- If you want to pay more attention to what you’re eating, a food tracking or weight loss app can help.
- While they’re not for everyone, weight loss apps are helpful for certain health or fitness goals.
- The best apps track your daily food intake and give expert insight on how to be healthier.
- We spoke to dietitian Samantha Cassetty about how weight loss apps can positively change your health.
While we are (thankfully) moving past the era of toxic diet culture and feeling like you need to limit what you eat, there are certain times you might want help tracking your food intake. Maybe you’re looking for accountability to get back on track after a year of emotional eating, to feel more energized throughout the day, to support your workout goals, or you’re under doctor’s orders to start eating healthier. Regardless, weight loss apps can help you go about food tracking in a healthful and sustainable way.
“There are many free and paid apps to help you learn how to eat more healthfully,” Samantha Cassetty, RD, national nutrition and wellness expert with a private practice based in New York City, told 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.”
Here are 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 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
Noom distinguishes itself from other diet and weight loss apps by looking at your entire lifestyle rather than just food intake.
Pros: Comprehensive diet plan backed by nutrition experts, assesses a user’s entire health profile, offers a food log and calorie tracker
Noom is unique in that it not only pairs you with a health and nutrition expert to craft a plan individual to you, but it also takes into account a variety of factors like age, height, weight, activity level, target goals, medical history, and personal goals.
The program Noom creates for you suggests which foods to eat, how much physical activity to do, and other healthy habit reinforcement. The goal is to give you the tools you need to adjust your 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, like a food log, calorie tracker, and an activity monitor. It also provides incentives for you 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. But if you’re looking for a larger life change, it’s a great, expert-backed program.
Best 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.
Pros: Familiar diet plans, offers a barcode scanner for use at the store, has more than 8,000 recommended recipes, allows members to attend workshops and coaching sessions
Cons: App can be glitchy at times and can have trouble logging food
Weight Watchers 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 9,000 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, or you can purchase a digital-only membership. This provides access to all of the app’s features but doesn’t allow digital-only users to attend workshops and coaching sessions.
Best free app
If you’re comfortable managing your own food choices, MyNetDiary is an excellent option for free.
Pros: An excellent app for anyone on a budget, offers food and exercise tracking and a variety of meal planning options
Cons: The advanced tracking options are behind a paywall
While the app does have some premium features, MyNetDiary‘s free services are very good, too, and great for anyone on a budget.
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 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.
Best for fitness
MyFitnessPal encourages users to think about the things they eat, while also helping them become more active at the same time.
Pros: Offers a wide variety of cardio and strength workouts, has a database of over 11 million different foods, features a barcode scanner for use at the store, its recipe importer gives you info on custom at-home meals, free features
Cons: $50 annual membership required for the full suite of features
While many diet and weight loss apps focus on just eating healthy, you should also ramp up your exercise routine for the best results. That’s where MyFitnessPal comes in, acting as both a diet and an exercise coach.
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 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.
MyFitnessPal has a great online community to provide support, advice, and encouragement. While the premium membership is $10 a month or $50 a year, MyFitnessPal does have plenty of features for free.
Best for tracking food
Lose It! lets you quickly and easily input the foods you’ve eaten to calculate your caloric intake for the day — and the app is intuitive enough for anyone to use.
Pros: Easy to use food tracking, intuitive app, can take photos of your food to estimate calories, offers a social aspect to connect with other users, plenty of free features
Cons: App can be buggy, requires you to be highly specific about some foods
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. You’re able to easily add what food you ate today by selecting it 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 $40 annual membership unlocks additional features like a 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 does a nice job of providing extra motivation.
Best for busy lifestyles
Rise is the food tracker that doesn’t require an extensive amount of time to use — even minimal input can provide users with immense benefit.
Pros: Doesn’t require a lot of effort to make use of its benefits, simplifies the diet process, makes use of an easy-to-use food photo system that tracks what you eat
Cons: Expensive at roughly $48 per month
Food tracking and weight loss apps can be a lot of work. But the Rise app requires minimal work 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, you just snap a photo of your meal or snack and upload it to your account. Then, a personal nutritionist reviews the photo and offers an analysis based on the goals you’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.
Best for at-home cooks
Fooducate is the informational tool you need if you’re looking to improve your nutrition yet don’t know where to start.
Pros: An excellent informative tool to help people become more aware of their nutrition, uses an easy to understand grading system for a variety of foods, offers insightful tips on what to look out for when shopping
Cons: Food database isn’t entirely comprehensive (but gets updated often)
Fooducate is an app designed to help you make smarter decisions about your food as it suggests healthier alternatives to your favorite grub.
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.
How a weight-loss app can help
Considering you always have your phone with you, using an app to track your food and screen your grocery store purchases is ideal. 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 you eat in order to raise awareness of the calories you’re taking in. Cassetty said 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.”
Why making healthy changes takes more than an app
While Cassetty said she finds 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 you’ll be able to maintain any weight you’ve lost.”
She recommended working on understanding 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 to 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.”