If you've ever attempted to lose weight, you've probably at least tried to use a calorie counting app at some point. After all, creating a caloric deficit is often considered the key to shedding the pounds. But the chances are you've given up almost as soon as you started. It's fiddly, boring and rather time consuming.
However, the tedious task might take less time than you think – as little as 15 minutes of your day, according to new research to be published in the March issue of Obesity.
Researchers at the University of Vermont and the University of South Carolina conducted a six-month study in which 142 participants recorded their daily consumption of food and drink online, including calorie and fat intake.
"People hate it; they think it's onerous and awful, but the question we had was: How much time does dietary self-monitoring really take?" said lead author Jean Harvey. "The answer is, not very much."
They found that the people who were most successful in the weight loss programme, who lost 10 per cent of their body weight, spent on average 14.6 minutes logging their calories each day by the end of the programme. At the beginning, it took them an average of 23.2 minutes per day to self-monitor, but this dropped to below 15 minutes by the end of the trial. It became quicker and easier to record over time because the calorie recorder was able to increasingly auto complete words and phrases based on past entries, the authors suggest.
Log in at least three times per day
They also found that it was the frequency of log-ins which was most closely associated with successful weight loss, rather than the amount of time spent recording or the amount of detail included in each entry.
"Those who self-monitored three or more times per day, and were consistent day after day, were the most successful," Harvey said. "It seems to be the act of self-monitoring itself that makes the difference - not the time spent or the details included."
"It's highly effective, and it's not as hard as people think," Harvey said.
The best calorie counters for weight loss
MyFitnessPal – probably the best known calorie counting app out there, which also lets you track your exercise, fitness and weight goals myfitnesspal.com
Nutra Check – uses barcode scanning to search its library of over 300,000 food products, also connects to your Fitbit nutracheck.co.uk
My Plate – as well as tracking your calories, uses colourful charts to encourage you to make sure you're eating enough of each food group choosemyplate.gov
Lose It – encourages you to make specific weight loss goals and allows you to upload food using photo recognition loseit.com