Can the Internet Help You Lose Weight?

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Tags: LinksTechnologyWebsites

The single best thing my husband and I did for our waistlines was start cooking more of our meals from scratch (or close to it) to cut out all the preservatives and other chemicals no one really needs. The second best thing we did was sign up for About.com’s Calorie Counters site and dutifully log in whatever foods we ate. It’s amazing what seeing actual numbers can do for your motivation – though I still have no idea what the heck I’m supposed to be eating to meet the daily requirement for potassium! All of this is really my way of saying, “Yes, definitely, the internet can help you lose weight.”

This isn’t an entirely new realization. Kaiser Permanente put a study out more than a year ago showing how people who used a website they designed for weight loss actually did lose weight – and keep it off! Is it a miracle diet? Does idly clicking burn a lot more calories than we previously thought? No and no. So how is this possible? The answer is equal parts OCD and accountability, with a website that asks you to log your weight and the amount of exercise you did that week. If you don’t log in, you get an email encouraging you to do so. And you can virtually “meet” people using the site and receive encouragement – or a tongue lashing – depending on how well you do. It’s no different, really, than having a gym buddy… but not everyone has someone like that. Plus, this “buddy” never tires of going and always pushes you.

The original site for the study is no longer up, but luckily a number of sites have sprung up with a similar mission but added functionality. Here’s an overview so you can see what works best for you.

Caloriecount.about.com

The site my husband and I use asks you to log every food you eat each day, as well as how many glasses of water you drink, any activities you do, and your weight. There doesn’t seem to be any interactivity – we can’t even “friend” each other to make it easy to log foods, since we’re often eating the same thing – but it’s got a fairly extensive built-in encyclopedia of foods with all the nutritional information and activities (even things like showering!) with estimates for calories burned.

Weight Watchers

The granddaddy of them all, this site has been around forever and has lots of functionality – track your food and exercise, find recipes – the one big downside: it’s not free. The standard monthly rate is currently $17.95, but you can save by purchasing several months at once.

Sparkpeople.com

The Facebook of weight loss sites, Sparkpeople has a great community that keeps you coming back. They offer a calorie counter, fitness tracker, articles, blog posts, forums where people can (and do!) discuss just about anything, and rewards like trophies that you can attain by completing tasks, such as giving up one fast food meal per week, and earning points. The extra bells and whistles can be a great motivator or feel overwhelming, depending on what you like.

MyFitnessPal

The weight loss site of the future? Maybe. This site has a lot of the same functionality of CalorieCount, but they’ve also got a cool app for iPhone and Android that allows you do snap a photo of the barcode on the food you’re eating so that it can automatically add all the nutritional information for you. Pretty cool!

What all of these sites have in common is a sense of ownership over the foods that you eat. We’re all on the move so much that we often pay little attention to what kind of fuel we’re putting in our bodies, but by having it all in front of you in black and white, there’s no way to ignore it. And that wake up call is just what some of us need.