Tipping The Scales: Examing Obesity in NH
12:00 am
Wed September 21, 2011

Popularity Widens for Apps to Make Us Skinny

John Rymes stands at the counter at BagelWorks in Concord, pondering what to eat for lunch.

 It’s not a simple decision.

 “I kinda have to look to see what I’ve burnt today. If I look at my diary, it’s only like 300 calories so I have to probably be a bit careful,” he says. “I have 1200 calories remaining for the day."

Rymes shows off his iPhone, on which he’s pulled up his favorite program -- a weight loss app called MyFitnessPal.

Being fit, though, is not his issue. He’s a triathlete – one of the best in the world at the half Ironman.

But he’s desperate to lose ten or fifteen pounds to speed up his race times.

Rymes uses MyFitnessPal to help him choose meals and track his meals, exercise, and how many calories he’s burned

He steps up to the counter. I would like a California turkey breast sandwich, please.”

Rymes wants to know the sandwich’s calorie count -- so he consults MyFitnessPal’s database of thousands of foods. So if I go punch in turkey, turkey breast meat….two ounces Hillshire Farm, it goes right down to a six-inch turkey sub on bread from Subway…..”

At first, searching for items is tedious. But the app begins to remember your most common foods.

There is a way, however, to get the same information in, well, a blink of an eye.

“Can you hand me the V8?” Rymes asks server.

He aims his phone at the bottle.

This has this app where you can scan it…take your phone and put it on here, and….so it came up on there, 70 calories, so the phone actually recognized the bar code.”

Rymes first started using the app online a couple of years ago. It’s given him the ugly truth about a lot of his favorite foods.

That Web site helped me realize, wow, there’s a lot of calories, hidden calories in my coffee, I thought it was just my coffee, but when you add the cream, the sugar, now that’s a huge treat for me to have that coffee. I love it, but instead I have skim milk with Splenda, which is 30 calories.”

There are huge numbers of hidden calories and fat in our food. “You can go on for long periods of time doing things that are harmful without really realizing it,” says Dr. Julia Nordgren. “Because that information is not really made available to you in an easily digestible way.”

That’s Dr. Julia Nordgren, a pediatric obesity specialist at Concord Hospital.

Consider, she says, an Uno’s Pizza. “You can find out what’s in an Uno’s individual pizza, which if you ask Uno’s, that’s three servings! But it’s called individual! There’s as much butter in an individual pizza as a stick of butter.”

MyFitnessPal, and other weight loss apps, like SparkPeople and LoseIt, make learning those secrets much easier.

That information is powerful.

But even more powerful is the visual punch of seeing the consequences of your actions.

For John Rymes, MyFitnessPal’s feedback loop is glaringly obvious. Get a green light, and he’s made his calorie goal. A red light? He’s eaten too much.

“It would tell me I had a goal of 1500 calories and I ate 1700. Instead of sitting here and watching the news, I’m gonna get on the elliptical and watch the news.”

Rymes is depending on his smart phone to help him get leaner.

And it’s working. Since July, he’s lost ten pounds --  and counting.

For him, information is power – power to change habits. But a tool, even a good one, is not a cure-all. “No matter who you are it’s not easy to lose weight,” he says.

“It’s always a battle and I think it always will be a battle.”

 

iPhone apps for nutrition and exercise tracking to promote weight loss.

Tags: