How to choose a diet and weight loss app that's right for you, according to a nutritionist

How to choose a diet and weight loss app that's right for you, according to a nutritionist
  • Using a weight loss app helps you keep track of your food habits and promotes healthy and sustainable changes to your lifestyle.
  • The best apps don't just let you track your food intake but provide insightful feedback from nutritionists and wellness experts that help you develop and maintain healthier diets.
  • We spoke to nutrition expert, Samantha Cassetty, about what everyone should look for in a weight loss app, and how they can contribute to positive changes in your health.

Let's face it - when life hits a few bumps in the road, so, too, do our diets and food habits. As more people transition to a work from home lifestyle, the new normal of spending an inordinate amount of time confined to their homes and home offices takes some getting used to. There are shifts in work production, alterations of one's sleep and exercise habits, and drastic changes to what, when, and how food is consumed.

For many people, this change leads to eating habits and schedules that are less healthy than they're typically accustomed to, making it challenging to stay focused on their health and fitness goals. Thankfully, there are plenty of excellent resources a mere smartphone app away designed to help us stay on track - no matter how difficult it might seem.

Both Apple's App Store and the Google Play Store are filled with apps offering the promise of losing weight and eating healthier. But wading through the choices can be both difficult and time-consuming, as even the best apps may not be right for everyone.

To help sort through the choices, we turned to Samantha Cassetty, an MS, RD, and national nutrition and wellness expert with a private practice based in New York City, for a bit of advice - and her thoughts were especially insightful.

"There are many free and paid apps to help you learn how to eat more healthfully," Cassetty told Business Insider. "The most important thing is to find one that supports a variety of healthful foods in balanced amounts that are right for your needs."


Finding a weight loss app for you

Using a smartphone to track your diet isn't a new idea. In fact, some of the earliest apps on the App Store were aimed at helping iPhone users eat healthier. After all, we carry our mobile devices with us everywhere, making them ideal for providing insights and advice on what we should be buying at the grocery store or ordering at a restaurant.

Some of the apps that are available even create extensive meal plans, provide diet and exercise routines, or offer consultations from dietitians and nutritionists. Others simply track what we're eating in order to raise awareness of the calories we're taking in. Cassetty says there are benefits to both and that even basic food trackers are valuable.

"Free tools allow you to track your food intake, which is a form of self-monitoring that's been found helpful for reaching or maintaining a comfortable weight," she said. "They can also expose when you might be grazing or over-snacking, which happens when you're spending more time working at home with a stocked kitchen."

Don't rely entirely on the app to make healthy changes

While Cassetty does find plenty of value in the use of smartphone apps to track dietary intake, she also urges caution, saying that "unless you're getting the tools and information you need to make lasting changes, it's unlikely that you'll be able to maintain any weight you've lost."

She recommends working on developing an understanding of how to balance meals so they fill you up while tasting great at the same time. She also stresses the importance of developing healthier coping strategies rather than turning to food when we're bored, stressed, anxious, depressed, or even happy.


"Rather than focus on a goal weight, I think a better way to go is to focus on small steps you can take to create healthier habits," Cassetty said. "Examples include, limiting soda, upping your veggie intake at lunch and dinner, cooking an extra meal or two, drinking more water, and aiming for 7-9 hours of sleep each night."

Those are words of wisdom, no doubt, but Cassetty also expressed the importance of cutting ourselves some slack when things get especially stressful and difficult.

"I think it's important to be flexible and compassionate with yourself during these challenging times," she added. "You may not be able to eat as well as you'd like or maintain your healthy routines, and that's alright. As long as you're putting in some effort - versus none at all - it's a step in the right direction."

Here are our top picks for the best weight loss apps:

  • Best overall weight loss app: Noom
  • Best weight loss app for those on a budget: Weight Watchers
  • Best free weight loss app: MyNetDiary
  • Best weight loss app for total fitness: MyFitnessPal
  • Best weight loss food tracking app: Lose It!
  • Best weight loss app for busy lifestyles: Rise
  • Best weight loss app for at-home cooks: Fooducate

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The best overall weight loss app

The best overall weight loss app

Noom distinguishes itself from many other diet and weight loss apps by not just looking at a user's diet and restricting their intake. Instead, it examines a person's entire lifestyle, weighing factors like age, height, weight, activity level, target goals, medical history, and so on. Then, working in conjunction with a health and nutrition expert, it crafts a plan to help them reach their goals.

The program created for Noom users not only suggests which foods to eat but also introduces physical activity and reinforces healthy habits. The goal is to give the user the tools they need to adjust their current lifestyle gradually, making small changes that can be sustained over time. This approach leads to better health and fitness all around, which makes it a more balanced option for those looking to lose weight in a healthy and sustainable fashion.

The Noom app includes features you'd expect, including a food log, calorie tracker, and an activity monitor. Each tool plays a supporting role when it comes to supporting the app's curated health plan, too. They also provide incentives for users to be more active but in a more mindful way, taking into account caloric intake, fitness levels, and a variety of variables.

The downside of Noom is that it's pricey. Plans start at $59 per month and go up to $199 for a year, rewarding users for committing to more months at the outset. While Noom's well-rounded approach may be the best in terms of helping users to get healthy and fit, it's price point may be a significant hurdle for many.

Noom is available for both iOS and Android.

The best weight loss app for those on a budget

The best weight loss app for those on a budget

Weight Watchers has helped people lose weight for decades and does a great job of making the transition to the digital age. The organization's WW app is designed to supplement its proven dietary plan by putting the resources members need right at their fingertips. That includes a massive database of rated foods using the Weight Watchers point system, putting less emphasis on calories and more on total awareness of exactly what foods you're eating.

