Article By: Whittany Gibson, RDN
Whittany is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who specializes in bariatric nutrition counseling, providing education and support prior to and following weight loss surgery.
I know what most of you are thinking... Tracking foods can be a pain in the rear end. Often I hear comments from my patients such as, “it’s too time consuming” or “I just can’t be consistent." Others have been reluctant to try an app due to the preconceived notion of it being too complicated and/or too confusing. But anyone who has had long-term success with their weight loss after surgery attributes a major part of it to tracking their foods. Without this, there is no accountability. In other words, how will you know whether you are getting too much or too little of calories or specific macronutrients like protein, carbs, and fat? Without awareness, this all can become out of control and in the end, affect your success with weight loss. Foods can be tracked in various ways like journaling or taking photos, but using an app is considered the most accurate way to track due to the extensive food databases. These databases help to reduce the time needed with journaling by hand and finding the information you need quickly. Using apps also comes with other benefits like providing substantial support in other areas including exercise, social groups, recipes, motivational features, and more.
Achieving your long-term goals after weight loss surgery begins with achieving small goals first, forming healthy habits, and practicing consistency. This concept can be applied to anything in life. But with food, some level of tracking and accountability is vital to your weight loss success after bariatric surgery. So get started. Download a few apps, watch some tutorials, give them a try, find what is best for you and begin to form the habit of logging. Try to challenge yourself to log for a consistent number of days first. Review your log and see what information you can learn. You will be surprised how intuitive the apps are and how it helps you to make changes. It’s all about awareness!
I recommend tracking macronutrients in grams, not just calories or daily percentages. This will allow you to follow guidelines more closely to ensure you are meeting your minimum protein needs, and staying within limits of carbs and fats. While I am not a fan of calorie counting, there is a benefit of knowing where you stand on an average basis in case you run into a plateau that you just can't get past. To help you become more comfortable in the tracking world, here are my top three recommendations for apps that can teach you more about your eating patterns, where you need to improve, and overall keep you accountable. Let's jump in!
1) Baritastic. This is the winner when it comes to patient feedback (and my professional opinion). It’s easy, simple, not a whole lot of "extras" you don’t need and not too many things crowding your dashboard. This app is designed specifically for bariatric patients in mind and includes all the features you need to support eating behaviors and nutrition goals such as meal timers, water and supplement reminders, progress photos, support group links, and much more. You can also set up your own calorie and macronutrient goals. However, these goals may need to be discussed with your dietitian as this will depend on a variety of lifestyle factors and your post-op timeline. Bonus features include bariatric recipes, links to educational resources, and tutorials. It has connectivity features so you can connect other devices like smart watches, wi-fi scales, or other apps. Oh, did I mention it is FREE!? You don’t have to worry about upgrading to track what you need. Anything you could want to support your pre and post-op surgery process lies within this app. Overall, this one is a win!
2) MyFitnessPal. This app is likely the most well known and responsible for igniting the tracking app world. It is the most utilized due to its countless features and functionality and has a great reputation. But don’t get too excited just yet! You will have to pay the upgraded pro version to take advantage of most of its features. The free version can be beneficial for those who just want to get started by simply tracking calories but that’s about as far as it goes. But again, I don’t encourage calorie counting alone. I want to see where my patient’s calories are coming from so having the ability to track macronutrients is a must. With the pro version it allows you to set macronutrient goals and adjust them as needed so that you can easily stick to your goals.
The pro version pretty much does it all. It's compatible with most smart devices and other apps, includes features like a barcode scanner so you can just scan and go and also has an extensive food database. The app is intuitive to patterns so that there is more awareness of your food choices, exercise routines (or lack thereof), sleep patterns, and many more. My patients that have used it for years will continue to use it even after surgery simply because they are comfortable with it, but many soon find they don't need everything it offers and they ultimately switch to a simpler app like Baritastic. After bariatric surgery, the simpler everything is, the better.
Those who have never used an app before might find MyFitnessPal a little overwhelming. The dashboard is busy and can be visually confusing for beginners. Although there are countless helpful features, this one may not be the ultimate choice for those who have had weight loss surgery unless you really want to track multiple things other than food which only a small percentage of my patients do.
3) Lose It. Lose It! is also a popular tracking tool. This app boasts over 40 tracking tools which can be a plus for those who want to track numerous metrics. Once the app is downloaded and an account is created, you are presented with an introduction questionnaire that will be used to provide basic recommendations based on your answers and goals. The app includes a basic tutorial, a bar code scanner which is incredibly convenient, and has great motivating features that allows you to add friends, join other groups with similar goals and interests, join challenges and celebrate victories. The downside to the app is that it is subscription based and there is a fee to upgrade in order to track macronutrients. It also does not set daily macronutrient goals for you and will likely not coordinate well with the post-op diet bariatric patients need to adhere to. I do still have some patients who use this following surgery but many will usually switch to a simpler platform unless they would like to track all the “extras” other than basic nutrition.
Prior to using a tracking app, ask yourself what you want out of it. If you love tracking and you want to really dig deep and track a million different lifestyle habits, maybe something like MyFitnessPal or Lose It! is the direction you want to go. Considering all the changes you already are going through beginning immediate post-op, you may want something that is simple and supportive to your specific needs like Baritastic. No matter what you choose, the main idea is to stay accountable and stick to your healthy habits. Because that’s how we succeed!