Calorie Bargains: Food and Activity Apps, Video Lectures and New Websites

by Charles Platkin, PhD
Moves (Phone App)
Overview: Have you always wanted a Fitbit or some other wearable fitness device?  Well, the smartphone app Moves is fantastic, and it’s a free download. As long as you have your phone with you (which most people do these days), it will track all your walking and will convert it into steps, calories or miles. It will also track your cycling and other activities. The app also knows when you are walking, as opposed to cycling.
Notes: What a wonderful design ­ SO simple to use! I’ve tested and tried many over the years, and I love this one. It’s no wonder that it was just purchased by Facebook. I’m not sure how that affects the company or the app, but it seems to be working the same way it always did. Skip the other devices. Why pay for something you can get for nothing? The only negative is that it drains your battery. According to the company’s description: “Moves is an automatic diary of your life. Your daily storyline and maps show where, when, and how much you move. Record all activity. With Moves 2.5 for iPhone, you can add gym training and over 60 other activities by duration. These activities are not automatically recognized, but they are easy to add.” Finally, I was excited to see that it did NOT include my time in the car as part of my movement ­ so it can tell the difference between various types of movement. Keep in mind, knowing how much exercise you’re doing will actually inspire you to do more ­ accountability helps. [NOTE:  One problem came up — I was on the subway and the movement was detected as steps by the app — not good]
Where you get it:
Cost: Free
Ted Talks Playlist:  “A Better You”
Overview: “Ready for a change? These well-researched (and heartfelt) talks offer ideas and inspiration for all aspects of your life, from creativity to vulnerability, from competitive sports to collaborative games.”
Notes: These are very inspirational and powerful videos. I play them for students and friends, and I think they can help to kick-start any behavior-change program, including weight loss. Skip the Larry Smith and John Wooden lectures if you’re short on time.
Where you get it:
Cost: Free
Overview: National Geographic has launched an online portal for “exploring the future of food.” According to National Geographic, the site is “dedicated to exploring issues surrounding how we eat today and how we can provide food for all as the world’s population grows and climate change impacts growing seasons and planting zones.”’s noted bloggers, who contribute weekly to a food-related blog called “The Plate,” include José Andrés, a chef; Mary Beth Albright, a food policy analyst; Maryn McKenna, a science blogger; Jasmine Wiggins, a casual foodie; and Rebecca Rupp, a food historian.
Notes: National Geographic is a wonderful institution that provides great reporting and photographs. Their attention to food issues highlights the food movement’s growth. It’s too bad they’re only going to fund this for eight months. Hopefully, they will decide to continue it after that.
Where you get it:
Cost: Free
Coach Alba
Overview: This is a text-based program to help you lose weight. There is a lot of research supporting the use of text-based outreach to change behavior. According to the website: “Through this smart text service, Coach Alba users receive custom messages to help identify and overcome individual ‘crucial moments’ when they are likely to give in to temptation. Powered by a team of behavior modification experts, Coach Alba’s platform uses adaptive texting to learn more about users with every text message, offer increasingly personalized strategy and support, and celebrate users’ progress to help them stick to any weight loss plan they choose to follow.”
Notes: I tried it very briefly. I received a welcome message from the “coach,” and I responded last night saying, “I overate tonight.” This morning I received the following: “Hi Charles, it’s Sam again. I’m sorry to hear you had a hard time last night. Do you have a tendency to overeat regularly? If so, we can have you focus on that one crucial moment until you’ve conquered it!”   I responded, “At night typically. About 7 to 10pm.” Coach Alba’s response: “Got it. So is it normally overeating or that you’re tempted to snack? Would you like to look at some strategies to help you during that time, Charles?” I said yes. This was the Coach’s response: “Here are some strategies to choose from: 1-choose a high fiber snack 2-write a list of reasons why ur a healthy eater 3-wait 20 mins before u reach for dessert.” There is not generally an instant response, which I understand.  It’s still too early to tell if this would be helpful. I do know that if it were a live person who responded immediately, it would be amazing, but this program is automated. Text-based applications can be very powerful and are being tested frequently by academic institutions.
Where you get it:
Cost: $29.95 per year.
Other Apps: LeftoverSwap, Fitbit, Grocery iQ, Argus, What’s On My Food?
I tested a few other apps, albeit briefly (I have very limited patience).
LeftoverSwap: It’s designed to allow people to photograph and post their leftover food as a giveaway. Kinda sounds gross, but I thought, “This could work.” Food waste is a serious issue. I downloaded the app and thought it was poorly used. People were posting things other than food, and when I did find food posts they were weeks old. In addition, someone posted that there was also left-over saliva in the food. Not cool. That’s part of the problem when apps have good intentions, but a not-so-good user base. The app did not appear useful, and it’s probably a pass.
Fitbit: Fitbit has a free app that works off iPhone 5’s technology (meaning you don’t need to use a bracelet). This is also a pass. If you want a pedometer-function app, Moves is much better.
Grocery iQ: This app can create grocery lists and has an autocomplete feature. Although it’s useful­and free­I found the paid ads a bit annoying, and while the “scan it” feature is nice, I feel that it could be more intuitive design-wise. I’ve already taken it off my app list.
Argus: The app has features that are similar to Moves, but Moves looks and feels like it works much better.
What’s On My Food? If you really want to know what pesticides are on your foods, this is the app for you. It’s basically a list of foods and what’s on them. Very useful.
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