A doctor told Tanna Hays she was beyond help — diet and exercise would do her no good. At 23, a risky and expensive surgery was her only option if she wanted to save her life.
It was at that point, Hays, 27, Ottawa, said, she made the decision to literally take matters into her own hands — with a device that could be held in her palm.
Forced to choose between losing weight to save her life or face a potential early grave, Hays said, she looked to the Internet for help. Today, 210 pounds lighter, Hays said she is one of the millions of people who have turned to web-based smartphone applications to track their weight-loss progress.
Formerly a 420-pound cab driver, Hays was at one time consuming more than 15,000 calories a day and drinking a 30-pack of soda every two days, she said. Her sedentary lifestyle and poor eating habits, she said, were the cause of her weight.
For the past two years, Hays said, she has used MyFitnessPal, an app that tracks daily caloric intake and exercise, to guide her weight loss. The free app, downloaded on her Android phone, offered a less stressful answer, she said.
“I log every meal, every snack, my water, my exercise,” Hays said. “This app has helped me cut down my calories a lot.”
MyFitnessPal wasn’t the first app she tried, but it was the one that seemed to work better for her, she said. With a searchable food database touting nearly 2.5 million items, the ease of use and price were a win-win for Hays, she said.
The app’s online support also was attractive, Hays said. Online forums with recipes, success stories, motivation and healthful eating tips come along with the app, she said. During the course of two years, Hays said, about 80 people have added her as a friend through the app. Many of them are people she has never met, she said, but who wanted to express their support.
“A lot of people add me because they see the amount of weight I’ve lost, and they see that I’ve done it without surgery,” Hays said. “They always comment and tell me I’m an inspiration and motivational.”
Happier and healthier, Hays said she is proud she was able to bypass surgeries like Lap-Band or gastric bypass, and lose the weight on her own using a simple phone app.
STUDIES SHOW SUCCESS
As the technology age’s answer to the traditional pen-and-paper food diary, medical studies have shown keeping a food journal doubles a person’s chance for success.
Coming free, or at a low cost, such food logging apps as Fit Bit and Tap and Track help users regulate behavior, by keeping them mindful and vigilant, health experts have said. A 2012 study published in the “Archives of Internal Medicine” concluded a mobile app can help boost weight loss, if it is used as part of a more comprehensive strategy — including exercise and support groups.
Researchers at Northwestern University, Chicago, studied about 70 overweight men. Some of the men were asked to log their eating and activity using a pen-and-paper method. Others were given a mobile app. In addition, all of the participants were offered group classes in nutrition and behavior change.
The men who used the mobile app and attended 80 percent of the health education classes lost more weight, according to the study.
“They were able to lose 15 pounds and keep it off (for a year),” Bonnie Spring, study author and professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University, said in an NPR article.
Such apps provide a combination of tracking and group support, the study showed, which is what makes the user more successful. But one local resident said it could be more than just the tracking capabilities.
MORE THAN JUST WEIGHT LOSS
“I think it’s all about being healthy. And because we’re all so social, if we can tie together our need to be connected to other people with our health, it’s like a win-win,” Lisa Rivers said.
An Ottawa resident and avid runner, Rivers uses a different type of app to log her exercise habits. Nike+ Running, she said, is a free, simple app for logging her running. She was attracted to the free app not because she was a hardcore runner, but because she needed to know her pace and distance, which the app provided, she said.
The app allows users to post their running results to their social media accounts, Rivers said, which is a feature she said she enjoys.
“It’s simple as can be and it connects to my social media, so some days I like to post that ‘it’s a beautiful day and I did 4 miles.’ It’s not to brag. It’s just to say anybody can do this,” Rivers, 34, said.
Rivers, who runs about five days a week, said she has used the Nike app for about a year. It records her pace, distance, calories burned and overall time. It also saves her results from past miles logged, she said. The features, she said, provided her with an extra bit of motivation.
“I was noticing that if there was going to be a time that I don’t run for a week then I’m not going to be registering any miles with it,” Rivers said. “Then when I get back on it, there is that little feeling of ... I don’t know if it’s guilt or just so much of disappointment in myself because I could have been [running].”
App stores on Android phones and iPhones offer a variety of free, simple options for people looking to track their running or exercise habits. Downloadable apps accompanied by hardware, like Nike+ Fuelband and Nike+ Sensor, can sync with an iPhone or iPod.
Rivers, who now is using the app to train for a half marathon, said she recommends the Nike app, or other free running apps, to people who might need that extra bit of motivation to get up and be active.
“I feel awesome. I feel great,” Hays said of her weight loss.
Hays admitted her weight-loss journey is far from over. Now at 210 pounds, Hays said her goal weight is 175 pounds, which, she said, she is confident she will reach.
Hays has made major changes in her life, she said. She changed jobs (her current job has an on-site gym) and exercises regularly. Now able to move around easier, Hays said she is particularly proud of being able to exercise and walk without pain. Once an activity she dreaded, shopping for new clothes has become one of her favorite pastimes, she said.
Hays said no one is incapable of doing what she did — they just have to make the decision to change.
“It’s hard. People want the overnight fix, but the weight didn’t come on overnight, it’s not going to come off overnight,” Hays said. “It’s taken me almost three years, and I’m still not done, but I’m glad I started.”