Make the most of your ‘app’etite

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published July 31, 2019

 The MyFitnessPal app is one of several that nutritionists recommend to help clients find accountability in their diet. Some apps have the ability to scan bar codes and instantly upload the items’ nutrition information for accurate tracking.

The MyFitnessPal app is one of several that nutritionists recommend to help clients find accountability in their diet. Some apps have the ability to scan bar codes and instantly upload the items’ nutrition information for accurate tracking.

Photo by Tiffany Esshaki

METRO DETROIT — By the time we’ve grown into adults, we should probably have figured out how to properly nourish our bodies and eat right.

Right?

The advent of stretchy pants would indicate otherwise.

Making sure proper nutrition makes it onto our plates every day, or at least more often than the tasty junk, is a struggle for most people. But like most parts of our life, there’s a good chance that adding a bit of technology can help make the move to eating healthier a little more palatable.

When Jeff May, of Warren, jumped on board the juicing train earlier this year, he said he immediately noticed a difference in his digestion, energy level, you name it. But after a while, he needed a bit of recipe guidance. His daughter-in-law recommended one of the many apps available from author and lifestyle influencer “Juice Master” Jason Vale.

“Oh, he has scads of them. Some apps are free; some are paid for. Some are centered around juicing, some about exercise. Some are about his challenges: There’s a three-day juice challenge, a 15-day challenge,” May said.

It’s been several months of juicing for May, so he’s not as reliant on the juicing apps anymore to create his vitamin-packed concoctions. He said he just tries to eat as many colors as he can and to keep rotating different fruits and veggies in to keep things interesting. Now that he’s got it down, it’s less of a new hobby and more of a routine.

“I just wanted to feel better. I’m getting old and my body can’t do as much as I want it to, and with the juicing and change in my diet, it has made it a lot easier to get off my couch,” he said.

The way May used technology as a small component of a larger lifestyle shift is exactly what Kendall McLeod, a registered dietitian, recommends to her patients as the practice manager at the Michigan Bariatric Institute at St. Joseph Mercy Oakland in Pontiac.

“I would say that apps can help to be a good guide for people, because it gives them a tangible thing to look at and help them to be accountable,” McLeod said.

Most of the time, McLeod’s clients are patients on a weight loss journey, and they’re looking to track their calories and macronutrients — like carbohydrates, protein and fat — instead of specific vitamins or minerals. She’s a fan of the app MyFitnessPal, with free and upgraded versions, for calorie tracking.

“It’s come a long way over the years. It has a scanner, so if you eat something with a bar code it can automatically populate (the food) for you and add it to your food diary, and then it will do those calculations for you,” she said.

Danielle Fiskars-Byers is a registered dietitian, nutritionist and wellness consultant with the Michigan Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, based in St. Clair Shores. She likes MyFitnessPal too, but she has other tech tools up her sleeve to share with clients, depending on what their health goals might be.

“I recommend using MyFitnessPal, LifeSum or Carb Manager. All three have free access to the (basic app),” she said. “MyFitnessPal is easy to navigate. Users can sync their account with their fitness trackers and scan bar codes on packaged foods. … LifeSum has similar functionality to MyFitnessPal, but in a prettier package. LifeSum also has a vegetable tracker and water tracker, which I like, because it helps clients focus on the nutrient density of their meals and snacks rather than just calories.”

Those who follow the wildly popular ketogenic diet, or a low carb diet of any kind, would be better suited to download CarbManager. Fiskars-Byers said it’s better for sorting through net carbs and actual carbs to get a clearer picture of the user’s macros.

The same way there’s no silver bullet, though, apps aren’t magic panaceas for getting healthy. Fiskars-Byers and McLeod agree that the best place to start for any diet plan is to check in with a doctor.

“The goals can be really good guides, but they’re not (universal). Maybe if you’re diabetic you’ll need fewer carbs than what the app is telling you,” McLeod said.

Fiskars-Byers added that technology, as we all know, can be glitchy, and users can get frustrated with app failures if they become too dependent. Not to mention, diligently monitoring food intake and exercise can lead to obsessive or restricted behavior, especially for those with a history of disordered eating.

For others, though, finding digital help and even camaraderie online can be just the ticket to living better in the real world.

“Most wellness technology, be it fitness trackers or nutrition apps, offer a social aspect where clients can find additional support,” Fiskars-Byers said. “Over and over again, we see that research studies find that tracking food and exercise helps individuals maintain their weight and fitness goals.”