Tracking Food With a Smartphone App Is the New Way to Lose Pounds

7 minute read

If losing weight has felt like a losing battle, your solution may lie in technology. Tracking food by using a free app on a smartphone has proven to be a great diet aid according to a new study by Duke University.

There’s a lot of exciting news in this new study, particularly for people who are interested in losing weight or monitoring their food consumption. The best part of this study is that it focused on free tools, so they are accessible to everyone who has a smartphone.

Participants in the study were broken into three groups and asked to monitor what they ate; they were not asked to follow any particular diet or to diet at all. Each group was instructed to track what they ate, some groups weighed themselves, while some received tips on nutrition. All three groups showed weight loss after three months, in the range of five to six pounds.

Why Tracking Food Is Important

There are several reasons why tracking your food intake is important. Michigan State University Extension recommends food tracking as the first step on the road to behavioral change.

Too often people eat food without taking note of what they’re eating, the times when they eat, and the nutritional and caloric value of those foods. By tracking your diet, you get a big picture of the foods you consume each day. It's also easier to recall what you ate and make a note of it as you log the meals. This gives you a couple different opportunities to pay attention to what you eat.

How to Track Your Food Intake

Tracking food seems easy enough. With the apps available you can easily pop into your smartphone, pick the foods you just ate, and if they have a large database, all the hard work is done for you.

While this sounds great in theory, in practice it’s a little harder, and it really does take a certain level of dedication for it to be successful. The following tips can help you track your food intake successfully.

Length of Tracking

The first step is to decide how long you’re going to track your food. Are you actually going to do it forever or do you want to get a quick snapshot of what you eat in a week, or a month?

Whatever you pick as a timeframe, be very diligent in that time to make sure you’re doing it correctly. And remember, you can always extend the timeframe.

Pick Your method

How are you going to track your food? There are a wide variety of apps available, and we’ll review a few of them below, but maybe an app isn't the best for you. Even writing down the foods you eat on paper can help you gain a better idea of your eating habits.

Time of Tracking

When are you going to track your foods? It’s best if you can do it right around the time you eat. It’s too easy to forget the little things you ate if you wait until the end of the day. But for some people, the end of the day is the only time they have to sit down and do some tracking, and that’s okay too.

Track Everything

It’s easy to forget some of the little things you consume during the day. Remember to count the creamer in your coffee, the condiments you add, a quick snack from your desk, and anything else you eat.  

It becomes very tempting not to track some of those little treats during the day because you don’t want to admit you had an extra donut or a candy bar. But to be successful, you need to track everything. The calories still count even if you don’t track them.

Applaud Your Good Habits

While it’s easy to quickly look at the numbers and feel bad about some of your food choices, you shouldn’t dwell or focus on them. If you have some good food habits, it’s important to celebrate your successes and try to make more of those good choices into habits. Don’t beat yourself up over those bad habits you’ve developed, take note of the good things you do and reinforce them.

Small Steps

Improving your eating habits requires a broad approach that focuses on good choices, mindful eating, and balanced nutrition. It also needs to be flexible enough to include some treats and rewards, so you don’t get frustrated and quit. Small steps are the best way to create long term changes.

Free Food Tracking Apps

There are a variety of food apps available, some are free, and others are not. The following are a few free apps that you can check out to see if you want to use them.

Look for an app that already has a database of foods recorded with nutritional and caloric values added. This saves you from having to do the research or guessing.


This is the app used in the Duke University study. It has a vast food database, and works with many different health tracking devices to give you a more complete picture of your health.


You don't need a Fitbit device to track your food on this app. This is a free app that lets you track food with a barcode scanner, and it has an extensive database. You can also add and customize your own meals.


This app tracks calories, and also the quality of calories. It helps you get that big picture insight by looking at your mood, sleep, and hunger levels.

My Diet Coach

For a little more positive reinforcement, this app uses encouragements to help you make those lifestyle changes that are needed for long-term change.

MyPlate Calorie Tracker is behind this tracker, which has a very user-friendly interface. It’s a great starting place for someone new to tracking food.

| Related: Calorie Count Law on Menus Is Working: What You Need to Know |

The Bottom Line

Diving right in with big ideas of how tracking your food will melt the pounds off is probably not the best approach, and it won’t necessarily be successful. Remember that losing weight is great, but the ultimate goal is to make that loss permanent, and to keep those pounds off.

Dedication is key to accurately tracking your meals, and it’s key to losing weight as well. Once you’ve decided on the food tracker you want to use, make recording your food a habit, and you’ll be one step closer to achieving your weight and nutritional goals.

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