There are plenty of pricey fitness tools on the marketplace designed to help you track your exercise progress and changes, but most people don’t know there also are a variety of far-less-expensive items that accomplish the same work. Here’s a list of my favorites:Moves (phone app)Have you always wanted a Fitbit or some other wearable fitness device? Well, the smartphone app Moves is fantastic, and it’s a free download. As long as you have your phone with you (which most people do these days), it will track all your walking and will convert it into steps, calories or miles. It will also track your cycling and other activities and can detect movement differences, like whether you’re walking or cycling. Notes: What a wonderful design. It is SO simple to use. I’ve tested and tried many apps over the years, and I love this one. It’s no wonder that it was just purchased by Facebook. I’m not sure how that affects the company or the app, but it seems to be working the same way it always did. My advice? Skip the other devices. Why pay for something you can get for nothing? The only negative is that it drains your phone battery. According to the company’s description: “Moves is an automatic diary of your life. Your daily storyline and maps show where, when, and how much you move. Record all activity. With Moves 2.5 for iPhone, you can add gym training and over 60 other activities by duration. These activities are not automatically recognized, but they are easy to add.” Finally, I was excited to see that it did NOT include my time in the car as part of my movement and can tell the difference between various types of movement. Keep in mind, knowing how much exercise you’re doing will actually inspire you to do more. Accountability helps.Where to get it: www.moves-app.com.Cost: Free.NatGeoFood.comNational Geographic has launched an online food portal for “exploring the future of food.” Reportedly the site is “dedicated to exploring issues surrounding how we eat today and how we can provide food for all as the world’s population grows and climate change impacts growing seasons and planting zones.”NatGeoFood.com’s noted bloggers, who contribute weekly to a food-related blog called “The Plate,” include José Andrés, a chef; Mary Beth Albright, a food policy analyst; Maryn McKenna, a science blogger; Jasmine Wiggins, a casual foodie; and Rebecca Rupp, a food historian. Notes: National Geographic is a wonderful institution that provides great reporting and photographs. The app’s attention to food issues highlights the food movement’s growth. It’s too bad the organization is only going to fund this for eight months. With a little bit of luck, the developers will reconsider and decide to continue it after that.Where to get it: NatGeoFood.com.Cost: Free. Coach AlbaThis is a text-based program to help you lose weight and, fortunately, there is a lot of research supporting the impact of text-based outreach on behavior modification. According to the Coach Alba website, this is a “smart text service” that allows users to receive custom messages to help identify and overcome individual ‘crucial moments’ — when they are likely to give in to temptation. Its platform is powered by a team of behavior modification experts and uses adaptive texting “to learn more about users with every text message,” thus offering increasingly personalized strategy and support, and even celebrating users’ progress “to help them stick to any weight loss plan they choose to follow.” Notes: I tried it very briefly. I received a welcome message from the “coach,” and I responded, saying, “I overate tonight.” The next morning I received the following: “Hi Charles, it’s Sam again. I’m sorry to hear you had a hard time last night. Do you have a tendency to overeat regularly? If so, we can have you focus on that one crucial moment until you’ve conquered it!”I responded, “At night typically. About 7 to 10pm.” Coach Alba’s response: “Got it. So is it normally overeating or that you’re tempted to snack? Would you like to look at some strategies to help you during that time, Charles?” To my affirmative response, the coach had this response: “Here are some strategies to choose from: 1) Choose a high fiber snack. 2) Write a list of reasons why you’re a healthy eater. 3) Wait 20 mins before you reach for dessert.”There is not generally an instant response, which I understand. It’s still too early to tell if this would be helpful. I do know that if it were a live person who responded immediately, it would be amazing, but this program is automated. Fortunately, text-based applications can be very powerful and are being tested frequently by academic institutions.Where to get it: www.coachalba.com.Cost: $29.95 per year. Ted Talks Playlist: “A Better You”Ready for a change? According to Ted Talks’ marketing efforts, “These well-researched (and heartfelt) talks offer ideas and inspiration for all aspects of your life,” including areas such as creativity and vulnerability, as well as competitive sports and collaborative games. Notes: These are very inspirational and powerful videos. I play them for students and friends, and I think they can help to kickstart any behavior-change program, including weight loss. If you’re short on time, skip the Larry Smith and John Wooden lectures.Where to get it: www.ted.com/playlists/ 8/a_better_you.Cost: Free. Charles Platkin, Ph.D., is a nutrition and public health advocate and founder of DietDetective.com.
Some other options
This app can create grocery lists and has an autocomplete feature. Although it’s useful and free, I found the paid ads a bit annoying, and while the “scan it” feature is nice, I feel that it could be more intuitive design-wise. I’ve already taken it off my app list.
What’s On My Food?
If you really want to know what pesticides are on your foods, this is the app for you. It’s basically a list of foods and what’s on them. Very useful.
The app has features that are similar to Moves, but Moves looks and feels like it works much better.