Is Bea Just Another Weight-Loss App?
Can an app help you build healthy habits and lose weight? There are plenty of options that make big promises, but when you look past the whistles and bells, you’ll find that many apps are based on the shaky foundation of restrictive eating. You already know how to eat well, and what you like and don’t like. You know your body better than any app or diet possibly could. You have good reason to be skeptical of weight-loss apps, and these same concerns are why we built Bea, the Better Eating App, to be a true companion on your journey to better health. Because we all stray from our best intentions from time to time, Bea was designed to help you retrain your mind in a holistic way. While you might lose weight with Bea, her primary function is to help you stick with the healthy intentions you’ve already set for yourself.
How Most Weight-Loss Apps Work
Every weight-loss app has a gimmick. For Weight Watchers, it’s “points.” For Noom, it’s stoplight-colored eating zones. For fitness trackers, it’s the dubious 10K steps a day. While these apps claim to teach better habits, they share some surprising similarities with fad diets.
Noom says it’s not a diet and promotes its “psychology-based approach,” but some users describe it as “nothing but a glorified calorie counting app” that can trigger disordered eating. Alarmingly, the app has a default minimum recommendation of 1,200 calories per day for women, regardless of how slowly they say they want to lose weight. For perspective, 1,200 calories is about what an active toddler requires each day. It’s not enough for an adult. This restrictive eating results in fatigue and emotional stress and can lead to obsession with food and bing eating. Other criticism centers on Noom’s focus on a user’s “belief,” which is a convenient way to put the burden back on you if you don’t meet your weight-loss goals: You obviously didn’t believe enough that you could do it.
WW (formerly Weight Watchers) promotes itself as more of a lifestyle than a diet. But WW, too, relies on calorie counting, though WW calls it “SmartPoints” instead. WW asks about your goals, eating habits, sleep, and activity levels to generate personalized recommendations, and there are opportunities for one-on-one coaching, but not everyone wants to report to a stranger about their weight and how often they’re going to the gym. With point values for different foods and beverages, WW’s SmartPoints are virtually indistinguishable from counting calories. WW has you track your food every day and record your weight on a weekly basis. Users can “expand” their food points budget via exercise — for example, 4 points for 30 minutes of yoga — which can lead to unhealthy habits and obsessions.
“When people start calorie counting, they start restricting the amount of food they eat, setting up a scarcity mindset. Everything is based on how to manage their life [while] restricting their calorie allotment for the day. It becomes obsessive and all they think about.”
“Counting calories sets up a diet mentality,” says Diets Don’t Work founder Debbie Lesko. “When people start calorie counting, they start restricting the amount of food they eat, setting up a scarcity mindset. Everything is based on how to manage their life [while] restricting their calorie allotment for the day. It becomes obsessive and all they think about.”
Another popular tech choice are fitness trackers, which combine “health metrics” with accountability to ideally be a kind of fitness coach on your wrist. But there are pros and cons, with a big negative being a detachment from the psychological benefits of exercise. It’s easy to forget to enjoy your hike in the woods or your session on the yoga mat when you’re focused on your step count or estimated calories burned. Plus, there’s often little guidance on how to actually use this data for the purposes of building healthier habits overall.
Do Weight-Loss Apps Work?
Can a high-tech calorie counter help you lose weight in a way that’s healthy and sustainable? Probably not. Many of these apps are marketed toward people who are “sick of dieting”, but they’re often just diets wrapped up in fancy interactivity. But they’re hugely popular — Forbes reports that Noom has more than 50 million downloads, although mental health and nutrition experts are concerned that these apps’ promises are misleading.
Your body needs a minimum caloric intake to keep you alive. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, that’s 1,600 to 2,200 calories per day for most women and 2,000 to 3,200 for most men. So it’s alarming that users report Noom recommending a daily goal of 1,200 calories.
Christine Byrne compared Noom’s recommendation to the Harris-Benedict Equation — which calculates your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), or the energy in calories your body needs to function — and included consideration for activity levels and CDC guidelines for healthy weight loss. The result was a daily requirement that’s 800 calories higher (two-thirds more calories!) then Noom’s recommendation. Byrne found other women who received the same 1,200-calorie limit, despite wide variations in age and starting weight.
"Most diets fail, whether you’re using an app or not."
Another red flag is the lack of screening for disordered eating. Some users turn to apps like Noom for support in their recovery, only to find the program triggering. Additionally, Noom’s use of cognitive behavioral therapy is problematic when delivered via an app rather than in a clinical setting. Instead of ongoing, one-on-one counseling sessions, Noom offers quick tidbits about behavior change along with periodic messages of encouragement from a Noom coach.Weight-loss apps return results similar to other restrictive eating diets — in other words, they don’t support long-term weight loss for most people. Noom’s own cherry-picked numbers are misleading, as their promotional data relies on results from a surprisingly small number of users, possibly because so many quit the app within the first six months.
Most diets fail, whether you’re using an app or not. You’re likely to gain back any weight lost, plus some more, because restricting calories trains your body to do more with less by slowing your metabolism. Calorie counting doesn’t always work because it doesn’t take into account other factors, like the type and quality of food you’re eating and your gut microbiome. If your goal is to build a healthier and sustainable lifestyle and improve your wellbeing, there are better options.
How Bea Works
We created the Better Eating App to be a compassionate, mobile chatbot who understands the challenges of real life and disordered eating. Designed by psychologists and founded on research-based psychological principles and artificial intelligence, Bea guides users as they make permanent changes to their eating habits.
"Designed by psychologists and founded on research-based psychological principles and artificial intelligence, Bea guides users as they make permanent changes to their eating habits."
Instead of having you log your calories or weight, Bea asks questions like, “How do you feel about what you ate today?” Bea analyzes your responses to reveal any unconscious thoughts and feelings that are holding you back and preventing change. As she gets to know you better, Bea guides you through interactive exercises — Plan, Motivate, and Meditate — to help you develop more mindful eating habits. She’ll even show you diagrams of your patterns and progress along the way. Bea doesn’t tell you what to do. Instead, she teaches you to listen to your body and eat in a way that makes you feel good. She helps you take control of your life and your choices. And because people interact much differently with devices than with other humans, working with Bea eliminates worry about judgment or expectations. You’re free to be honest and authentic, which allows the Bea AI to help you even more.
Why Bea Works
Bea is not a calorie counter. Bea is not a diet. Bea is a friend. I designed Bea to help people like my clients who aren’t only concerned about weight but who struggle to stick with their own best intentions. My clients told me that the more they talked with nutritionists, coaches, and even therapists, the worse they felt — and they ended up internalizing this struggle, wondering what was wrong with them, when it was the programs and apps that were failing.
Bea is structured around a specific moral compass: that you already know how to eat to feel good; that you can reach your goals; that inner peace is the key to lasting change; and that no one should ever struggle alone. Because she lives on your phone, Bea is available anytime, anywhere, to help you apply the principles of mindfulness and find peace with food. Her guiding voice helps you summon your own strength without the fear of being judged.
"Change is only good when you feel better about yourself as a result."
Bea helps you figure out your own patterns, understand why and where you struggle, and how you’re best motivated to stay on track. You’ll gain insight into what helps and hurts as Bea helps you shift how you view food. You can start craving healthy living and leave emotional eating behind. Change is only good when you feel better about yourself as a result. In short, Bea empowers you to eat mindfully, and to change your life. Bea comes to life in early 2022! We can’t wait to support you on your own journey.