Computers perform many magical feats, but can they help you lose weight too?
Several software developers think so, and to prove it they've devised programs to make dieting easier (except for the part about eating less).
These software programs can help you track the calories you consume as well as the calories you burn through exercise. Some include a nutritional analysis of your diet, a journal for recording your progress, and a graph that allows you to see your weight dropping over time. Many offer meal planning help too.
Most of the programs cost around $20 to $40 and can be downloaded quickly with a high-speed Internet connection. One of the best is free.
We looked at some of the most popular to assess their strengths and weaknesses. Our conclusion? They'll all work just fine, if you keep up your end of the deal.
Price: $39.95 for download, $46.98 for CD
Display: Clean and colorful, but doesn't provide a bar graph or other visual representation of how many calories you've consumed during the day and how many you have left in your budget. Includes "nutrition quotient" to help you avoid malnutrition.
Ease of use: Contains an enormous dictionary of foods, including common restaurant foods, but is cumbersome to use. The exercise dictionary contains a huge and rather bizarre array of activities, from the typical (aerobic dance, swimming, weight lifting) to the obscure (appliance repair, washing a fence, snow blowing). Recalculates your metabolic rate daily, based on your exercise history. You can customize entries for certain foods by entering label information.
Technical challenges: Can't download unless screen resolution is upgraded to at least 1024x768, but an e-mail to tech support provided clear instructions on how to do that.
Price: $37.99 for basic download; $57.99 for Weight-by-Date Pro download, or $64.99 with CD. Versions available for mobile devices.
Display: Bland and monotonous, like a technical document. Includes a weight-loss calendar showing daily totals, a food journal and progress charts for exercise. Comes with recipe builder so you can enter commonly eaten meals.
Ease of use: Nothing intuitive about it. Simply logging daily food consumption is a challenge. Finding calorie content of foods is cumbersome, and customizing quantities is difficult, requiring that you know the food's weight in grams. (How many grams are in 1 teaspoon of peanut butter?)
Technical challenges: Complicated to use. One attempt to insert the name of food produced a "data type conversion error" (whatever that is), and a search of the help file didn't provide much help. Even the video tutorial fails to explain clearly how to enter food and calories.
Price: $69.99 for download or CD, with mobile versions available.
Display: Includes bar graphs to display calories consumed, as well as fat, protein, carbs, cholesterol, fiber, sugar in foods.
Ease of use: WeightMania is well named, since it's for people who are manic about monitoring what they eat. The bar graphs, pie charts and other tools enable the user to dissect everything they eat. However, the food dictionary, accessible through the "input wizard," looks highly technical and seems to be dedicated to brand names. "Hamburger," for example, contained multiple listings for fast food restaurants, but no listing for a 4-ounce serving from the grocery store.
Technical challenges: The download went smoothly, but using the software makes you wish for an engineering degree.
calorie balance diet
Display: One of most attractive, with large, colorful icons that reveal their labels ("Calorie Count," "Activity," "Meal Plans," etc.) when you place the cursor on them.
Ease of use: By far the most intuitive to use. Enter "bread," for example, and a drop-down menu appears. Select "Italian" from the list and a drop-down menu appears under "unit" and "serving size," enabling you to select the quantity consumed. When you hit "enter," the calorie count appears automatically.
Technical challenges: Crashed several times on computer using Vista, although the data was saved and accessible when the software was re-opened. A query to tech support sent through the Web site went unanswered.
Price: $45 download; $49 in a box (plus $3 shipping).
Display: Clean and attractive, but technical. Food choices are displayed in the same tree structure used by Microsoft to display contents of computer. Includes bar graphs displaying daily consumption of calories, carbs, fat, protein, fiber and exercise.
Ease of use: Reasonably intuitive, although you'll probably want to read the manual that comes with the software.
Technical challenges: Downloaded smoothly and operated without a problem, but the learning curve for this software is steep.