Welcome to the second article in the Tech + Fitness series, covering tech to help you achieve your fitness goals. Be sure to check out the first article in this series, What’s Your Fitness Age? Tech + Fitness Series Part 1 to give you incentive to set your fitness goals for 2014.
If I told you that you could eat as much as you want of whatever you want and still lose weight, you may say:
“That just ain’t so.”
“Duh, of course you can.”
Yes, it’s true. You can lose weight when the amount of calories you burn exceeds the amount of calories you eat. Simple, right?
Using diet and exercise to lose weight isn’t earth shattering, ground breaking or even new. But the way that you can keep track of your calories has been made much easier with My Fitness Pal, which uses tech to help you monitor your calories to help you achieve your fitness goals.
What Is MyFitnessPal
Put simply, MyFitnessPal (MFP) is a calorie counter. You can use its free website and apps to keep track of your calorie intake and output. But what makes MFP effective enough to gain hundreds of thousands of 5 star ***** reviews is how easy and, dare I say, fun the process of calories counting becomes.
I first learned of MFP through a friend who lost 40 lbs (18 kg/2 stone, 12 lbs) in six months by using the app. I couldn’t help but be impressed as I watched him melt away during his weight loss journey.
To get started with MFP you register for an account, entering your age, height, weight, gender, weight goal and activity level. You have a choice of units: pounds, kilograms or stone.
You can add a profile picture and choose a user name. You may want to use these later for social purposes so choose wisely.
You can choose to keep your diary private, private with a password for the app, make it public or share it with friends.
You also choose your activity level when you register:
- Lightly Active
- Very Active
The more active you are in your daily life, the more daily calories MFP will allot to you. If you enter Sedentary you will have the minimal amount of daily calories but you will be able to earn more calories through exercise each day.
Daily Calorie Allotment
Based on your profile, weight goals and activity level, MFP will calculate your daily calorie allotment: the amount you can eat to achieve your weight goal. The quicker you want to lose weight the fewer calories you’ll get. You can exercise more or adjust your goal to a slower weight loss if you find you need more calories to make it through the day.
When you’ve achieved your fitness goal (yea!), you will be allotted many more calories by MFP (yea!) so you can maintain your new weight.
No need to starve yourself with MFP, you should consume your allotted calories to be healthy and lose weight effectively. A minimum number of calories, 1200 per day, must be consumed to avoid starvation mode.
Want a big meal? Break a sweat!
You can significantly increase the amount you eat and stay under your calorie limit by exercising. Above your daily caloric allotment you can earn what you eat. If you enjoy exercise then you will reap the dividends of your exertion. If you don’t like exercise, you may learn to like it if running on the treadmill earns you the calories for a piece of chocolate cake.
Looking for an exercise that earns you a lot of calories? Try racquetball. An hour of racquetball burns 780 calories, according to MFP.
If you can’t be extremely active, you can still earn calories by low impact activities such as cooking or standing. The key is to find exercise that works for you and fits within your lifestyle.
What you quickly realize with MFP is that empty calories aren’t worth it. When you have to earn what you eat, you pay a lot more attention to what you ingest.
MFP lets you keep track of your daily caloric intake and output in a diary. You record your meals, breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as your snacks. MFP will calculate the calories based on the food you eat and the portion size.
You can enter food items individually or add multiple items at once. If you’re a creature of habit you can add yesterday’s meal automatically instead of entering the same foods individually. You can adjust portion sizes up or down, based on how much you actually eat.
The MFP app has a scanner so you can scan bar codes to enter information into your diary. Scanning is a very easy and quick way of adding food to your diary.
You can also enter your exercise into your diary, both cardiovascular and strength. MFP will calculate the calories expended, based on your profile, the type of exercise and the time spent doing it. MFP gives you calorie credit for cardiovascular exercise but not strength. According to the developers, calculating the number of calories expended through strength exercise is too uncertain to be included in the calculator.