The app includes far more features than just a food-tracking database, too. It offers more than 8,000 healthy recipes, a barcode for scanning foods at the grocery store, and the ability to get advice from a diet coach at any time. Members can also connect with one another to offer advice and encouragement, while also earning a variety of tangible rewards — such as water bottles and wireless earbuds — just for leading a healthy lifestyle.

Weight Watchers members get access to the WW app as part of their benefits but the company also offers a digital-only plan for just $19.95 per month. This provides access to all of the app's features but doesn't allow digital-only users to attend workshops and coaching sessions. All things considered, that's a reasonable price for a system proven to work well over time.

The WW app is available for both iOS and Android.


The best free weight loss app

The best free weight loss app

For those who are more comfortable managing their own dietary choices and would prefer not to pay anything at all, MyNetDiary is an excellent option. While the app does have some premium features, its free services are very good, too.

Those features include food and exercise tracking, meal planning options, graphical charts to map your progress, daily analysis of eating habits, and even access to a large and active online community. And not only are these services free but they don't require the user to create an account. That means your data stays safe and completely anonymous.

Paying for the premium version of MyNetDiary unlocks a number of other useful upgrades, as well. They include compatibility with Fitbit devices, health tracking for those who are diabetic or pre-diabetic, and personalized diet advice from a nutritionist. Those are handy to have if you need them but aren't necessary to see beneficial functionality from this app.

MyNetDiary is available for iOS and Android.

The best weight loss app for total fitness

The best weight loss app for total fitness

Most health experts will tell you the best way to lose weight is to not only watch what you eat but to ramp up your exercise routine, too. While many diet and weight loss apps focus on one side of that equation, they don't always do an adequate job of addressing the other. That's where MyFitnessPal comes in, as it encourages users to think about the things they eat, while also helping them become more active.

MyFitnessPal comes with a database of more than 11 million foods, as well as a barcode scanner for adding entries to your food log. It also includes a recipe importer for evaluating home-cooked meals, which is especially helpful when trying to get an accurate picture of your current eating habits.

Beyond those features, the app includes more than 300 cardio and strength workouts for a more well-rounded approach to your health and fitness. It even integrates with Apple's HealthKit, as well as the MapMyRun, Garmin, and Fitbit apps to more accurately track steps and workout routines.

Thanks to the MyFitnessPal online community, you'll never feel alone either. This active and knowledgeable group is excellent at providing support, advice, and encouragement to other users.

MyFitnessPal is available for both iOS and Android. It has plenty of free features but requires a $50 annual membership to get the full experience.


The best weight loss food tracking app

The best weight loss food tracking app

There are literally dozens of food tracking apps available for your smartphone but thanks to its versatility and smarts, Lose It! is our top pick. As with most of these apps, Lose It! allows users to quickly and easily input the foods they've eaten to calculate their caloric intake for the day. Those items can be selected from the app's extensive database or by scanning the barcode on a product purchased at the store.

You can even take a photo of your meals in order to get an estimate of how many calories it contains. The app includes a helpful water tracking feature that reminds you to stay hydrated throughout the day, too.

All of this functionality is included in the app for free but a basic $19.99 annual membership unlocks additional features. Those features include a built-in Fitbit-compatible activity tracker, macronutrient goal setting, and access to a detailed and powerful meal planner.

An active community of users also provides a social aspect to using the app, which can be helpful when it comes to looking for support and feedback. The app even has weight loss games and challenges to take part in as well, which do a nice job of providing extra motivation.

Lose It! is available for both iOS and Android

The best weight loss app for busy lifestyles

The best weight loss app for busy lifestyles

Generally speaking, in order to see positive gains from a weight loss app, users need to put in a good deal of effort. Remembering to log meals and snacks, keeping track of workouts, and staying on top of the latest nutritional information requires a fair amount of time in our already-busy schedules.

To make things easier, the Rise app takes a more streamlined approach. It requires a minimal amount of input from users while still providing plenty of helpful advice to assist in achieving their fitness goals.

With Rise, you won't be scanning bar codes, searching through food databases, or entering individual ingredients into the app. Instead, users just snap a photo of their meal or snack and upload it to their account. Then, a personal nutritionist reviews the photo and offers an analysis based on the goals they've set. This not only provides helpful feedback but adds a measure of accountability that goes a long way towards keeping users on track.

While Rise takes the drudgery out of the process, the simplicity that it provides comes at a price with monthly fees start at around $48 per month. This does make it pricey for a dietary service accessed through an app, though it's still much cheaper than paying for an on-call personal nutritionist — which is essentially what you get here.

Rise is available for iOS only.


The best weight loss app for at-home cooks

The best weight loss app for at-home cooks

One of the best ways to improve your health and all-around eating habits is to bring healthier, more nutritious food into your home. Fooducate is an app designed to help you do just that by keeping users informed about the benefits and drawbacks of what they eat. The app is even smart enough to suggest healthier alternatives to favorite foods, should there be other options available.

Using Fooducate is extremely easy, too. Simply scan the barcode on any product at the grocery store and it provides a letter grade for the nutritional value of that item ranging from A+ to D-. Accompanying that letter grade is an explanation of why the product received the grade it did, including valuable information about the nutritional content it offers.

The app also points out important things to be aware of, including whether or not a product contains added sugars, artificial coloring or sweeteners, or other unhealthy additives. This allows consumers to make more informed decisions at the grocery store, while also assisting with finding healthier alternatives.

Fooducate has other features beyond just scanning products at the grocery store. It also serves as a health tracker, offers insightful diet tips, and provides delicious and healthy recipes. But its engaged and active community is one of its best assets, with users sharing tips and suggestions with one another on a constant basis. That kind of support is an incredibly helpful feature for anyone struggling to eat healthier and lead a better all-around lifestyle.

Fooducate is available for both iOS and Android.