Nutrition and Diet Tracking Apps

What is self-tracking?  Over the years, many of my patients have been “self-trackers”, meaning they record something about themselves or their habits on a regular basis.  Some track habits:  a diet diary, exercise log or sleep habits.  Others collect and track their vital signs and lab results.  Whatever the numbers, their tracking was limited to a notebook or a spreadsheet.  Smartphones and apps have created the opportunity to track your numbers anywhere and everywhere.  Last fall, Lifehacker.com polled 3,685 people and then summarized the results with an overview of the 5 most commonly used food and nutrition tracking apps.  I have seen patients use several of these top 5 and would agree that MyFitnessPal is the most frequent choice.  Second would be Weight Watchers (not mentioned in the Lifehacker poll) and then SparkPeople.  I try not to endorse any particular brand, but I am very supportive of patients using some type of tracking system with reliable nutritional information when they want to make change or monitor their choices.  We are all individuals, with different needs.  I am pleased there are several good options for patients to consider.  Some trackers have extensive libraries of nutrition information on precise brands of foods.  Others are stronger on motivating and inspiring you to keep moving forward with positive changes.  Since many have a free version it is easy to do some “test drives” and see what works best for you. 

The widespread availability of these fitness apps has led to more people tracking and more numbers being tracked.  This creates a lot of data and the trick is to make sure that all your hard work spent on tracking pays off by using that data to your advantage.  After all, no one really has time to track just for tracking’s sake!  It can be helpful to think about what you really need and want to be tracking and then set some goals that this information will help fulfill.  For example:  Are you tracking calories per day with the hope of cutting your total intake and losing weight?  Many people begin their weight loss plan by assuming they just need to eat less of everything.  That is rarely the case and it rarely leads to maintainable change in behavior.  By first tracking your baseline eating habits for a few days to a couple weeks before making changes, you can spot some important trends.  You’ll be able to better pinpoint which higher-calorie, lower-nutritional-value foods sneak into your diet and could be substituted for a lower calorie, more nutritious alternative.  These focused types of changes are sustainable and, even better, will keep you from feeling like you are on the dreaded D word (diet). 

In my practice, I love it when patients bring in their data.  I rarely need to look at every number, but instead find that the trends are extremely helpful.  In a heartbeat, I can get a snapshot of your day-to-day choices.  Do you eat meals on a consistent basis?  What food groups you favor and what are you lacking?  Do you have a routine for exercise?  These and many many more questions can be answered after you track your food intake for just a few days.  Then we can sit down with data and focus on a personalized plan that fits you best.  So, track on! 

Ann Liebeskind, MD is an internist, pediatrician and lipidology in Wisconsin and owner of Mobile Health Team under Coraggio, LLC, a medical practice traditional healthcare and telehealth to reach more patients wanting wellness.  While she is not particularly good at learning new technologies, she really enjoys them and believes in the power of the mHealth movement as a way to improve healthcare.  Her views are opinion and not medical advice or endorsement.  Please see your healthcare provider before making decisions about your personlized healthcare treatment plan.