If weight loss is one of your goals, you’re not alone: 50% of Americans would like to improve their fitness, while 48% would like to lose weight, according to a survey of New Year’s resolutions.
In other words, roughly half of Americans would like to lose weight, and the figures are similar for other developed nations.
Losing weight can be a long grind, but it’s one of the biggest steps you can take towards a healthier life. To give yourself the greatest chances of success, it’s helpful to explore every angle and tool that can potentially help you, and that includes technology.
Today we’re talking about tech tools — devices, apps, services, the lot — that can help you on your weight loss journey. Let’s get started!
Note: I’m not a nutritionist, nor do I play one on the internet, so you won’t find diet advice here. However, I do have personal weight-loss experience, having lost over 50 pounds and (mostly) kept it off, and I’ve experimented with a lot of devices, apps, and tech along the way.
Can Technology Help With Weight Loss?
There’s no button you can press to shed fat instantly (not yet, anyways!), and no app will replace the work required to slim down.
But that doesn’t mean technology can’t give you a helping hand in your weight loss journey. In fact, there are many tools, devices, and apps that can support your efforts, in a variety of different ways:
- Calorie tracking apps help you understand your diet and stick to a calorie deficit
- Activity tracking apps help boost your daily movement and step count
- Fitness apps can make physical activity more fun and engaging
- Digital scales help you track your progress
- Fitness trackers and watches can track your steps and encourage more activity
- Social apps can help keep you accountable and connect you with others on a similar journey
There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that technology can help with weight loss, as well as some clinical data. For instance, one study found that participants who monitored diet and activity levels using technology had better weight loss results than those who didn’t monitor their progress.
Apps for Weight Loss
Ultimately, weight loss is about balancing calories in versus calories out — you need a calorie deficit in order to lose weight. In the simplest terms, this means eating fewer calories than you burn each day.
This presents two problems: understanding how many calories you’re actually consuming, and figuring out how to have fewer calories coming in than going out, without feeling hungry all the time. Apps can help with both of these.
Calorie Tracking Apps
For most people, the best way to track food intake is to use a calorie tracking app.
These apps ask you to enter in all of the food you consume throughout the day. They then provide you with statistics on how many calories you are consuming, as well as a breakdown of the macronutrients (carbs, proteins, and fats).
When you start using a calorie tracking app, you’ll enter your current weight, activity level, and weight loss goals, and the app will then customize an appropriate caloric intake for you. Then, you enter each food item you eat throughout the day.
Foods with packaging can be scanned using your phone’s camera, while custom foods and recipes need to be manually entered. Using a digital food scale can help you measure your food more accurately, but it’s not strictly required to make use of a diet tracking app.
Logging all of your food can be a bit of a hassle at first, but it’s well worth the effort. You don’t need to track calories forever, but tracking diligently for a month or so can provide massive insight into your nutritional intake. Of course, if tracking helps to keep you consistent with your diet, continuing to do it every day may be beneficial.
You may be surprised at what you find. For instance, this guide shows you what 100 calories of various different foods looks like. If you track your own diet, you’ll find out where the majority of your calories are coming from, and where it might be easiest to cut back.
There are all sorts of calorie trackers out there, but here are my top two suggestions:
MyFitnessPal is the most popular diet tracking app, and it’s very user-friendly. There are also useful features like a recipe import feature that you can use to enter recipes from around the web into MyFitnessPal. There are also basic exercise features, although most people will be better served by a dedicated activity tracker (see below).
This app has a HUGE database of foods, which is both a pro and a con. The advantage is it’s easier to enter foods you eat, but the disadvantage is that some entries aren’t fully accurate. MyFitnessPal is free, with some paid options available for extra features.
Best for: basic calorie tracking
Cronometer is a more advanced calorie tracker that tracks and analyzes all the macro and micronutrients you’re consuming each day. Minerals like magnesium and potassium, vitamins like B12 and vitamin D, and even individual amino acids are all tracked accurately.
Accuracy in general is a hallmark of Cronometer. Each ingredient is verified and compared against government databases, ensuring that each entry is accurate in terms of its nutritional content.
The big advantage of Cronometer, in my opinion, is that it shifts the focus from just tracking calories to tracking actual nutrition. It helps you identify nutritional deficiencies, and really helps you understand which foods are benefiting your body and which are so-called “empty calories”.
Best for: comprehensive nutrition tracking
Activity Tracking Apps
Activity tracking apps track your daily activity: step count, walking distance, cardio exercises, strength routines, and everything else, to provide a detailed look at how much you’re moving each day. This is helpful for several reasons.
