Diet apps take calorie counting and tracking to a new level. Most are available for free and after answering a short set of questions, they give you a target number of calories based on your height, weight, age and weightloss goals.
Most seem to account for your fitness level as well, but a Local 6 report found that the apps may be encouraging under eating in active people.
“The only thing I would use it for at all, is to have someone show me their accountability and to show me what they ate,” said Kelsee Gomez, a registered dietician who works with private clients and also serves as the sports dietician for the University of Central Florida.
Gomez met with five women, myself included, who took part in Local 6’s report. Each woman explained their goals, dieting needs, and fitness level.
Without knowledge of what Gomez’ recommendations would be, the we tested out three popular diet and fitness apps.
Everyone tested My Fitness Pal. Two of us used Noom Weightloss Coach, which is only available on Android devices, in addition to My Fitness Pal.
The remaining three women used Daily Burn Tracker in addition to My Fitness Pal.
Gomez found that My Fitness Pal underestimated the amount of calories that every single woman should be consuming.
This was especially true for Jen Ferguson, a busy mom and business woman who is training for a half-Ironman triathlon.
According to Gomez, Ferguson should be consuming anywhere between 1,734 and 1,984 calories a day to probably fuel her for her training while also allowing her to lose weight.
“I’ve always been a very thin person,” said Ferguson, "But as I’ve had children it’s just been more and more difficult to get the weight off.”
Ferguson said she lost 6 pounds while testing the dieting apps, but according to Gomez the recommendation of only 1200 calories was dangerously low.
She found the same occurrence for Brooke Holt, a fitness trainer who took part in the story to figure out what app would be best to recommend to her clients.
“You should never drop below your resting metabolic rate because otherwise you are going to slow your metabolism completely, and (My Fitness Pal) was 289 calories below what (her) resting metabolic rate is,” said Gomez.
She said it will end up working against your weightloss goals if you are consuming too few calories.
“You will lose weight initially. You will lose weight but you will hit a plateau … People will be eating 1,000 calories and thinking why am I not losing weight anymore,” she said.
Daily Burn Tracker recommended a slightly higher amount of calories for both Ferguson and Holt, but not near the level that Gomez would have recommended for them to sustain their training. As a result, she said she would advise athletes and more active people to be very cautious when trying to use one of these apps alongside training.
“You would possibly get injured in the process of that, because you aren't getting enough food,” said Gomez.
When she looked at the calorie recommendations for the apps that I was testing, she found a similar disparity with My Fitness Pal as with the other women but found Noom Weightloss Coach to actually overestimate my calories.
I am an avid runner who pretends to be serious about training for marathons, but most of the time I am not consistent with my diet or fitness routine.
Noom Weightloss Coach estimates your caloric level based on what you input as your weekly routine, as a result it said I should have been eating more than 2600 calories a day.
Gomez determined that a 2300 calorie a day diet would have been a good target for me, but this is assuming I actually stuck with every single one of my workouts.
However, she did like the way the app used a visual model to help people estimate how many calories they were eating.
The other applications ask for specific brands and items and if those items are not already stored in the system, it is sometimes difficult to figure out the caloric content of a meal.
The remaining two women who took part in the story were far less active and Gomez said the apps actually did a better job at accounting for how many calories they should be eating.
Shelley West, a teacher and mother of three, said she actually lost two pounds using the apps.
My Fitness Pal actually did the best job recommending calories for West, the app and Gomez’ recommendations were only about 30 calories different.
For West, Noom actually underestimated what she should be eating.
Susan Fendley, the last of the five participants, spends most of her time in her car for work and finds it difficult to eat more than one meal a day.
My Fitness Pal gave Fendley the exact same calorie recommendation as Gomez while Daily Burn Tracker skewed a little high.
However, Gomez said Fendley will have a very difficult time losing weight if she continues to intake all of her calories for the day at one meal.
Emails and phone calls to the makers of the apps that were tested in the report were never returned. The companies do not have any information on their websites about how they come up with the caloric recommendations for each person.