In fact, some studies have even suggested that using the weight-loss apps do not produce the miraculous results they claim. Besides, there are two critical areas of concerns when it comes to these applications – the excessive focus on counting calories and the negative psychological effects of using them consistently.

The Pitfalls of Using Apps to Track Calories

While counting calories does have its benefits, solely depending on it as the only means to keep your weight in check is not recommended. Such a view can distract you from giving importance to the quality of food as well as other significant factors.

For example, if according to the app, a person has consumed 1,800 calories from the recommended 2,000 calories for the day, they will limit to eating only foods with 200 calories or less for the remainder. As such, they may think of eating an 180 calorie candy bar instead of a 250 calorie sugarless fruit juice.

But any nutritionist will easily attest to the fact that consuming 250 calories of fruit juice is far more beneficial to the body than eating an 180 calorie candy bar. Yet, what do you think a person obsessed with numbers will likely choose?

And this is something people who use weight loss apps must quickly realize – the quality and nutrition of the food you eat are much more important than the extra calories you consume in the process.

Another reason why counting calories may not prove effective is that it fails to factor in the number of calories that are actually absorbed by the body. And this is where it gets tricky.

Calorie absorption by the body is dependent on numerous factors ranging from the way the food has been processed to the bacteria in the gut that breaks down the food. These are factors that the weight loss apps are unable to keep track.

Motivation and Weight Loss

Some people who use weight loss apps have a false belief that they can eat whatever they want, and the only thing they need to do to stay fit is check their app regularly and do the recommended exercises.

What essentially happens in such a scenario is that the person has already given up the will to control their own weight. Instead, they have decided to blindly follow a data gathering algorithm to tell them what to do. This is a very dangerous attitude, especially in matters of body and mind improvement. Taking charge is one of the key elements stressed by old school educators.

In a 2010 study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, researchers looked into how self-motivation influences weight loss. At the end of the study, they came to a conclusion that “motivation may be a promising intervention target for promoting program procedure adherence and weight loss.“

And this highlights a major flaw when using weight loss apps – reducing body fat is not just dependent on how much you exercise, but it is also dependent on your mental attitude towards weight loss. Being overly dependent on technology and sacrificing your inner motivation in the process only hinders your goal of a more capable and beautiful body.

In a study conducted at the University of Pittsburgh, researchers observed that fitness devices are far less effective than traditional weight loss programs which focus on mental contribution along with the diet and exercises.

The research, spanning over two years, found that people who used fitness devices lost just 7.7 pounds as compared to 13 pounds lost by those who focused on following a strict weight loss plan without technological assistance.

“Devices that monitor and provide feedback on physical activity may not offer an advantage over standard behavioral weight loss approaches,” the report concluded.

Weight Loss Apps Trigger Anxiety

People can develop serious anxiety issues when they keep failing to meet certain expectations, whether it be from their parents, lovers, employers and so on. The same behavior is also observed in situations when people realize that they are not meeting the daily weight loss targets set by the fitness app.

Regularly failing to achieve targets not only increases anxiety but can also shut them off from even sticking on to their basic weight loss plan.

The Independent quotes Glasgow-based Dr. Des Spence as stating that health care and weight loss apps and devices “are untested and unscientific, and they will open the door of uncertainty …. make no mistake, diagnostic uncertainty ignites extreme anxiety in people.”

The reality that many weight loss apps in the market have not been scientifically tested is only just dawning on healthcare professionals. Governmental departments are also taking note of the trend.

Regulatory Impacts

Taking into account the need to offer effective healthcare and fitness apps to the public, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is creating a certification program that will validate the reliability and quality of healthcare app developers.

“Pre-certified digital health companies could take advantage of this approach for certain lower-risk devices by demonstrating that the underlying software and internal processes are sufficiently reliable. The post-market data could help FDA assure that the new product remains safe and effective as well as supports new uses”, MobiHealthNews quotes a statement by FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb.

Though the program is in its initial stages and only available to a few participants, it is sure to be expanded soon to cover the entire digital healthcare market.

This will not only block ineffective weight loss apps from entering the market but will also set up an ecosystem which supports the introduction of apps that have been scientifically tested to reduce weight.

But for the present, merely following a weight loss app alone is not wise. So, if you are thinking of downloading an app in hopes of gaining that perfect set of abs, try not to be too dependent on them and give more priority to the advice of your trainer and nutritionist.


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