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App Review: The Eatery

By Kellee Bryan
Soup @ Buddha Bodai - 5 Mott Street
Fit or Fat?
(Photo by wEnDaLicious)
Two weeks ago I talked about the release of Massive Health's new iPhone app, The Eatery. The Eatery users snap a picture of each meal they eat and rate it on a scale of "fit" to "fat." Fellow app users can also rate the meal using the same scale. The idea isn't to count calories or track nutritional information, but to discover trends in eating habits, thereby making it easier for app users to identify and change poor behaviors. I've been using the app myself for the past two weeks, snapping photos of my meals and waiting for my health ratings to come in. Here are my thoughts so far:

For the first week, I forgot to photograph approximately 80% of my meals and snacks. It's considerably better this week, but I still forget at least one meal each day. Sometimes I simply forget, but other times it just seems rude to interrupt a meal with an electronic device (but then, my family observes relatively formal dinner-table rules). Con: If you're forgetful like me, there's no way to go back and add a meal after the fact. Unless, I suppose, you wanted to take a picture of your belly and label it "chicken pot pie, consumed." (Which, actually, I might have to do because that? Would. Be. Awesome.)

Now that I'm (finally) getting into the swing of things, knowing that I'll be snapping a picture of everything that goes into my mouth is helping me to think twice about eating left-over Halloween candy. Pro: Thinking twice usually means I make the right decision. 

The rating system is problematic. "Fit" or "fat" is a wildly subjective scale. My guess is that vegans are going to rate certain foods entirely differently than, say, Paleo followers. Someone trying to lose weight might rate a low-fat Yoplait yogurt far more "fit" than someone whose primary concern is avoiding processed foods or added sugars. Take, for example, the turkey and cranberry bagel I posted last weekend. I rated it one of my "fattest" meals of the week based of the refined white flour in the bagel, the highly processed cranberry sauce (which tasted like it contained more high fructose corn syrup than cranberries), and the nitrates in the sandwich meat. My Eatery peers, however, rated it one of my healthiest. We are clearly on different pages. Pro: When you start using the app, The Eatery asks what type of diet you're on (vegan, high protein, low fat, organic, etc.) to have your food rated by someone on a similar diet. Con: It doesn't seem to be working very well. (Also, "whole foods" wasn't an option, which would be the best description of my diet. I went with organic, but that doesn't really capture it.)

The rating system is problematic. (Did I already say that?) I often skip rating others' foods because the pictures and brief descriptions posted don't generally give me enough information. I might be able to discern that I'm looking at a photo of a bowl of soup. But is it homemade? From a can? What are the ingredients? How was it prepared? Con: Ratings given are based on very limited information.

The rating system is problematic. (Yes. Again.) For one thing, ratings change - sometimes substantially - over time. My Thai food last Friday was initially rated as 77% healthy. Two days later it was sitting at 89% healthy. Now a week later, it's resting rather uncomfortably at 65%. Check back with me next week, and it could very likely be back up to 90% healthy. I'm not sure how well see-sawing ratings help me spot real trends. Another example: I post herbal tea frequently. My most recent cup is currently rated at 94% healthy. The cup before that? 78%. The one before that? 81%. Sure, the difference between 78% and 81% is negligible. But between 78% and 94%? That's a pretty big difference in "fit" for identical items. (Also, who are these people who are rating my herbal tea as "fat"?) Con: Ratings are inconsistent. 

I do appreciate some of the features in the trend reporting, like being able to see what days are my least "fit" (Saturday and Sunday) and my least "fit" times of day (2:00pm - 6:00pm). Despite my con, above, about inconsistent meal ratings, so far the emerging trends do seem to be about right. Pro: Easy to read (and seemingly accurate, despite questionable meal ratings) trend charts. 

All in all, I'm finding The Eatery to be a good tool for macro level trend spotting. There are definitely some micro-level failings but, to be fair, it was the trend spotting that The Eatery set out to accomplish. Still, I'd like to see better user segregation based on dietary preference (vegans rating vegans, for example) to help tighten up the individual meal ratings.

Your turn: Are you using The Eatery? What are your thoughts?

Posted on November 18, 2011 04:00 PM