Smart Apps for Smart Appetites

by Biray Alsac-Seitz, MS on Oct 29, 2012

Weight Management

Using mobile technology to keep clients’ nutrition on track.

During the holiday season, your clients need a defense against the temptations of devilish desserts and traditional feasts. After all, in the U.S. the 6 weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day cause, on average, 0.8–1.4 pounds of weight gain (five times more in those who are overweight or obese), accounting for 51% of the yearly weight gain in the typical American (NIH 2000; Hull et al. 2006).

Holiday pounds can pile up quickly over the years, and the consequences of poor food choices can last a lifetime. Fortunately, the Web and an ever-expanding array of smartphone apps can arm your clients with knowledge and tools that will keep them accountable to their nutrition goals and help them maintain healthy diets. Read on for tips on food-related websites and nutrition apps that your clients should bookmark and download before heading into the new year.

Sticking to Nutrition Facts
The more clients know about the foods they consume, the more likely they are to choose healthy options (Drewnowski & Fulgoni 2008). One online resource brimming with nutrition knowledge is Nutrition Data,, produced by the Condé Nast publishing empire. Type in any food and get data about its glycemic load, amino acid profile, fullness factor, inflammation factor and caloric ratios—based on data from the USDA’s National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. Skip the blogs and newsletters (which are not updated regularly) and go directly to the Compare Foods tool, which shows how different entrées, snacks and other edibles stack up, nutritionally.

The mobile app Fooducate (; free, iPhone & Android™) makes learning interactive. Find a food, take a picture of its barcode with the phone’s camera and instantly learn about product details. Foods are categorized by letter grades (A+ for healthy) and assigned FoodPoints (for dieters). The app does not display detailed nutrition facts, but general product alerts—pointing out confusing serving sizes or excessive amounts of sugar, additives and preservatives—offer warnings not always evident from reading a label.

Food courts and restaurants can be alluring during long shopping days and family outings. Clients equipped with fast-food mobile apps, such as Fast Food Calorie Counter ($0.99, iPhone) and Restaurant Nutrition (free, iPhone & Android), can quickly find healthier on-the-go options.

Plan to Succeed
Top chefs know that successful meals begin with proper planning. Consumers may feel saturated with recipes and cooking tips, thanks to sites like,, and, but they still need help planning healthy holiday feasts, figuring out how to make nutritious substitutions and discovering where to shop for yummy deals.

Most local grocery stores have websites or apps to help customers plan meals around weekly sales. For those that don’t, the following mobile apps may make a client’s next trip to the grocery store less overwhelming and more cost-effective:

Food on the Table; free, iPhone & Android This customized cookbook shows only recipes that jibe with the user’s personal preferences for cooking times, types of food, styles of dishes and dietary restrictions. Assign multiple grocery stores to your profile to view local deals. Bonus: The built-in grocery list automatically updates when meals are added or removed.

Prep & Pantry; free & $4.99, iPhone & iPad The app creates an inventory of the kitchen. Scan items into the “pantry” and include relevant information (item photos, coupons, quantity, extra notes). Search items by name, expiration date and location (kitchen fridge, garage freezer, etc.) and add foods to the shopping list when running low. Bonus: Grocery purchases are synced to the app, making rescanning unnecessary.

ShopWell™; free, iPhone This one is perfect for finding foods that match dietary needs and preferences. Set profile goals and customize the “wants” and “don’t wants” in a diet (more calcium, less sodium, etc.). Based on that profile, the app determines which foods score high, which ones to avoid and why. Bonus: Substitutes and food alternatives are always listed.

Tracking Every Byte
Food journaling can nearly double weight loss effects (Hollis et al. 2008). Even if weight loss is not the desired goal, any form of self-reevaluation gives clients a chance to reflect on healthy behaviors. “It is easier to change unhealthy behaviors when we are aware of the pattern,” says Jennifer Shapiro, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in eating disorders and obesity in San Diego.

In the last decade, dozens of food diaries have become available digitally via the Web and mobile apps. Most of these tools are free and include comprehensive features that track fitness and foods; examples are SuperTracker (www.choose, previously and The Daily Plate ( “By using a diary to record” calorie intake, meal times, situations and moods, Shapiro says, “one may learn the emotional reasons for eating other than hunger.” For more on food journaling using smartphones, read “You App What You Eat” in the sidebar.

The Power of Friends and Food
Studies related to social networks have shown that friends and family have significant roles in weight loss, eating disorders and obesity (Paxton et al. 1999; Christakis & Fowler 2007). These days, most apps and websites integrate with Twitter™ or Facebook. “Posting pictures of meals, [stating] daily goals and sharing healthy recipes . . . on Facebook and Pinterest can be a good way to receive support from your friends and keep you feeling accountable to your goals,” says Shapiro.

Personal trainers who engage clients in social networks can offer professional support by “liking” status updates that promote healthy behaviors, posting motivating comments to conversation threads or creating healthy challenges with apps like ChallengeLoop (; free, iPhone), which integrates with Facebook.

Holiday meals can bring friends and strangers together. GrubWithUs (, a new social network for foodies, adds a twist to the dining experience (think Groupon™ meets Meetup). Diners (or “grubbers”) select the date, time and type of meal (sushi, Italian, vegan, etc.), and GrubWithUs makes the reservation at a local restaurant for a discounted price—the only mystery ingredients at the table are the dinner guests.

Explore these tools and resources for yourself and recommend the ones most appropriate for your clients before they head out for the holidays.

Want more from Biray Alsac-Seitz?


Bonnington, C. 2011. Global smartphone adoption approaches 30%. Wired Gadget Lab.; retrieved Aug. 12, 2012.

Christakis, N.A., & Fowler, J.H. 2007. The spread of obesity in a large social network over 32 years. The New England Journal of Medicine, 357 (4), 370–79.

Drewnowski, A., & Fulgoni, V. 2008. Nutrition profiling of foods: Creating a nutrient food index. Nutrition Reviews, 66 (1), 23–39.

Hollis, J.F., et al. 2008. Weight loss during the intensive intervention phase of the weight-loss maintenance trial. American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 35 (2), 118–26.

Hull, H.R. 2006. The effect of the Thanksgiving holiday on weight gain. Nutrition Journal, 5, 29.

NIH (National Institutes of Health). 2000. Holiday weight gain slight, but may last a lifetime.; retrieved Aug. 12, 2012.

Paxton, S.J., et al. 1999. Friendship clique and peer influences on body image concerns, dietary restraint, extreme weight-loss behaviors, and binge eating in adolescent girls. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 108 (2), 255–66.

Smith, A. 2012. Nearly half of American adults are smartphone owners. Pew Internet & American Life Project.; retrieved Aug. 12, 2012.

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About the Author

Biray Alsac-Seitz, MS

Biray Alsac-Seitz, MS IDEA Author/Presenter

is a fitness technologist and instructional designer. She specializes in eLearning and uses interactive technologies, exergames and social media tools to enhance fitness programs and develop educational trainings for professionals and organizations in the health, medical, exercise, fitness, wellness, and public health industries. As a consultant, she helps her clients design, deliver and evaluate new programs. Follow her on Twitter (@befitt) or read her blog to learn ways you can ‘exercise the web’ (