The Trouble With Food Journal Apps

iPhone

Online diet logs and apps are everywhere and many of them are great tools for helping you track your food and exercise. But don’t rely on them too much. Every week Tiffany sends me her online food and fitness journal to review. And I’ve started to notice that the estimated calories calculated by the app are not always accurate.

One reason for this is that the online tool lacks enough data to completely personalize the information. For instance, Tiffany may do an hour-long circuit training class and the app gives her an estimated calorie burn of 500 calories. But a circuit training class could involve any numbers of exercises and be moderately intense or super intense. So 500 calories may be too low or too high. Even if you plug in your height and weight, there are still many other factors that affect how many calories you’ll burn in an exercise session.

I’ve also noticed that the app’s calorie estimates for food and drinks are often not correct. Even the serving sizes are off. For example, a small fast food soda was listed as 8 ounces. But I think the last time a fast food place served 8-ounce drinks was in the 1950s! A small is now at least 16 ounces. So the calories listed needed to be doubled (or more if you got a refill!).

Bottom line: If an app says you’re only eating 1000 calories a day and you’re still gaining weight (or not losing weight), the information you’re getting is probably not correct. Review your journal regularly to see if portion sizes are off and check calories against actual package information when possible. And as for exercise, use the app-generated calorie burn estimates as just that—estimates. Know that actual calorie burn could be much lower or higher.

Through her Des Moines-based nutrition company, SK Health Communications, registered dietitian Stephanie Karpinske writes and develops recipes for magazines, books, supermarkets and food companies. She is the author of Read Before Dieting: Your 4-Step Plan for Diet Success and writes a blog about healthy eating, foodnuti.com. She’s coaching the Lehman family through the six-month Healthy Family Challenge.