The apps for smartphones that dominate the health and wellness category tend to be calorie counters, weight trackers, and fitness monitors. While some people may benefit from these, many experts advocate *against* counting calories.
Why? Calorie counting creates an environment in which a low-calorie frozen pizza is on a level playing field as a bowl of oatmeal and fruit. It encourages people to buy “diet” ice creams and cookies instead of healthier high-calorie foods like nuts, or to drink diet soda instead of water or other healthy beverages.
And just as importantly, calorie counting can harm mental health. When meticulously counting calories, some people are prone to heightened feelings of shame or guilt around food, which can worsen your relationship with food.
If you want to tweak your eating habits, these phone apps for healthy eating go beyond calorie counting:
Why? Being mindful may help get you more in tune with your eating habits, which may be helpful if you’re prone to snacking mindlessly on chips or eating quickly at your desk. Mindful eating has been shown to increase satisfaction of meals and reduce daily calorie intake (without lowering pleasure from food).
If you eat sporadically—skipping meals, “forgetting” to eat, or having one giant meal per day—this app can help regulate your eating schedule. You can log what time you’re eating, and you can set alarms that remind you when it’s time to eat. Plus, you can time the duration of each meal to see if you’re eating too quickly.
Skipping meals increases the risk of binge eating later, and this cycle of fasting and bingeing is tough on the digestive system. On the other hand, small, frequent, and slow meals tend to be easier on digestion—and they may also help with weight management.
This app asks you to track your hunger and fullness levels using the hunger scale. To put it simply, the hunger scale is a device that ranks your hunger level from 1 to 10, with 1 representing starving, irritable, and desperate for food, and 10 representing uncomfortably stuffed.
The goal is to avoid those extremes on the end of the scale. Ideally, you want to eat *before* you’re feeling irritable and shaky—since people tend to make less healthy food decisions when they’re really hungry—and you want to *stop* eating before you’re painfully full.
Want to get into meal planning? It can be an intimidating habit at first, and this app makes the transition easier. It helps you plan out your meals for the week, and you can import recipes from other websites. Then, the app automatically creates a grocery list based on your selected meals.
Not only will this app help you with meal planning, but it may be helpful for avoiding those impulse purchases that drive your grocery bill up. (Here are more tips for healthy eating on a budget.)
One fun and easy way to improve your diet is to “eat the rainbow.” That is, try to eat foods with a variety of colors. That’s because different colors tend to represent different nutrients. For example, orange and red veggies get their color from beta carotene, which is an antioxidant that converts to vitamin A in the body.
To make sure your diet isn’t just “white foods” like potatoes and white rice, this app helps you track which colors you’re eating throughout the day as you attempt to complete a full rainbow. It’s a fun way to diversify your fruit and veggie intake.
Really struggling with food and eating? There may not always be an app for that, so don’t be afraid to reach out to a registered dietitian for help. Find out what to expect at your first appointment with an RD here.