Can a nutritionist-in-your-handbag app really improve your eating habits?

We road-tested Rise, an app that provides nutritional guidance from an RD via your smartphone, during an always potentially treacherous week of dining in New York.
(Photos: We Heart It;

How nice would it be to have whip-smart nutritionists like Keri Glassman or Julieanna Hever by your side at all times, advising you on what to order at brunch or how much protein powder you should add to your smoothie?

That’s where Rise comes in. It’s new app that provides expert coaching and nutrition feedback through your always-at-hand smartphone. It’s almost like having an Registered Dietician (RD) on speed dial.

And if you already post photos of everything you eat on Instagram, it’s an easy process. You share photos of your meals, and within a day, a registered dietician comments with either positive feedback or constructive criticism on what you could be doing differently. And while nothing beats a face-to-face session with a pro (or say a real time ice-cream-pint intervention), it’s certainly a much more affordable option.

But can a virtual food coach really hold you accountable and help you change bad habits? We tried the service for a week to find out everything you need to know. Here are the big takeaways… —Molly Gallagher

1. Every coach is trained as an RD
Rise says that all of the nutritionists available are carefully vetted. Each one is an RD with previous work experience. “None of our coaches are straight out of the [RD] program. We want to see they have worked with people in a one-on-one setting,” says Helen Lee, who’s on the marketing team at Rise.

2. You can pick your goals, but they’re slanted toward weight loss
When you first download and open the app, you answer a series of questions like age, weight, and height. Questions about your current diet (i.e. vegan, Paleo, etc.) and exercise habits are answered later, when you get paired with your coach. You also have to enter both your current weight and “ideal” or “target” weight—which assumes a weight-loss focus. Lee says it’s something the team is looking to update. “We’ve certainly had clients who’ve said ‘I’m at my target weight,’ but their goal might be to get more energy,” she says.

Rise app
(Photo: Molly Gallagher for Well+Good)

3. You can to choose your coach
After you answer the questions about yourself, you get to choose your coach. I chose an RD from New York City, because I liked that her coaching style was described as “super encouraging.” It also shows reviews from previous clients, and those sealed the deal. While she was great at giving me encouraging feedback, others might prefer someone who’s more focused on pointing out the not-so-good choices. (You don’t need to tell me my avocado toast lunch was a great choice.)

4. The coaching advice is mostly helpful
Overall, I found my coach’s advice to be valuable. After one meal of tuna, veggies, and soba noodles (and some wine),  she commented, “It is awesome that you are including fish in your diet—good job! Soba noodles are good because they are typically made with whole wheat buckwheat :)…be careful with the wine! Calories add up quickly.” She was also great about looking things up. After my lunch at Dig Inn one day, she said she checked out their nutrition facts and reported back with an A+.

And since nutritional philosophies differ depending on an RD’s perspective, you won’t necessarily always agree with your coach. Mine wasn’t a fan of my afternoon green juice, for instance, because of its lack of fiber, but we know plenty of nutritionists who would applaud the choice. (I mean, I could’ve had a cupcake!)

(Photo: Rise)

5. But sometimes, a day’s worth of feedback comes in one fell swoop
This is something that I wasn’t a fan of. All of the RDs have full-time jobs in addition to coaching anywhere from 20-30 clients on Rise, Lee explains. I noticed that I was getting feedback at night or in the early morning, as opposed to throughout the day. “You’ll get feedback at least once every 24 hours. That being said, it varies from coach to coach, we’ll see some coaches and clients who’ve developed a strong relationship and they need more frequent contact,” Lee says.

6. The app is what you make of it—push notifications, included
Your coach isn’t going to know if you’re lying about not including something or photographing something you didn’t eat. My coach wasn’t a fan of my two glasses of wine one night (balance!), for example, but I figured that would be her response. A helpful hint: If you want to hold yourself accountable you should definitely turn on push notifications on your phone. (I missed that memo.) Sometimes, I felt I was missing messages from my coach or had to go back to previous days, or meals, to look at them. If you turn on push notifications you’ll get alerted when your coach has commented on your meal, and you’ll be reminded to log what you’re eating. The easier, the better, right?

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