For Tracking Your Diet, Smartphones Beat Paper and Pencil

A woman looks at her phone.
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ORLANDO, Fla. — People who want to lose weight or eat healthier might be interested in keeping a food diary, but a new study finds you may be better off ditching the pencil and paper and logging your food intake on your smartphone.

In the study, the researchers found that people were more diligent with their smartphone, compared with other types of diaries.

Tracking the foods you eat is an important part of trying to lose weight, the researchers said here today (Nov. 8), at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions meeting.

"The biggest mediator for weight loss is adherence to self-monitoring," said Lora Burke, a professor of nursing and epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh, and lead author of the study.

The researchers used data from two previous studies on food diary use, and compared how well people stuck with their food monitoring programs for six months across three different types of diaries: smartphone, personal digital assistant (PDA) device and paper diary.

The study participants were considered "adherent" if they recorded at least 50 percent of their calories each day, Burke told Live Science.

People's adherence generally decreased over time in all three groups, the researchers found. But during the last week of the study, the smartphone users were still adherent an average of 62 percent of the time, compared with 51 percent of the time for PDA users, and 34 percent of the time for those using paper diaries. [Best Calorie Counter Apps]

In addition, the researchers found that adherence declined much faster in the paper diary group compared with the other groups.

People may be more likely to stick with filling out smartphone diaries because they're more user-friendly, Burke said. In addition, many food diary apps give feedback, which can be encouraging, she said.

With a smartphone, it's possible to log your food intake without other people realizing what you're doing, she added. Paper diaries, on the other hand, can be time-consuming and conspicuous, she said.

The researchers noted that the people included in the study were, for the most part, white, middle-age women with a college education. It's not clear whether the findings would apply to other groups.

The findings have not been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Follow Sara G. Miller on Twitter @SaraGMiller. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Originally published on Live Science.

Sara G. Miller
Staff Writer
Sara is a staff writer for Live Science, covering health. She grew up outside of Philadelphia and studied biology at Hamilton College in upstate New York. When she's not writing, she can be found at the library, checking out a big stack of books.