3 High-Tech Diets That Work

The latest diet apps make shedding weight simple. We put the most popular ones to the test.

In the past, only celebrities and the super wealthy could afford a personal trainer, private chef and inspirational guru. Now the rest of us can have diet coaches in our back pockets—literally. Otherwise known as health and fitness apps, these secret weapons are hot: There was a 19 percent increase in new apps in the last year alone, according to the mobile analytics platform Localytics. "Newer apps are far more engaging, motivating and user-friendly than the prior generation," notes Bonnie Spring, PhD, director of the Center for Behavior and Health at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. And they work. Experts say that dieters who include apps in their weight-loss efforts score greater success than those who don't. We asked three Health readers to each test a leading digital diet and report back. See how the tools helped them and what they can do for you.

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Alex Beauchesne
The program: Sparkpeople.com
Tester Amanda Tirado; 36; teacher
Starting stats 5'3"; 162 lb.
Pounds lost 11
Cost Free

Her diet history
"I was always able to stay at a healthy weight by working out regularly. But with my family and work obligations, it's more difficult to find time to exercise and eat properly."

How it works
The SparkPeople Diet and Fitness tracker app provides a full weekly meal plan and allows you to record what you eat, along with your physical activity. You get SparkPoints for following healthy habits, such as eating fruits and veggies. Bonus: The companion site offers meal plans, workout videos and message boards, which make it easy to share tips and find social support.

Tech triumphs
"The best thing is the menu with a grocery list, so everything is planned out. There's a nice variety of fresh food on the menu—not like the processed frozen meals I sometimes eat—and it's all easy to prepare. The 10- to 15-minute workouts are convenient: I can sneak in a kickboxing session before dinner. I also love the app's GPS tracker, which I use for walks and runs."

What bytes
"The app was a little glitchy: Sometimes when I logged on, I got a message that said I hadn't entered any food that day, even when I had, and my daily meal plans were missing! While I was able to stick to one or two SparkPeople meals a day, it's tough to stay on target when your partner isn't following your plan."

Expert weigh-in
"This is one of the most extensive programs for diet and exercise tools," says Sherry Pagoto, PhD, associate professor of medicine at University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester. "The social support is a crucial way to get motivated." Social-media sharing can also be inspiring; in one study, dieters who tweeted about their weight-loss efforts were more successful than those who didn't. Every 10 tweets corresponded with a roughly 0.5 percent loss of body weight.

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Hallie Levine Sklar
Last Updated: April 04, 2014

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