Controlling those hunger pangs can be one of the most challenging things during a busy day. Being in high stress mode and having little time can make your cravings get out of control and make you reach for the nearest candy bar and a comfy couch. So, how do you train your brain to stop yearning for a bag of chips and start wanting to go that extra mile? The answer could be gamified apps.

What is gamification?

Gamification is the use of game elements in non-game contexts. Specifically, gamified fitness apps are used to engage users in a variety of health-related tasks to increase the user’s self-control and to modify their behavior to be more goal-oriented.

For example, gamified apps take everyday activities (like tracking calories) and turns them into a game-like scenario that clearly monitors and displays progress (calorie intake per day). This progress can then be translated into rewards based on goals like achievements and public recognition that gives the user gratification and reinforces their desire to continue on their personal goals.

Do they work?

According to a study done by the University of Plymouth, playing Tetris as little as three minutes can lower cravings for substances like food and drugs by as much as 20%. Of course, the success can vary greatly depending on the user, but with results like that, what do you have to lose?

The problem with this gamified approach is that it requires careful planning and execution for an application to actually help the user and seldom do apps live up to this goal. The best apps tap into a person’s intrinsic motivations to prosper. This is accomplished by providing the user with a focused reward like badges, as well as a unique story to get over the initial hump of starting the tough journey on a road to achieving goals. And finally, they’re also fun and engaging. Gamified apps also require the user to have the desire to succeed, but they do add a level of motivation by allowing you to check things off a list and be rewarded with colorful reinforcement.

A big reason the most popular gamified apps flourish is that they tap into a person’s aspiration to win in a friendly competition. That is why they usually host a function that allows you to compare times and achievements with friends and other members of a likeminded community. Gamification has been shown to work, but there are some caveats to these positive effects. Not every person is motivated by the same things, so you have to choose wisely when you are picking an app that will best help you thrive. The success of these apps also is dependent on the quality of the user base. If you don’t fit into the culture the app develops, it is unlikely that it will assist you in reaching your goals.

Are gamified apps right for me?

Mobile games are a modern craze and health and wellness apps are no different. You can find hundreds of different fitness apps in the Google or Apple stores that claim to give huge results, although most are unrealistic. The tracking they provide could be invaluable to someone who is dedicated to succeed. The game style also provides enjoyment and entertainment to otherwise boring or difficult challenges.

So, should you go download one now?

It depends. Like most self-tracking tools, it is heavily dependent on the user. If you have no interest in changing your eating habits, a gamified app is unlikely to promote the change. Although, if you are ready to take the leap, there are gamified apps that provide excellent encouragement and support, which will help you overcome your initial roadblocks. It is important to note that the research so far is relatively new, but gamification seems to work best on short-term goals. It can help you build habits that will last long after you stop using the application, but that can be a big benefit as the early stages of any fitness goal are often the hardest.

In short, gamified apps can be a big benefit and a great tool to use, but only if you find one that is tailored to your current interests and motivations.

How to get started

If you’re ready to get started, check out one of these apps if you’re looking for that extra motivation to keep your diet and exercise plan on track.

1. SuperBetter

SuperBetter is a free app designed by author Jane McGonigal that has helped nearly half a million people achieve goals from overcoming anxiety to forming better eating habits. Once you choose your main goal you can add quests to complete to earn points in different stats. It comes with prebuilt adventures or you can craft your own to better suit your needs. It is a fun app with tons of features, so if you are looking to succeed, it might be perfect for you.

2. CraveMate

CraveMate helps you focus on the moment, like when those pesky junk food cravings hit. It encourages you to stay mindful and allows you to share your success with others who will support you. You can do this by taking a photo or writing a text, post, or email. It allows you to set alarms each day to remind you of your goals and gives you insights and tips on how to beat your cravings.

3. Health Month

Health Month is another highly customizable app that helps you identify motivations and choices in life. After you set your rules for a month, you have to agree to a contract that focuses on what you want to accomplish. It also provides colorful pie charts and tracks your progress as you play.

4. Mindbloom

This self-improvement app is a fun, story driven way to make real progress in a variety of goals. Once you have identified what is important to you, the objective becomes to grow and develop your life tree. You do this by accomplishing objectives you set in your personal development plan, such as eating healthier or providing a random act of kindness. This game provides tons of rewards like points and badges that motivate you to do the things you have always wanted to do!

What gamified apps have motivated you to reach your goals?

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