WorkSmart Labs already makes some of the most successful health and fitness apps for the Android platform, with a total of 7 million users gained over three years. Now one of those apps, Calorific, has finally made its way to the iOS platform.
Calorific, as the name suggests, is an app that lets you log what you’re eating. That immediately puts it in competition with some pretty strong food diary apps on the iPhone and iPad, such as Lose It! and Livestrong Calorie tracker.
But as anyone who has used those apps for any length of time can tell you, using them long-term means making a significant commitment. To do it right, you need to weigh or measure your food, look it up in a vast and incomplete database of food, and figure out the precise number of calories. Personally, I’ve lost a fair number of pounds using Lose It! — but I also found it hard to keep up for more than a month at a time.
Calorific seems to have been built with that understanding. Its purpose isn’t precision — it’s simplicity. Every food is in one of three categories (Great, OK and Bad) and four sizes (tiny through large). There’s a very small database that will tell you roughly which size counts as which, for any given food. And chances are you already know which category and size that plate of cookies is going in.
“The truth is, most people eat junk and know that it’s junk,” says WorkSmart Labs co-founder Aterm Petakov in an email. “What they need is a way to be held accountable for those choices and change them over time. It’s an idea that’s very counter to the Type A/engineer-driven calorie counting that’s on the market today. This makes it very polarizing, but after people use it for some time, they love it.”
Putting It To The Test
I’ve been using Calorific [iTunes link] since it arrived on the app store yesterday at midnight, and it certainly is the most simple food-logging program I’ve ever seen. It’s about as fun, uncluttered and brightly-colored as weight-loss apps can get. WorkSmart Labs’ proud boast about this app is that you can log any food in two clicks. That’s not true if you need to look up a food, but the company’s hope is that you will quickly learn, for example, that anything more than 8 oz. of beef counts as large. Sorry, chum, no way that steak is costing you anything other than 600 calories.
There, if you’ll pardon the pun, is my major beef with the app. Its relentless pursuit of simplification leaves no room for nuance, and nuance adds up. Sure, Calorific gives me the option of lean beef (OK) or regular beef (Bad). But there’s no accounting for how you prepare it, no shaving off a few calories if you lean-grilled it. The 600 calories goes straight on your record, and there’s no way to adjust the numbers once entered. So I might as well leave the juice in it, right?
Also — and this may be a deal-breaker for some people — there’s no way to log exercise. You choose in your profile whether you’re sedentary, lightly active or very active, and that alone determines your calorie target on a given day. There’s no way to point out that today you happened to run 10K, say, and have damn well earned that steak. (On the Android platform, this is taken care of by WorkSmart’s Noom Weight Loss app — let’s hope that crosses over to iOS next.)
The food database is a little threadbare at the moment, which is why the app invites you to tell it what’s missing on every search page. Here’s a freebie for WorkSmart Labs: You need coffee drinks in there, stat. I see a lot of people consuming half their daily calorie allowance in the form of Frappuccinos.
In the aggregate, I can see how well this app would work. It lacks precision, but it gets you in the right ballpark of calorie consumption. With that pie chart and that bar graph, you have an easy bead on the two most widely-accepted tools for weight loss — not just how much you’re eating, but how well you’re eating. Treat it as a game where you try to fill as much of that pie with green (for Great) foods, and you needn’t worry too much about the calorie count. Because it’s easy to play every day, this could be the most vital, life-saving iPhone game you’ve ever killed some time with.