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Wearables Blog Part 4: Digital Tools for Wellbeing: What does the new "Lark" App tell us?

Thursday, September 17, 2015
Chaloner Chute - Digital Health & Care Institute

I have been playing with weight loss tools for over a decade, always hoping to shed a little weight to keep healthy, never quite letting my size get out of control but never being exactly satisfied.

I tend to find that my commitment to this mission peaks and troughs. I probably change my diet a number of times over about a third of the year furiously focusing and restricting my life to achieve healthiness through weight loss and the other two thirds on a very slow decline into bad habits, which eventually leads me to take corrective action in another dieting sprint.

My experience is reflected in typical survey data with the average diet lasting nineteen to thirty-seven days, depending on which surveys you look at, and that these are undertaken on average three time per year. The same surveys tell us that people 'cheat' for the first time far earlier into the diet period.

The wording of this finding tells us something in itself - we feel negative about small deviations from prescriptive diet plans, and that these deviations are inevitable. You cannot be on a restrictive weight loss diet for life. The special diet will end and you will then need to make moderate, sensible choices or find yourself in need of a restrictive diet again.

 

So how does this relate to technology?

My own thoughts about how to be healthy have changed in line with emerging research and an evolving wellbeing movement in health and care policy circles. However, few technologies we use have developed to support more holistic wellbeing methods.

I began a decade ago with food logging website called Fitday. This website was one of the first to offer food logging / calorie counting, and I vividly remember the tedium of searching primarily American food databases (I am sure now updated) to try and find something close to what I had actually eaten. Despite the barriers I spent over a year as a student logging every single thing I ate. This diligence did not last, however, beyond the end of University as my time was taken up with new relationships and a regular working schedule.

The journey continued a number of years later as My Fitness Pal evolved the concept, moving to mobile, offering a more intuitive interface, relevant UK food databases, weight and exercise tracking and a barcode scanner to quickly add new foods. This marked a significant improvement in convenience and I found myself able to use it for several months thanks to the new ease of use. However, my patience for restriction and the documenting of my restrictions soon came to an end after only a couple of months.

This calorie counting focus on restrictive diet will definitely continue to get more convenient. Google's Im2Calories can already calorie count from a photo you take of your food. Give it a few years and manual entry of food will be a think of the past. The question is - will this and other improvements to calorie counting fundamentally change the game?

A new App on the market called 'Lark' has captured my attention consistently for the last 6 months. Lark learns from the calorie based apps that have gone before, offering convenience by pulling in the lifestyle, activity and sleep data from the iPhone's Healthkit and offering a very simple conversation based interface.

The premise is simple and different. Out goes the calorie counting, restrictions and guilt and in comes a focus on what good things you eat, irrespective of quantity. Lark uses your data to show you patterns, encouraging you to make good choices and never guilt tripping you into compliance. It looks at your sleep and your physical activity and uses this data to help you understand how your eating is effected, and vice versa.

I find myself wanting to please Lark. I am aware of what will cause the meal symbol to turn red (the only negative sentiment in the entire method) and I know that all I need to do is add a portion of vegetables to get a 'yellow' badge (an OK meal). Overtime, more and more green and yellow badges are achievable by loading up on fruit and veg at every sitting….and weight loss does follow….but I also feel that I can do this over the medium to long term and that it is embedding positive habits.

So what does this tell us? It appears that some technologists have struck upon a more holistic, proactive and positive pursuit of wellbeing to provide an alternative to guilt ridden restrictive dieting. There are definitely some lessons for health and care services here, and to that end I will be giving a detailed review of Lark in the coming weeks.

As always - comment welcome, and please bring the DHI any relevant activity or potential project work you might have in this area!

Thanks for reading

 

Chal

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