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Tech for your Health: Establishing better dietary habits

Every year, millions of people look to the latest app or accessories to help them shed some extra pounds or set healthier goals, only to abandon those diets and workout routines after a few weeks. I know because that's been me for the past 10 years.

I'm no fitness guru, just another tech nerd turning the big 3-0 next year, with a spare tire showing around my waistline. I've set a personal goal to lose at least 29 lbs and get my weight under 200 lbs by my 30th birthday next summer, but after countless false starts trying to get fit over the years, I've decided to take a slow and measured approach this time around using the best apps and gadgets I can find — and I'll be using this regular column to keep myself honest and open up a discussion about the different subjects I'll tackle from week to week.

This Week's Topic: The technology we rely on in our daily lives can lock us into some unhealthy habits — but fortunately, the very same tech can also be the key to a more active and healthy lifestyle. To kick things off, let's focus on the bedrock of any healthy lifestyle: finding and maintaining a diet with proper nutrition.

Do your research ahead of time

Now I'm not here to preach about the specific methods I'm using or tell you which diet is the best, because that's a highly personal decision to make that's going to be affected by pre-existing health conditions and other factors. No matter which path you choose to go down, finding a disciplined dietary plan that will fit into your lifestyle and that you'll actually enjoy is the key to success.

In previous years, when I felt the urge to get on a healthy eating kick, I would hit the grocery store, stock up on a bunch of veggies, and then struggle my way through a few recipes before giving up and ordering a pizza. To avoid that happening again, I've spent hours researching websites, YouTube channels, and other resources for recipes, workouts, and tips for staying motivated. And there is no shortage of content out there for you to consume.

Finding a disciplined dietary plan that will fit into your lifestyle and that you'll actually enjoy is the key to success.

For me, I really enjoy what I've read about the Keto diet, which is all about cutting out carbs and eating foods that are high in fat and protein. Keto is a great option for those looking to lose weight because if you strictly adhere to the diet, you put your body into a metabolic state called ketosis. By cutting out carbs and glucose, you force your body to burn fat to create ketones, which become your body's main source of energy for both it and the brain. That means cutting out grains, candy, soft drinks, and even cutting back on relatively healthy stuff, like legumes, potatoes, and fruit.

Now you might be able to get away with eating processed foods or eating out on the diet you've found that works for you, but you'll get the best results if you learn to cook your own food. It's common sense, as it allows you to have full control over what you're putting into your body, plus cooking is just a good skill to work on.

Harness the power of internet algorithms

Jumping off from researching online for nutrition and recipe resources, social media can be a really powerful tool for helping to keep yourself motivated. While you're researching, be sure to favorite any subreddits or Facebook groups that seem to match your personal goals and motivations.

You know how weird it is when Google or Facebook just know what's going on in your life and target oddly specific ads at you? Well, when you're starting out on a new diet, this feature is incredibly helpful! I've had YouTube offer up some really stellar recommendations for cooking videos and channels based on my search history, and a couple posts on Instagram with the right hashtags have attracted a bunch of new likes and follows from accounts focused on healthy living and Keto dieting.

Look, you're going to have a difficult time reaching your goals if it feels like you're going at it all alone, so adding some positive reinforcement into your social media feeds is a small change that can do keep you motivated. Plus, you'll start to see recommendations for other like-minded people and brands to follow and connect with, which is the best use scenario for social media. Get those algorithms working in your favor for once!

More recipe apps, fewer delivery apps

The food and drink category in the Google Play Store is packed with helpful apps for planning meals — but you're probably going to want to rely on the recipe apps rather than the delivery apps.

Ordering in lunch is a habit that I've set out to break. In Canada, SkipTheDishes has been growing rapidly, offering an incredibly convenient way to order take out and delivery for a wide range of restaurants across the country. It's very similar to UberEats (opens in new tab) or other services out there. While you can certainly find healthier delivery options these days, that requires the willpower to stare down that menu full of burgers and fries and opt for the salad or whatnot instead. Personally, I don't trust my drunk self not to order an extra large pizza when it only takes a few taps in an app, so I've removed that temptation from my phone and have committed to trying to cook for myself instead.

And on the flip side, there's so much information and so many recipes out there for creating your own outstanding meals that there isn't a need to order in so often. The most popular ones are AllRecipes (opens in new tab), Food Network in the Kitchen (opens in new tab), and Yummly (opens in new tab), but there are countless apps to try out with millions of recipes to be discovered — but you knew that already. Less ordering, more cooking!

See at Google Play Store (opens in new tab)

Finding a nutrition app you can trust

Once you've committed to eating healthier, the final piece of the puzzle that you might want to consider is a nutrition app to help you monitor your daily meals. Counting calories isn't for everyone and I've totally been there where it feels like a monotonous exercise trying to figure out the quantities and ingredients in the meal you just ate. But it's important, especially when you're trying to jumpstart new dietary habits. Recording what you eat a week before you start the new diet and comparing the differences after a week can help illuminate your worst eating habits.

There are two main apps worth considering: Lose It! (opens in new tab) and Calorie Counter by MyFitnessPal (opens in new tab). Both offer all the features you'd expect that let you quickly and conveniently track what you eat throughout the day. You have options to add food to your diet diary by scanning barcodes, searching the ever-expanding database of food items within the app, or add your own items and recipes.

