Last Christmas I weighed about 5 kilos more than I do now. Before losing weight I had been training three to four times a week for about 6 months (running, skipping, body-weight exercises etc.). Although my body was more toned and I felt much fitter than I had for years, I hadn’t really lost any weight and I still wasn’t comfortable with my body, especially with my waist and legs. I decided that exercise wasn’t enough and I needed to overhaul my diet. That is when I came across the MyFitnessPal app and decided to install it on my iPhone and give it a go.
A Short Intro to MyFitnessPal (Based on My Understanding)
MyFitnessPal (by Under Armour) is an app for tracking the food you eat with the objective of reaching your target weight. You start by entering your current weight, your target weight, how quickly you want to lose weight (e.g. 0.2 kilos a week, 0.5 kilos a week, etc.), and your typical activity level, which are used to identify your daily calorie goal. You can also set macronutrient goals, which means you identify the proportion of your daily calories that you want to be made up of proteins, carbohydrates and fats. A typical starting point is 50% carbohydrates, 30% fat and 20% protein. Once you have set your goals you are ready to start using the app, and begin uploading the food you eat each day for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.
There is a large database of foods that you can make use of (many of which have been uploaded through crowdsourcing), or you can add your own products or recipes. When selecting a food from the existing database you want to make sure it has, as a minimum, nutritional information on calories, protein, carbohydrates, and fats, and if possible also data on sugar, fibre, vitamins and sodium. If you can’t find a good description of the food product you are looking for, you can also add it yourself, together with all its nutritional data.
Here is an example of one of my Saturday dinners, where of course I had to include all the wine I drank!
You can see that I have calories associated with Exercise in the screenshot above. This is because you can also track the calories you burn through walking or doing specific exercises or cardio. The app will link up with the Health app on the iPhone to get your daily steps and calculate the calories, or you can instead choose to pair it with an Apple Watch or other fitness bands. Alternatively you can add the exercise yourself and it will use typical values for the calories burned.
Once you have filled in the meals for the day, you can review a number of summary statistics related to the nutritional value of the food you ate, and how it compares with your daily goals, as shown in the screenshots below:
My Personal Experiences with MyFitnessPal (Both Good and Bad)
- I didn’t upgrade to Premium (which means they remove adverts and give you some additional information about the foods you are eating that are highest in calories, macronutrients etc.) as I felt that the free version of the app did everything that I needed.
- This app led me to be much more mindful about what I was eating, in particular when it came to proteins, which I immediately found out I was significantly lacking in due to my Italian lunch and dinner pasta diet!
- The fact that it makes you track what you are eating is undoubtedly what leads to its success, but I never wanted to skip tracking a meal and I would often be seen at the end of a meal with my head stuck in my iPhone, which didn’t make me very good company at the dinner table!
- The app suggests that you weigh yourself once a week, but I actually did it more or less everyday which taught me a lot about how much my weight fluctuates as a function of my diet (in particular I would retain a lot of water after eating lots of carbs) and so I realised that when it goes up it doesn’t necessary mean I have ‘put on weight’.
- The app doesn’t distinguish between refined and unrefined carbohydrates (e.g. white or brown rice), which I believe it should as I was often too worried about how many carbs I had consumed when I should probably have just put more focus on eating the right type of carbs.
- After about 6 months I stopped losing weight and I soon realised I was restricting myself to an unnecessarily low calorie diet and being obsessive about what I was eating when I wasn’t really seeing any ‘benefits’. Although I could have changed to a ‘maintain weight’ regime on the app, I decided that it was time to go it alone, listen to what I felt my body needed, and put into practice the good habits I had learned through using MyFitnessPal.
Since I have stopped using MyFitnessPal (about 2 months ago) I weigh about 2kg more than my lowest (which was just over 58kg), but still about 5kg less than when I started. I now know from experience that I could easily lose those 2 kilos by going on a high protein diet for a couple of weeks, but I don’t want to do that as now I play tennis and I know I need lots of (unrefined) carbohydrates for energy. If that means the scales say I weigh a couple of kilos more most of the time, then so be it, I want to be a good tennis player, not a bikini model! All in all I am very happy that I discovered MyFitnessPal and I would certainly recommend it to people who want to kick-start a weight loss diet or learn more about the nutritional value of what they are eating.
Have you ever used MyFitnessPal or other similar food tracking apps? Let me know how it went in the comments below.