5 Ways Your Phone Is Sabotaging Your Weight-Loss Goals — and 4 Ways It Can Help

Your smartphone is an essential part of your life — we get it. But did you know that your relationship with your phone could be having a negative effect on your health? It might even be causing you to gain weight.

If you're distracted by your smartphone at the gym, you may not get the full benefit of your workout. (Image: andresr/E+/GettyImages)

That's according to the findings of a preliminary study presented July 2019 at the American College of Cardiology Latin America Conference.

Here's what you need to know: The study analyzed the health and phone habits of 1,060 undergraduates at Simón Bolívar University in Colombia. The researchers found that the students who used their smartphones for five or more hours a day had a 43 percent increased risk of obesity. They were also more likely to practice other unhealthy habits, like eating fast food, drinking sugary drinks and not exercising.

"It's not that mobile phones are all bad," Miguel Urina-Triana MD, PhD, professor of medicine and chief of the cardiology division at Simón Bolívar, and co-author of the study, tells LIVESTRONG.com. "It's how we use them."

With that in mind, here are five ways your phone might be getting in the way of your weight-loss goals — and four ways it could actually help.

1. All That Late-Night Scrolling Is Disrupting Your Sleep

Smartphones (and other electronic devices, like televisions and computers) emit blue light from their screens. Too much blue light at night can reduce the amount of melatonin produced in your brain and disrupt your circadian rhythms, leading to insomnia and poor sleep, according to Harvard Health Publishing.

So what does that have to do with your weight? Well, without adequate rest, you're much more likely to overeat or eat the wrong foods. In fact, a June 2019 study in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found an association between blue light exposure at night and weight gain and obesity in a sample of 43,772 women.

2. Your Phone Is Making You Anxious

Whether it's reading the news, scrolling through your social media feed or battling with your inbox, there are lots of ways your phone could be stressing you out. And indeed, there's a correlation between excessive smartphone use and low mood, depression and anxiety, according to a review published January 2017 in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

If you're the sort of person to eat when you feel bad, it's a good idea to be aware of the impact your phone has on your mood, and adapt accordingly. Beyond shortening your daily screen time, try to find healthier ways to tame the stress, such as practicing meditation and mindfulness.

3. Staring at a Screen Makes You Walk Slower

Walking is a great way to burn calories, according to the Mayo Clinic — but only if you're doing it at the right speed. And using your phone while you're on the move could be slowing your pace, according to a March 2016 study in the journal BMC Research Notes, which analyzed walking speeds of 1,142 people using their phones and found that those who were texting or calling walked significantly slower than those who weren't.

So, not only are you burning less calories, but an ambling gait may also be linked to other health problems.

4. You're Distracted While Doing Cardio

If you regularly text, make calls or watch a show while you're on the treadmill, you're probably not concentrating on your workout.

To see if you're working hard enough, check your heart rate. The American Heart Association recommends exercising at 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate for moderate physical activity, and 70 to 85 percent for vigorous activity.

If you need some help pushing through, though, turn to your phone to crank some tunes. Although it used a small sample size, a January 2016 study in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness found that participants who listened to fast-paced music during a running task performed better, without feeling like they exerted more effort, compared to those who listened to static noise or slow-paced music.

5. Multitasking Is Making You Overeat

It's tempting to use your phone while you're eating, but studies show this makes you more likely to do something called mindless eating, where you eat more than you need because you're not paying attention to how much you've consumed.

This kind of multitasking may also make you more susceptible to breaking your diet. A March 2019 study in the Journal of Brain Imaging and Behavior found that people who spend more time multitasking with media are more susceptible to food cues, and at higher risk for obesity. The takeaway: Focusing on one thing at a time might just be good for your waistline.

How Your Phone Can Help You Reach Your Goals

It's not all bad news when it comes to smartphones, and in fact, there are several ways your phone can help you on your weight-loss journey.

1. Log Calories and Workouts With MyPlate

LIVESTRONG.com's MyPlate app helps you track your daily calories, workouts and goals on your iPhone or Android. It also houses meal plans and a supportive community to cheer you on.

This type of self-monitoring is proven to help with weight loss. Case in point: A February 2019 study in JMIR mHealth and uHealth found that overweight or obese individuals who used an app to monitor diet and/or weight for 12 weeks lost a significant amount of weight and were able to keep it off long-term.

2. Visit a Virtual Gym

Too busy to go the gym? There are now hundreds of workouts online to choose from, whether it's via a paid subscribtion app like Sweat or one of the millions of Youtube videos you can use without leaving your house. Everything from yoga to HIIT is just a few taps away, and many of them are free.

More of a runner than a gym goer? Try pounding the pavement with a tracker app, which uses your GPS to track your run's speed and length, and can also calculate your calories burned.

3. Track Your Wins

If you have an Apple or Android phone, you can use the built-in Health or Fit apps to track your basic health data, like daily step count and sleep. Tracking your daily achievements can help nudge you to do more.

If you want to take it a step further, there are many wearable activity trackers that you can sync to your phone to collect data, and you can even buy smart scales that transmit your weight.

4. Get Motivated by Social Media

Social media is full of inspiring people in the health and fitness space. Whether you're looking for healthy recipes, abs like J. Lo or advice on how to do that tricky yoga pose, it can be a great place to connect with people who have similar goals.

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