I love the idea of using technology to help people lose weight. My philosophy is: if it helps, why not give it a try. Everybody’s toolkit is different, and some are more tech-centered than others. The weight loss start-up Noom has several good apps, including a free pedometer for your phone (which I have), and a cardio app.
Their apps also use coaching and anonymous groups to help people meet their goals. While I haven’t tried their coaching app, it did get me thinking about what makes a good coaching relationship and whether technology can replicate that.
The importance of relationship cannot be overstated. Research in the counseling field shows that it is the therapeutic alliance–rather than any specific intervention or technique–that is responsible for positive client outcomes. Psychotherapists spend their entire lives perfecting techniques, studying models, attending workshops, and reading books. Yet, research shows that the quality of the human relationship is the most important predictor of success. Traits and skills such as the ability to meet a person exactly where they are, empathy, listening, positive regard, congruence, and compassion are part of the intangible therapeutic alliance.
I believe the same principle can be generalized to weight loss coaching and counseling. Community support is a big part of the process–allowing for accountability, brainstorming, strategizing, encouragement, and motivation. While I believe an on-line community can certainly have those attributes, it pales in comparison to face-to-face meetings that are dynamic, “in the moment,” and include important non-verbal input.
Additionally, while an app can create reminders and make suggestions, it is missing a central feature: caring. The app really doesn’t care about your health goals. I believe that it is the spark of connecting to another human being who genuinely cares that activates change.
Nevertheless, if a person finds any app helpful, I would never discourage that. The coaching apps might be a good supplement to an in-person program. I’d be curious to know what others think about a weight loss coaching app. Let me know in the comments.