The Weight Loss Mobile Apps of the Future

You know how you really want to make the healthy diet and exercise choices, but then in the midst of day-to-day life your healthy intentions give way to the moment?   Why is that?  A big reason is that we encounter cues that trigger us to continue an unhealthy habit.  Cues can be physiological—-stress, for example.  Or, they can be environmental, such as seeing a McDonald’s in the distance.  The situation is rarely so simple as a single cue though.  Often we encounter perfect storms of cues—I’m feeling stressed, I had a long work day, I haven’t eaten in hours, I slept 3 hours last night, I haven’t exercised, the weather is crappy and cold, and I’m on the way to meet friends at the Cheesecake Factory for dinner.  Fast forward two hours:  2,546 calories consumed for dinner, drinks, and…um…er…caramally-lovely-oh-my-god-I-feel-so-much-better-now cheesecake.

Oops. Slight setback.   I need 25 hours on the treadmill to even that caramally-lovely score.  Poo.

Slow or no weight loss is directly related to the frequency of these situations.  To the extent that you can reduce the frequency of these slip-ups, your success will move much faster.   My colleague, Dr. Deepak Ganesan and I just received a grant from the University of Massachusetts to create a mobile app that will help us navigate these very situations.

I met Deepak (a computer scientist) a few months ago and discovered he’s been working on using sensors that measure a person’s physiology (heart rate, respiration, sweat, sleep, physical activity, and even visual field!) and environment, including time, location, weather, presence of other people, etc.  He has been using these sensors to pick up information about drug users so that it can be used to predict when they are going to relapse.  I told him how I was researching weight loss mobile apps that deliver “interventions” to people in the moments that they have slip-ups.  We decided to unite our forces to develop a mobile app with sensors that can be used to learn about the user in terms of the physiological and environmental factors that are associated with their overeating episodes so that users can be informed when they are most likely to slip-up.  And, we can insert mini-interventions at that moment.  Check out our story that was on NPR today.  Mini-interventions could be as simple as reminders to make the healthy choice, an alert to a social network, buddy, or counselor to let them know you need support,  a brief stress reduction exercise, or some problem solving tips depending on the specific situation.

We would love to hear from you: 

What would be helpful to you in the moment when you are vulnerable to making an unhealthy decision?

How much lead time would you need before a slip-up for a warning or intervention to help you pull yourself out of the cycle? 

Are there other features you would find helpful in managing your weight in a mobile app?

We are very interested in these questions as we spend the next year developing and testing this technology.  Stay tuned!


For more on weight loss mobile apps, check out my post this week on Psychology Today where I discuss my opinion of weight loss mobile apps on the market today.

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