I personally prefer MyFitnessPal because I've used it before and I like how it connects with over 50 other fitness-related apps for importing exercises and runs that I've done to give me a better idea of my net caloric intake. I've also gone the extra step and subscribed for premium features, like the nutrient dashboard that lets me track the specific macros for my diet and other nutritional analysis that isn't available in the free version. If you're just looking to cut down on your daily caloric intake, the free version will suit you just fine!

Download: Calorie Counter by MyFitnessPal (Free) (opens in new tab)

Kitchen tech

Cooking is intimidating for a lot of people. Maybe you're a bit anxious about messing up these healthier recipes you've researched and turning yourself off this healthy cooking idea altogether. Lately, I've been relying on two pieces of smart tech in my kitchen that have proven to be an absolute godsend. And we're not talking about some $2,000 smart fridge or fancy stove — these are two kitchen gadgets you can buy for under $200 that have really boosted my love of cooking.

Anova Sous Vide Precision Cooker

The sous vide method for preparing meals might sound like a bizarre culinary science experiment, but it's something you're bound to fall in love with upon your first bite.

The process involves slow cooking food in sealed plastic bags in a temperature-controlled water bath, which is precisely controlled by a sous vide machine. It works especially well for cuts of meat, as you're able to cook your steak to the exact doneness you want, while also locking in all the juiciness, but can be used to slow cook all types of delicious recipes.

Our household recently acquired an Anova Sous Vide Precision Cooker (800 Watts) (opens in new tab) on loan from a friend, and I'm not overstating things when I say that it's been a life-altering few weeks. Cooking with the Anova is as simple as heating up a pot of water, which is made all the easier by the Anova's easy-to-use interface. You have a manual scroll wheel for controlling temperatures on the device itself, but the real magic happens when you connect it to your phone via Bluetooth and the Anova app.

There, you'll be able to browse through countless recipes, and then set and monitor the Anova as it heats up and cooks your meal. When your food is ready, you receive a phone notification. Essentially, you can precisely cook the best food of your life without all the hassles. It's great for dieting, too, as you can cut out whatever restricted items your diet requires while still eating full-flavored, perfectly cooked meals.

We're planning to upgrade to the 900 Watts model (opens in new tab), which includes Wi-Fi connectivity that lets you control the Anova from practically anywhere via the app. We've only just scratched the surface and have plans to pre-portion meals and freeze them — yes, you can sous vide from frozen.

The Anova will make you feel like a gourmet chef as you impress your family and friends with gourmet meals cooked fresh. I know you may have a growing collection of flash-in-the-pan kitchen gadgets, but this one really is something special.

See at Amazon (opens in new tab)

Amazon Echo

From the outset, I've considered placing an Amazon Echo speaker in the kitchen as the most sensible location for an A.I. assistant — for all the times you need to know a quick bit of information on cooking temperatures or a timer with your hands in the mixing bowl.

That alone is convenient enough to justify adding Alexa to your kitchen, but then there's the growing number of Alexa Skills that you can explore. I've just barely scratched the surface with mine, but something like the AllRecipes Alexa Skill that will help you find a meal to make based on the ingredients and time that you have, and then provide audio instructions every step of the way sure feels like a handy tool.

And then there's the added bonus of having Spotify's full library at your beck and call — because cooking with music is always the way to go. There's the added convenience of listening to the latest news headlines as you eat breakfast each morning or setting the mood for a dinner party. A Google Home speaker would work comparable here, too, but I think I'll be cooking with Alexa by my side for the foreseeable future.

See at Amazon (opens in new tab)

Eat healthily, be happier!

We want to hear about your experiences using tech to get fit! Drop us a line with your comments or questions. Next Week's topic: Get up and get outside!

Marc Lagace was an Apps and Games Editor at Android Central between 2016 and 2020. You can reach out to him on Twitter [@spacelagace.

7 Comments
  • i got the Anova, and I'm trying low carb as well. I like it, but I'm not as blown away by it as most people are. I assume I'm doing something wrong
  • What are you cooking with it?
  • Mainly just steaks at this point
  • Steaks are kind of hard to mess up, as long as a person doesn't over cook them while searing the outside surface. But at the same time, steaks aren't that hard to do the normal way, so it isn't always a big advantage doing it Sous Vide. Try some thick bone-in porkchops. Season and cook at 140°F for at least an hour, then a quick sear on each side. Safe to eat, yet juicy and tender. My other favorite is to season a pork shoulder in my favorite BBQ rub. 162°F for 20 hours. In the nice months, I then smoke it for about 2 and a half hours to develop a good bark. In the cold winter months, I just pull it straight after taking it out of the water bath. I also use it to pasteurize eggs for mixing into ice cream custard.
  • From January 20,2016 - June 1, 2016 I list 46lbs using MyFitnessPal. I did moderate exercise, mainly only when I went over my calorie count. I used the app for 450 days before a glitch cause me to miss a day and lose my streak. I still use it to this day out of habit.
  • That's awesome congratulations!
    I'm looking for different things to actually eat and keep within my calorie count as well as fit in time to exercise with everything else that goes on daily.
  • If it's any help, I force myself to wake up early for a big breakfast. Usually protein and fat based. 5 eggs (usually only 2 whole and 3 whites), cottage cheese and a piece of fruit or avacado and Greek yogurt. Break my lunch into 2 small meals (around 200 calories each). Protein bars come in big here. Then for dinner 3 or 4 days a week it's something chicken. Salmon once or twice a week and pork once a week. The entire process my exercise was capped off at 30 minutes on an elliptical before dinner. All the best