For one, it keeps you accountable. If you check your app and see that you’ve only logged 3,000 steps today, you may be reminded to go for a quick walk after dinner.
And two, it gives you all sorts of interesting data to look at and analyze. You can start making connections — maybe you notice better sleep on the days you do a heavy workout or get more steps in, for example.
And finally, it creates momentum. If you set a goal of 10,000 steps per day, for instance, you’ll be more motivated to stick with that once you have a streak going. You’re essentially gamifying your fitness goals, which can be a powerful tool for staying motivated.
Built-in Tracking Apps
Most phones now have built-in health and activity tracking apps. Android phones have Google Fit, and iOS phones have Apple Health.
These apps do a pretty good job of covering the basics, including step count, estimated calories burned, activity minutes, and more.
Third-Party Tracking Apps
While the built-in apps are fine for basic step counts, if you want to track specific activities (i.e. running or biking), then seeking out a dedicated app is helpful. These have more features, and cover a wider range of exercise, than the inbuilt versions. See the section below for some ideas.
Note: The downside of these apps, of course, is that they only work when you have your phone on you. For more accurate tracking round-the-clock, pick up a wearable fitness tracker.
Fitness apps and digital fitness services can help you get more enjoyment out of a wide range of movement and exercise. They’re also beginner-friendly, and can benefit those doing solo workouts as well as people who prefer to follow along with a structured class.
There are tons of different options here. It all depends on what you’re most interested in.
Want to learn yoga? Check out the best yoga apps, which can help you improve flexibility, build strength, and relax.
Want to start running? Check out a couch to 5k app, designed to help take you from couch-potato to 5k-ready (a 5k is just over three miles). Already an experienced runner? The best running apps can help you track your stats and improve over time.
Want to build strength from home? The best home workout apps can help you gain full-body strength and fitness, and work up a good sweat from the comfort of your living room or basement!
Devices for Weight Loss
A wide range of physical devices can also give you a leg up in your health journey, from scales to fitness trackers and more.
There are two types of scales that can benefit your weight loss journey:
Body weight scales – A classic bathroom scale will suffice, but you can get more data (and accuracy) from a smart digital body weight scale. I recommend this RENPHO smart scale for its smart features and app syncing capabilities.
Food scales – If you’re tracking your calories, it’s helpful to have a food scale to accurately measure your portions. I recommend this Etekcity food scale for its simplicity and value.
Fitness trackers are wearable devices that track your daily step count and other exercise. While not strictly necessary, having this data can be very motivating for many people.
From my own experience, having a fitness tracking watch easily increased my daily activity by around 30%, simply because I became more aware of how much I was moving, and had some accountability.
Our current top pick in this category is the Fitbit Charge 5, but if you’re looking for something slightly different, check out our guide to the best fitness trackers.
If you’re into running or other endurance sports, investing in a more advanced watch can be helpful. Fitness trackers cover the basics, but for additional data, more accurate tracking, and a range of running-specific features, look to a running watch to up your game.
Our pick here is the Garmin Forerunner 955, but since it’s relatively expensive, it’s worth taking a look at our guide to the best running watches to see if there’s a cheaper alternative that still fits your needs.
Exercise equipment can be as simple as a pair of sneakers, or as advanced as a $3000 stationary bike. While fancy equipment won’t necessarily make it easier to exercise, it can certainly make it more enjoyable, and potentially more effective.
High-tech exercise equipment is becoming more popular, particularly as more people exercise from home rather than at the gym.
Peloton, for instance, offers high-end exercise bikes and treadmills paired with digital classes and social features. Budget option: A used fitness bike.
Tonal is a fancy smart gym device that offers effective strength-training at home, without having to buy bulky weights and equipment. Budget option: A set of resistance bands.
These devices tend to be pretty expensive, so I would only recommend them if you really value the high-tech aspects they offer. Otherwise, picking up some used fitness equipment can save you a ton of money.
Sleep trackers are wearable devices that help you track and analyze your sleep quality. They do this by keeping tabs on your heart rate, movement, and other data points that can help analyze sleep stages and overall sleep quality.
What does sleep have to do with weight loss? Sleep affects metabolism, energy levels, mood, and nearly every other aspect of our health and wellbeing. Getting adequate sleep can help you on your weight loss journey in many ways, with the most obvious benefit being more energy to exercise.
We particularly like the Oura Ring, but you’ve got a number of other options depending on your budget and the type of tracker you’d prefer. Our guide to the best sleep trackers has more detail.
Scales and food image via Freebird7977/Shutterstock.com, woman tapping Fitbit image via George Rudy/Shutterstock.com