Hey, America: You’re fat! Two-thirds of us are overweight, obese, or as I prefer to call it, I’m undertall. (The condition applies to people of girth in many other countries of Earth, too.) Weight loss is a mult-billion dollar business, and one of those companies offering some help is MyFitnessPal. According to a 2019 study, those who track what they eat really do lose more weight. I used it diligently once a while ago in concert with a diet and dropped a lot of pounds. But after a while I got tired of measuring everything and never going out, so I stopped. With stress and easy access to processed foods, over time, I gained it back. Even after biking 6,666.66 miles and walking 611 miles last year and continuing to choose only grains that are whole (basically no flours since January 1, 2018), I’ve had no significant weight loss. But it’s a new year, so now I’m trying it again.
I’m a big proponent of striving to be fit regardless of your size, and while I’m not nearly as big as many Americans, I’m still a fathlete (fat + athlete). But that doesn’t mean I like it or I gave up trying to reduce pounds. Being heavier isn’t good for overall health, and it has its challenges. Since I’m riding my bike less to free up some time for other things and to increase my energy levels, I figured I’d give MFP another shot. Without making it a hard and fast New Year’s Resolution, I resolved to try it again. Here is my experience so far in 2021. (I’m not being compensated for this post but hey, Under Armour, hit me up!)
Before I jumped back into MFP, I looked at some other options. They all have pros and cons, like some have limited databases of foods, cost money, or have ads, and so on. But then I remembered that MFP is integrated with my Garmin Connect app. That means every time I exercise, the calories I’ve burned show up as “credits” in MFP. Ideally, you don’t come in from a run and run to the kitchen to eat all those calories back. That’s known as “eating to bike and biking to eat.” Ideally, you create a calorie deficit, which leads to weight loss. As it turns out yesterday, quite by accident, I ate exactly what the algorithm has set for me based on goals. The app told me that if every day were like that, in five weeks, i would weigh five pounds less. Pretty cool!
The downside is clear: it takes time and effort to enter everything one eats. However, the benefit is also immediately obvious: it makes you very aware of what groceries you’re throwing down your neck. And the study cited above showed that over time people get faster logging, and it’s only about 15 minutes a day. Well worth it.
While I may gripe about how using MFP is a pain in the app, I’m fortunate that I have familiarity and history with it. So I just reset my password and boom, my profile was still there. It still has past weigh-ins and foods I entered, too. By all means, if you’re looking for a calorie counting app, shop around. I’m not familiar with the others so cannot recommend any of them, but the reviews I read said that MFP has the biggest database. That can save you time having to enter new foods. And there are some cool features that do make it easier than you might think.
For example, if your food has a bar code, you can just scan it. Unless it’s something bizarre, it’s probably in the database, and it pops up. Then you just select how much of it you’re eating, click the check mark, and in it goes. You can also move things around from the different meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and Snack 1 and Snack 2. You can even copy whole meals if say you’re having leftovers. The best shortcut is a list of recently eaten foods. You can scroll through that or start typing the first few letters of what you’re eating in the search box, instead of searching for it all over again. All told, though it’s a hassle, it works well. Remember your why, as they say.
I must point out that this post isn’t a full review of all the features of MFP. It’s been around for over a decade and has a pretty robust list of things you can use. From the blog, tips, photos, macronutrients, goals, and much more, one could spend a lot of time on MyFitnessPal. It’s available both on smart phones and on computer. Scanning foods is obviously easier with a phone, but looking through your food list is easier on a computer. There’s also a premium version that offers even more features. Here’s a good review from PC Magazine.
Now, there are some potential downsides to MFP. If you have an eating disorder, counting calories could make it worse. If you’re wanting a less rigid way of losing weight, like so-called “intuitive eating” (which sounds bogus to me), this isn’t for you. In fact, the app is not a weight loss program; if you need that, you might be better off joining Weight Watchers (which has their own app) since WW provides education and peer support. Or say you miss a meal or a day, the “all or nothing mindset” could lead you to give up too quickly. Also, sometimes, the calorie information may be wrong, even if it has a green “verified” check mark next to it. And, you may be using it wrong. For example, if you don’t measure everything, it’s going to be inaccurate. For a quick read on that, see 8 MyFitnessPal Mistakes That Are Sabotaging Your Weight-Loss Goals.
For me, though, it is doing what I want it to: getting a handle on what I’m tossing down my food hole. I’m not following a diet at this point. I’m just logging what I eat in hopes that I’ll eat less unhealthier foods and start including healthier foods. I am either weighing or using cups and tablespoons to measure everything I consume. This is tedious, for sure. But if scientific studies are to be believed, there’s this from the National Institutes of Health: “A significant association between self-monitoring and weight loss was consistently found.” That came from a survey of studies and was done back in 2011. The flaw in that one was it was mostly self-reporting from white women; the 2019 study was more representative.
Whatever works is my mantra, though (and it’s also the title of a Woody Allen movie that was not the greatest, even though it stars Seinfeld co-creator Larry David). So I’m going to keep giving MFP the ol’ college try and see what happens. Wish me luck.
Have you used MyFitnessPal or another calorie counter application for weight loss? What was your experience?
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