After you’ve finished entering your food and exercise for the day, you click or press “Complete this Entry” and MFP will give you an estimate of what you will weigh in 5 weeks if you continue eating as you did today.
The name is My Fitness Pal, not My Diet Pal. Not only does MFP let you calculate your calories, it also shows you the nutritional value of what you eat. You can see daily and weekly information about the nutrients you have eaten, such as vitamins, protein, fiber, fat, sugar, etc. You can also see graphs and charts of your calorie breakdown daily and weekly. You can keep track of whether you’re eating a balanced diet and getting the necessary nutrients to keep you healthy.
You don’t need to know how many calories are in each food you eat. MFP has a database of over 3 million food items, including individual foods, meals at chain restaurants, and branded foods from your grocery store.
Good luck trying to stump the database. I was out to dinner at a local restaurant where antelope was the daily special. Sure enough, MFP lists antelope in the database. I’m not saying that every food on Earth is in the MFP database, though I haven’t found a food that wasn’t listed.
Sometimes the massive database can be a bit overwhelming. Searching for food items often reveals dozens of choices, some with conflicting information. MFP allows users to add their own information to the database which results in an abundance of information, not all of it correct. Use your best judgment in choosing which option to enter into your diary.
Website vs. App
You don’t need a mobile device to use MFP, it’s available both as a website and an app. Your diary is synced over the Internet to your account so you can access it from the website and from your mobile apps.
The app has the advantage of being mobile, you can enter your information on the go, easily see how many calories are in food, scan bar codes to see calorie and nutritional information and be motivated by notifications.
Note that not all of the 3 million food items in the MFP database reside in the app on your phone or tablet, but the app does save information about foods you’ve already entered into your diary. For full access to the food database you need to be connected to the Internet, but if you’re entering a food item or exercise that you’ve previously entered you can do that on your mobile device when you’re offline.
Make It Social
You can connect with friends on MFP to share your successes and encourage others on the way to achieving their fitness goals. Cheer on their exercises, revel in their weight loss, set up challenges. According to MFP, people who connect with friends lost three times as much weight as those who don’t.
Many tech accessories sync with MFP, including scales, bicycles, exercise equipment, and other tech gear. I haven’t tested any of these, I’ve been using the app on my phone. If you’re into getting gadgets you can check out the ones that are compatible with MFP at its website. You don’t need them though to be successful in using MFP.
The Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch has an MFP app so you can see how many calories you have left for the day without pulling out your phone. See, Samsung Galaxy Gear – A Smarter Smartwatch for my review of the Gear.
MyFitnessPal is available free on the website and as mobile apps for:
Note that the Android version of the app has ads and the BlackBerry version does not have a barcode scanner. Also note that the Windows Phone app is low rated by users.
Blogging endows many benefits but fitness isn’t one of them. Sitting in front of the computer to write, research, read and comment does not tend to be a slimming endeavor. I may have packed on a pound or two since starting The Wonder of Tech…
Emboldened by my friend’s success with MFP and my desire to conduct research for this article, I downloaded the app in early September and hastily started using it by late October.
I’ve been using MFP for about 10 weeks and have lost 11 lbs. by logging into my diary every day. I’ve never counted calories before and was always worried about feeling hungry on restricted calorie diets. Although I’m currently on a 1200 calorie allotment, I haven’t had a problem with feeling hungry. MFP definitely gives me incentive to be active. Even on vacation last week when I was away from the Internet and had plenty of incentive to overeat I was able to stick to my MFP allotment and didn’t gain any weight.
I like that I can see my nutritional intake to make sure that I am eating a balanced diet. I can see if I’m missing out on important nutrients and try to focus on eating healthy foods.
Are you looking for a way to achieve your fitness goals? Do you like the idea of an easy way to track your food, exercise and nutrition? Would you enjoy sharing your fitness journey with your friends? Are you going to give MyFitnessPal a try? Can you think of a food that would stump the MyFitnessPal food database? Let us know in the Comments section below!
* Racquetball Dive photo by Edson Hong