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Appetizing Apps
Techy tricks to eat and be healthier

01/15/15
By Kelly Sennott ksennott@hippopress.com



 With so many food-tracking gadgets and apps on the market, how do you decide which one — if any — is right for you?

Nutritionists will tell you that on the one hand, you should listen to your body — not an app — before, after and during meals. It is the best device in determining whether you’re eating too much, too little or just the right amount.
“People with certain risk factors or personality traits are not good for calorie-tracking at all,” said Hilary Warner, a registered nutritionist and licensed dietitian based in Concord.
Those with extreme body dissatisfaction or who are prone to being “rigid and anxious,” for instance, probably shouldn’t try to lose weight or become healthier by counting calories, regardless of how cool today’s gadgets are.
On the other hand, technology could be a healthy option for certain people.
“It will be a totally different experience for somebody who doesn’t have those personality traits or temperaments,” Warner said. “[People] who don’t have a lot of emotion wrapped up in their food and eating can find it quite interesting and helpful. … Not just for counting calories; some people use [apps or tracking gadgets] to discover just how little protein they’re actually eating, which is very helpful. Other people who are worrying about getting enough protein receive the validation that they don’t need to change anything.”
Kim Dorval, RD, LD and founder of Nutrition in Motion, agrees with Warner and has found her clients respond particularly well to an app called SparkPeople. It’s free and enables the user to track food intake. You need to manually plug in what’s eaten, and the app will calculate your calorie/nutrition intake and analyze where you need to improve. The website (sparkpeople.com) includes recipes and information on diet and nutrition, and calendars that help you track the calories/nutrients you eat and the calories you burn. 
“The No. 1 reason why you’d use a food-tracking app is strictly for educational purposes. … It’s more awareness for the client,” Dorval said.
She’s had clients flabbergasted at the number of calories in a glass of whole milk, in a cup of nuts or a bowl of yogurt. 
“You should stop eating when you’re full, but we’re also so far away from that, and people don’t understand, because of portion distortion, what a portion actually looks like,” Dorval said. “We don’t want people to be calorie-counting for the rest of their lives. We have [clients] put in three days [worth of food]. They need to learn that you can’t eat a cup of nuts — that’s like 800 calories!”
There are devices that help you eat healthier in other ways; Apps like Bakodo and ShopWell contain food scanners and tell you the nutrient and ingredient content of each item (which are helpful when you’re trying to eat dairy-free or gluten-free), and Harvest helps you choose the best produce. (How firm should avocados be? Is a “chalky bloom” a sign of freshness or mold?).
Devices that track sleep — like Fitbits or even iPhones — could also help overall health and even promote weight loss.
“There’s some pretty good research that shows when people are sleep-deprived, it messes the hormones that regulate appetite,” Warner said. “It can also affect insulin, metabolism, and just how your body works.”
More extreme weight loss gadgets exist; Dorval, for kicks, tried out a Pavlok wristband, which uses electric shock to help you stick to resolutions, whether they be to quit smoking, lose weight or wake up earlier. (Her arm was numb for a half hour.)
The downside of these devices?
“People get greedy,” Warner said. “People may get upset or anxious. … They want to continue to see their weight go down at a certain rate. … But when people cut calories further and further, the body can’t differentiate from between thousands of years ago when there was no food, and it adapts biochemically and reduces your metabolism by as much as 40 percent, which in turn makes it very vulnerable to binge eating. It’s hard to eat consciously when your calories are too low.”
But as a whole, Dorval sees that people are motivated by the information. They’re less likely to veer off track, and many include social media communities for further support.
“You can join and have people cheering you on, which is part of the whole experience,” Dorval said. 
 
As seen in the January 15, 2015 issue.





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