Smartphone app tracks eating habits, helps people lose weight

Jamie Simon/Salk Institute

Smartphone app tracks eating habits, helps people lose weight

We like to say we only eat three meals a day, but most of us snack continuously during our waking hours. That’s the conclusion of a new study that used a smartphone app (pictured above) to monitor the eating habits of 156 U.S. adults. For 3 weeks, participants snapped photos of everything they ate and drank, even their vitamins and the water they used to wash them down. Food and beverage info could also be recorded via text, and the app registered the time and location of each entry. More than half of the volunteers spent 15 hours a day or more eating, the team reports online today in Cell Metabolism. In fact, the only time when the number of “ingestion events” per hour dropped below 1% was between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m. Learning more about when and how often people eat could aid in weight loss, the researchers say. To test that idea, they asked eight participants who had spent 14 hours a day eating during the study to continue using the app, but to limit the amount of time they spent eating to 10 to 11 hours a day. After 16 weeks, the participants reduced their body weight by an average of 3.5% each; they also had more energy and slept better. The researchers plan to continue their studies by offering the app to anyone willing to participate.