Keeping the lost weight lost with technology
- 3 Minutes Read
Self-monitoring has always been part of weight loss, and now we have a wealth of digital tools to help that effort. But what about weight maintenance? Do tracking apps help?
"I am not losing weight. I am getting rid of it. I have no intention to find it again." This delightful quote was shared on the MND Facebook page this past summer. It nicely sums up the ultimate goal of any dieter - permanent removal of excess weight. As we all know, easier said than done. Dieting does not cure the tendency to be overweight. Weight maintenance can be a lifelong preoccupation. But there are a number of successful strategies that can help.
The National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) has been tracking successful weight loss maintainers since 1993. In order to participate in the registry, a person must maintain a loss of more than 30 lbs for at least 1 year. With over 10,000 participants, the NWCR has gathered plenty of useful information over the years on how people keep the weight off. In general, NWCR members:
Self-monitoring has always been an important tool to help people lose weight and keep it off. Until recently, self-monitoring meant stepping on the bathroom scales on a regular basis. Now technology has created numerous other opportunities to track and monitor not just weight but body fat percentage, calories burned, steps taken, heart rate and everything to do with diet.
Obesity creates significant health risks, so public health experts are always looking for effective ways to help people reduce weight. Could technology be the answer? A new study compared use of self-monitoring technology by NWCR participants to use by people in the general population, who completed a telephone survey by the Pew Research Center. The thinking was that NWCR members are successful weight maintainers, so perhaps their behavior can provide some insight into helpful technology applications.
This study was not an intervention; it was simply a survey that asked people about use of smartphone apps that monitor weight, diet or physical activity. There were many key differences between these two study populations. The NWCR group was primarily white college-educated females, which the Pew Research group had more males and fewer college graduates. Also a higher percentage of the NWCR subjects owned a smartphone, and so would have access to apps.
Almost 60% of the NWCR participants reported using an app to monitor diet, food or calories, while only 6% of the general population used those apps. However, Pew Research respondents who did use apps were much more likely to change a health-related behavior in response to information gained from an app.
Can we conclude anything useful about health tracking apps from this study? The populations being compared were significantly different. NWCR members are highly motivated dieters and likely to seek out tools that help them stick to their weight goals. So does personal motivation lead them to look for useful tools? Or does the technology make them more successful? Keep in mind, the NWCR has been around for almost 25 years, starting long before we had access to smart phones, let alone numerous sophisticated health tracking apps. Obviously these people were successfully keeping weight off without technological help for many years.
Unfortunately, we don't have a good understanding of the best ways to incorporate tracking technology to optimize weight management. The study authors definitely believe self-monitoring with technology, specifically phone apps, can be very helpful. The current crop of apps focuses on weight loss, not on weight maintenance, which requires a different set of tracking data and different kinds of feedback, such as apps to monitor and encourage physical activity.
The main take-away message may be this: diet and exercise tracking shouldn't end once you reach your weight goal. Continued monitoring can help you stick to weight maintenance calorie and activity levels. Self-monitoring weight will help you adjust calories and exercise over time, so you develop a lifestyle that helps you keep your weight steady. And of course, diet tracking with an app like MyNetDiary gives you other information about your nutritional status. You might need to track calcium for bone health, or protein to maintain muscle mass. Diet trackers provide much more information than just calories, so take advantage of that to improve your nutritional intake.
Finally, there's another potential long-term benefit this study didn't take into account: long term tracking can help you become more mindful about what you're eating and when you're eating it. Basically anything that keeps you aware of mindless eating habits - grazing on junk when you're not even hungry, habitual eating at a certain time, rewarding yourself with treats and so forth - is a going to be helpful. Because those are the habits that creep back into your life and cause pounds to creep back on. Remember, you have no intention of finding that weight again.Weight Maintenance->Behavior Tracking & MyNetDiary->Tracking Benefits