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The universe is expanding, and you're getting a little big around the middle yourself. Luckily, there's help to be found in the form of an app or two. No, we're not talking about the Nike + iPod or crunch rep counters. We're talking about good old fashioned watching what you eat.
Viaden Mobile is ready to help you keep an eye on how many cookies you're sneaking by having you add in everything you eat, one meal at a time, into Calorie Counter. With a huge database of brand name and common foods, it'd be hard to stump this app. When you first fire it up, you create a profile of yourself: age, gender, weight, height, and how active your job is.
Just set up your profile and get counting!
Then you set about making a plan. What is your target weight and how quickly do you want to drop the pounds to get there? Once you're set up, you can link the app to Dropbox to sync between multiple devices. Then meals eaten at work and logged on your iPhone will be in your record when you fire up the iPad at home.
Today's diets give you so many choices
Across the bottom of the app run five buttons. Food gives you your daily calorie allotment, and it's where you'll enter in each meal. Tap breakfast and you have the option of searching everything in the food base, finding based on brands or categories or even specific restaurant chains. To be quick, you can scan barcodes, but that requires a Pro upgrade ($7.99 for one month and up). You can even add custom foods you make yourself.
How big are these coffees again?
The Activity tab lets you log from a wide variety of physical activities from the amorous to the mundane (talking on the phone burns 77 calories per hour?). The Diary tab tracks your body mass index and includes an incredibly detailed body tracker of thirteen separate anatomical measurements you'll need to enter. The Summary tab gives you a running tally of how well you're doing, while the More tab lets you adjust your profile and your dietary plan.
Billy Idol stays thin, dancing with himself (non-contact)
For the most part, Calorie Counter's figures were legit (though 3448 calories seems a lot for a five foot, nine inch journalist trying to shed a few pounds) but the entering process was a bit of a chore. Certain items were mysterious in their weight or composition (how big is one onion roll?). Plus trying to find an item by any means other than typing its name in the search is an exercise in tedium. Tap, tap, tap, tap -- how many calories does all that burn? Entering the exact time we ate something also seemed a little too precision oriented for casual users.
This looks like a lot of work
But if you're looking for the full body tracking package, you won't go wrong with this one.
FitNow has been in the same game for quite a while with their commandingly titled Lose It! Open up the app, and you will likewise be prompted to create a profile with your stats and your target weight. This helps keep you on track and gives you your daily budget of allowable calories.
Just want to get back to my college weight
Once you're past the initial sign in, the app opens to the Log screen for the current day. Arrows on either side let you go navigate your timeline to fill in data and a + sign in the upper right takes you to the "Add to Log" screen. Here, you will find that Lose It! has a commanding database of food, including common, brand name, and restaurant items. Again, as above, it is far easier just to type your food item in the search bar than it is to tap and scroll endlessly seeking it. Simply typing the brand name "lays" brings up all the chip choices whereas tapping, scrolling, tapping some more feels like far more work.
Get there faster by searching
From this screen, you can also add exercises. Where Calorie Counter has pre-set intensities of activity, Lose It! allows you to differentiate between moderate or vigorous or passive. The time you spent is also easier to choose, a scroll wheel versus the digits.
This is some vigrous writing, people
The My Day tab gives you a break down of your calorie budget, how much you consumed and how much you burned. You can also add food or exercise here. Need a buddy to egg you on? The Friends tab lets you challenge or encourage other Lose It! users. Goals shows you your progress on your weight program.
No wonder I'm starving: I haven't eaten anything
The More tab has additional features tucked away such as motivators that remind you to log your daily and weekly progress reports since the enemies of every fitness regime are forgetfulness and laziness. Best of all, you can set up your iPhone to sync with loseit.com. While logging food on the go is super convenient, it's undeniable that most people type faster on a computer than on a phone. Link your accounts, then while you're still chewing on that bagel at your desk, log it.
This is the simplest app of the three. Fire up Daily Burn's Meal Snap and you have three basic controls. A vertical calendar of dates on the left, a settings "i" in a flame in the upper right, and a large camera button that looks like a plate with fork and knife. And that's its magic -- its simplicity.
No meaning to point and shoot
Meal Snap lets you take a picture of your food then tells you what it is and gives you a range for the calories. Tap the button, aim it at your plate, and the app does all the work. It's really that simple. When you take a picture, you can help the app out by adding a caption if you like -- but it's really not necessary.
Please don't be too fattening
What we found was the app was dynamite killer on recognizing pictures of food and telling us what they were. Your picture gets captioned by the app with what it thinks you are eating. We seriously did nothing but shoot a picture of a colleague's plate and it gave us back exactly which two foods were on it. And if the app seems to shoot too high or low for you in the calorie count, you can edit the caption and the app will readjust the count.
What a difference a word can make
However, the app has some serious flaws with its caloric database. No, a full can of regular Pepsi is not 30-45 calories -- it's 150 and it's written right there on the can. One ice cream cone ranked at 125 - 140 calories while a second, different flavor clocked in at 697 - 1046. That's gotta be some fattening flavoring!
We swear, it recognized it all on its own
But never fear. Meal Snap lets you rate how well it did. From your results page, tap Rate Meal and you can choose how well the description of the food is and how well the caloric range. We're hoping this improves with age and additional users.
Don't like the answer? Rate it.
Meal Snap also lets you link to your Twitter, Facebook, and Foursquare accounts, and choose whether you want your food snaps saved to your photo library. On the short list of features we'd like to see is the ability to upload pictures to the app instead of having to take them directly. What if we forget? However, we found we could take pictures of pictures of food on our computer monitors and have Meal Snap calculate that. So if you miss and forget, adding something back in is a piece of cake. So to speak.
By far and away, Lose It! had the best, most accurate database from what we could gather. Calorie Counter was great if you were deeply into body measuring, but there's simply no way we needed 3,500 calories if we were planning on losing weight. Still, we're going to be a little bold here and give our prize to Meal Snap. Was it the most accurate? No. Was it the most customizable? No. We give it our prize because it was far and away the easiest app for keeping track of our calories and with more users the database of photos and caloric measurements can only improve.
We love seeing apps that strive for this kind of simplicity and genius. Ultimately, apps exist to make our lives easier, better, more fun. With a greatly improved data set to pull from that provides accurate analysis of how many calories are in a given food, Meal Snap becomes a huge plate of awesome. We vote for Meal Snap, not for what it is today, but for what it is clearly on the road to becoming.
Meal Snap says don't eat your animal friends!