Weight loss? There’s an app for that! Pt 3

Continuing from my two previous posts looking at iPhone apps for tracking calories in and calories out, today’s blog will look at two more apps, DailyBurn and SparkPeople. Thanks to those who’ve commented on Dr. Sharma’s facebook page about my blog. Again, I invite anyone who has used these apps to share their experiences.

As with other apps, when you first begin using DailyBurn, you create a user name and profile to allow you access to the accompanying DailyBurn website. Entering your height, current weight, and goal weight sets up a recommended energy intake. From the home page you can track nutrition, workouts, or your weight, as well as view graphs of your progress.

I found adding foods and activities to be quite time consuming.  However, there are short cuts that help streamline the process. It takes six screens to add a new food, but to continue adding new foods, you need to return to a previous screen, adding an unnecessary step to the process. A short cut reduces the number of screens by half, but does not allow you to adjust serving size. Entries can be easily modified or deleted if needed and you can return to a previous day to update entries.  Be careful when adding a new food to a previous date though, even if you are on the correct previous day, you need to enter the date a second time when adding the food; if you’re not careful, the food will be added to the current date.

A unique feature (available as an in-app upgrade or with the pro version of the app) is the ability to scan barcodes for packaged foods, enabling faster food entry. I have not tried this option, so cannot comment on its benefits or weaknesses. I’m uncertain about the availability of Canadian foods in the database – other apps I’ve used for scanning barcodes seem to have very limited information on Canadian products.

The DailyBurn offers another feature most other calorie counting apps do not – training plans. You can choose from a weight loss, cardio, or strength training plans or others (additional plans are only available with purchase of the pro version of the app). The plans set workouts for you. For example, in the cardio training program, the first work out is to walk or run 1 mile. A calendar let you choose which days to work out and as you complete each work out you submit the activity and it is recorded in your log. You also have the option of creating your own custom plan, or simply recording all the activities that you do each day.  The current date is the default when recording an activity. To change something from a previous date, you need to click on the book shaped icon at the bottom of the screen (it took me a while to figure this out) which takes you to the log book and you can browse through and edit older entries.

The home page shows a tally of your calories in and calories out for the day, and indicates how many remaining calories you’re allowed to consume.  You can also view graphs of your progress over the past week, month, 3 months or even 6 months. Options include viewing calories in, calories out, and weight. Unfortunately, it does not plot your net calories balance (calories in – calories out), and all must be viewed separately.

Over all, the visual appearance of DailyBurn is clean and neat, and the touch interfaces are easily identifiable and a nice clickable size.  However, I encountered challenges in navigation (e.g. finding the activity log) and found the time needed to record an entry for either food or an activity to be a deterrent from using the app.  The help menu contains several frequently asked questions, but no basic instructions for using the program. Additional help can be obtained by email.

As with DailyBurn, the SparkPeople app is a companion to their online web site. Setting up your profile again begins with entering age, height, current weight and goal weight (signing up for the web site is optional). This establishes a recommended range for caloric intake as well as a goal for burning calories – this is the first app I’ve seen that also establishes a goal for expenditure. Goal intakes are also set for carbohydrate, fat and protein. Clear instructions on each page make it easy to use the app, but no in-app help is available (a link is to provided to the web site if you need further assistance).

By default, the diary opens to the current date and you can begin adding foods by clicking on the “add” button at the top of the screen. Initially I was a bit confused by the list of foods already populating the screen – these are suggested meal plans the program sets up for you to follow to help you reach your weight loss goals. To follow the plan, simply eat the foods suggested and then tap to add the food to your diary. If you prefer not to follow the meal plan, you can turn it off in the app settings. Instructions on the screen guide you through food entry. To add a new food takes between three – five taps (screens) depending if you need to change the meal or serving size of the food. Adding foods to your “favourites” saves the time of searching through the full database for a food for future entries. Another shortcut option allows you to copy an entire meal to enter on a different date – an excellent feature that speeds up diary entry considerably and still allows for modification of serving sizes etc… if needed.

Again, instructions at the top of the screen guide you through entering activities on the “fitness” page. As you enter foods or activities, a running tally at the bottom of the screen shows your totals for the day, goals, and remaining. Activities are split into cardio and strength allowing you to track both. The app also provides a variety of exercise demos with photos or videos and a description of how to do the activity – a excellent resource.

A separate page allows you to “weigh-in” and provides a graph to track your body weight over time. While the app does not provide the option to graph your energy intake or exergy expenditure, the SparkPeople web site does. All entries made on the app are automatically synced with the web site (and vice versa) if you choose to set-up an account. Other features on the SparkPeople web site include discussion forums for community support, recipes (including a recipe calorie calculator), helpful articles and more.

Do you use DailyBurn, SparkPeople or another app to count calories? What features of the app do you use the most? What frustrates you about the apps? I look forward to hearing from you!

This entry was posted in Behaviour Change, Feedback, iPhone apps and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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