Search for “diet” on Apple’s app store, and you’ll get thousands of results—so how are you supposed to know which ones will help you achieve the results you’re looking for? Careful consideration—rather than downloading the first free option that pops up—is key.
“I think apps are a wonderful way to keep your goals front and center and keep track of progress throughout the day,” says Torey Armul, R.D., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics who’s board-certified in sports dietetics. “That’s partly because we’re so rooted to our smartphones right now.”
Armul recommends beginning by thinking about what really helps you achieve goals. Is having a big support network key? Or are you more numbers-driven? “Spending a little more time up front thinking about what platform is going to work best for you and what's worked best in the past and doing a little bit of research or asking around is going to pay off in the long run because it’s going to get you on the right track right away,” she says.
To help you get started, we talked to Armul about some of her top recommendations for different goals and personality types.
Keep in mind…
It’s easy to stick with an app for the first few days—and if you’re the type of person who likes to eat the same thing day in and day out, you may only need to spend a week on an app to get something out of it. But if your diet varies pretty significantly each day, you’ll benefit most from using the app consistently, says Armul. “You get out of it what you put into it—compliance is one of the hardest things.”
If You’re Motivated by Numbers, Try: Calorie Counter & Fitness Tracker by MyFitnessPal (free)
This app gives you a plan for how many calories you should net each day to hit your weight-loss goals, along with a place to easily log each of your meals, your workouts, and your sleep patterns. “Because it’s so popular, they have a huge food database [more than 5 million foods], so you’re rarely going to be typing in new foods,” says Armul, who points out that Calorie Counter & Fitness Tracker by MyFitnessPal is especially great if you have a basic knowledge of nutrition and fitness and want to give losing weight a go on your own.
Honorable mention: Calorie Counter PRO ($3.99) also helps you track all of your calories in or out—so Armul recommends checking out the pictures of each option’s interface in the app store and picking whichever appeals most to you.
If You’re Looking for Personalized Feedback, Try: Rise (starting at $48 per month) Rise
Full disclosure: Armul works for Rise, an app that connects you with an R.D. based on your nutrition goals and prompts you to take pictures of everything you eat so your R.D. can give you near-daily feedback. “I have about 15-20 clients I work with and check in with every day,” says Armul, who explains this is a great option if you’ve tried a few other ways to reach your goals without success and “just need a little more guidance from an expert.” While the R.D.s associated with the app can certainly help with weight loss, it can also be a good option if you have other aims (particularly since there are so many other weight-loss apps out there), like to gain weight, improve athletic performance, or build muscle mass.
If You Just Want Someone to Tell You What to Eat, Try: FoodPrint Diet by Nutrino (starting at $7.99 for a one-month subscription)
This app designs a meal plan that’s catered toward your preferences and your individual goals—and it changes daily, based on your activity level. The app can also sync with your fitness tracker so it automatically “knows” how active you’ve been. “If you’re just looking for a straight day or week of meal suggestions, it’s a good one to check out,” says Armul.
If Learning More About Your Food Helps You Eat Healthier, Try: Weight Loss Coach by Fooducate (free)
While this app now comes with food and exercise tracking capabilities, it was originally launched around a UPC scanner that helps you decide whether you should throw that packaged food you’re considering buying in your cart or not. “It kind of rates the food, tells you if there are any ingredients you should be aware of, if there’s a healthier option,” says Armul. “I’d say it’s a good one for people who are curious about making their foods at home a little healthier.”
If You Eat Out All the Time, Try: Healthy Out (free)
Trying to stay healthy while eating out is no easy feat. Luckily, this app makes it a little less complicated by letting you choose your nutrition needs (pescetarian, low-carb, etc.) and then suggesting restaurants and even specific dishes in your area. The app even recommends some modifications that can help make meals more in line with your dietary restrictions. “I have a lot of patients in New York, where cooking dinner is really not the norm,” says Armul. “For someone who’s really relying on outside meals, which we know tend to be less healthy, this is big.”
If You Thrive on Social Support, Try: Weight Loss Diet & Calorie Calculator, SparkPeople (free)
In addition to coming with calorie-counting capabilities and more than 600 exercise demos, SparkPeople lets you connect with “friends” who are also on the app and offer support. “The team-building aspect can be very helpful for accountability and motivation, especially in the long-term,” says Armul.
Honorable mention: Lose It! (free) also lets you connect with other people you know on the app (or people you don’t with similar goals) so you have access to a virtual support network. “You can participate in individual or group-based health challenges,” says Armul. “These challenges are good for people who love a little competition.”
If You’re Most Motivated by Money, Try: Pact (free)
This app helps you put your money where your mouth is—literally. You set weekly goals (say to eat more vegetables or stay under a certain number of calories a day) and put some cash on the line. If you don’t meet your goal, you lose the money you bet—but if you do stay on track, you can earn up to $5 a week. “There’s some research that if you invest in a health behavior with money, you’re more likely to follow through,” says Armul. “So this app is really capitalizing on that.”