It may soon no longer be considered quite so gauche, in the midst of a restaurant meal, to reach into one’s pocket or purse for a cell phone.
Not if tracking calories is the goal.
The most popular dieting brands are now weighing in with calorie counters and nutritional guides designed for personal digital assistants and combination PDA-mobile phones.
Just in time for the season of bountiful temptation.
Weight Watchers International Inc. released this week a program for Palm-based gadgets that works hand-in-hand with the company’s online services. It helps record a dieting disciple’s progress, eliminates the need for carrying a weekly logbook and shrinks the 25,000-item food database that normally fits into a two-inch-thick reference book into a pocketable gizmo.
Devotees of Atkins Nutritionals Inc. will have to wait a little longer. The company says it will begin offering early next year Atkins 2Go, a carbohydrate guide and weight-loss tracker for cell phones along with mobile software developer Digital Chocolate Inc. A version for Palm-based PDAs, developed by NoviiMedia, is expected to debut in January.
Other diet purveyors, including the South Beach Diet, say they hope to offer similar nutritional guides and weight-tracking services for mobile devices soon.
“We think of it as a global positioning system for their weight loss journey,” said Scott Parlee, director of product development at WeightWatchers.com. “They can check how many points they’ve earned on the spot, whether at the gym or at a restaurant. It allows them to stay on course.”
'Knowledge is power'
Mike Brezonick now has breakfast, lunch and dinner with his digital handheld every day.
He’s no recluse. The 48-year-old magazine editor is married, has friendly co-workers, travels often on business and works out regularly at the gym.
But right now, his most steady meal companion happens to be Weight Watchers On-the-Go. He started using an early test version of the mobile program in June after complaining that he needed easier access to all the food-point and restaurant data and tracking requirements.
It’s helped Brezonick decide on pasta primavera over meat entrees. When traveling abroad, it’s reduced nutritional guesswork or excuses for veering off plan.
“Knowledge is power, and no matter where I am now, I can find out whether what I think is healthy to eat is bad, or whether what looks bad to eat is actually good,” said Brezonick, of Elm Grove, Wis.
Without it, he wouldn’t have been able to lose 59 pounds in six months, said the trimmer, 187-pound Brezonick.
Maintaining a regimen is hard enough as it is.
Thousands of the more tech-savvy long ago turned to handhelds for help. Mobile applications already on the market can keep track of your fat intake, gauge how many calories you just burned or chart the proximity to your target weight.
At Handango, a popular Web site that sells applications designed for cell phones and PDAs, about 400,000 people have paid $20 to download the Diet & Exercise Assistant, one of the best sellers in the health category.
Handango executives say they’re excited that the dieting heavyweights are going mobile, bringing along millions of potential customers.
“For an avid carb-counter, Atkins 2Go might be the reason they’ll go out to buy a Treo or (Microsoft) Windows smart phone to help them manage their low-carb lifestyle,” said Clint Patterson, Handango’s vice president of marketing. “These mobile devices are with you more than your spouse, so applications to manage diet or body weight are really ideally suited for the platform.”
Weight Watchers is targeting the estimated 30 percent of its followers who already own a PDA and hopes others will buy new mobile devices — which start about $99 — just to help them keep count.
Atkins, which details its eating philosophy in multiple books and magazines, is looking to offer its mobile carb guide for all kinds of cell phones, which, unlike PDAs, already are ubiquitous.
“We love this idea that a consumer could be shopping and use their phone to help them decide what they should buy,” said Michael Bernstein, a senior vice president at Atkins. “It’s much more palatable to pick up their phone to look up stuff than to carry around books.”