What I’m using: MyFitnessPal app for Android (also available for iPhones…isn’t everything?!)
What is costs: Free (available from the Play store)
When I first started running several years ago, I found the best way to keep myself motivated was to track my progress. I documented my distance, time and calories burned for every run and marked them on a calendar (pretty sure it was a “cute kittens and adorable puppies” calendar that my grandma gave me for Christmas). Doing this was so helpful because I was able to see week-to-week progress, as well as days or weeks where I struggled (for example, if I had a bad run or stretch of runs, I could look at any other week and remind myself, “Lindsey, you can do it”). It was also awesome to see how much I’d improved month over month. And pictures of kittens and puppies (seriously, cuteness overload) didn’t hurt.
I wanted to do the same kind of documentation for my healthier choices challenge, but wasn’t sure how to do it. Initially I opened up a blank Word document and started typing what I was eating and what kind of physical activity I was doing. I quickly realized this wasn’t too scientific, and wasn’t going to show much in the way of progress.
After doing some research for food/exercise-tracking phone apps, I found this article from LifeHacker with their user-generated top food and nutrition tracker apps. I ended up choosing MyFitnessPal (the top-rated app). I chose it solely because it was top-rated. I also did an informal poll on Facebook — multiple friends recommended this one, but most of the others on LifeHacker’s list were favorites among my friends too. I’m assuming you can’t go wrong?
I like to enter my activity as it happens because it helps me to make better choices as the day goes on, but it’s easy to enter later in the day (as long as you can remember what you’ve eaten and how much of it you ate). Or, if you’re someone who is really good at planning, you could theoretically input all your food for the day in the morning (if you know what you’re having for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks) and then edit it if things change. I usually know what I’m eating for breakfast and lunch, but dinner is a wildcard. Maybe as my challenge continues, I’ll get better about that.
Entering your food and exercise activity into the app’s “diary” is pretty easy. (These are instructions for an Android phone — other phones might be different.) From the home screen, click the myfitnesspal icon in the top left corner, which provides you with a list of options. Select diary, then click the little + icon in the top right corner to add your food, exercise, water or notes. The meal tracker is broken down into breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks, and exercise is broken down into cardiovascular or strength. When you select a category, you can then do a search for whatever it is you ate or did, and enter in the amount you did.
My favorite thing about this tracker (other trackers have the technology too) is the ability to scan the barcode on the bags/boxes for my food. For example, instead of searching for the exact kind of Hamburger Helper I had last week, I was able to scan the barcode and myfitnesspal pulled up all the nutrition facts. It was so easy! I’ve been scanning almost everything (bags for loaves of bread, bags for spinach leaves, boxes for pasta, milk jug, ice cream….whoops).
The exercise hasn’t been quite as simple. Well, it’s easy, it’s just not as easy as I’d prefer. I had to do a little self-calculating when entering my walking activity. I wanted to just enter the distance I walked, but the tracker instead makes you select a speed at which you walked, then you can enter how long you did that for. There’s an option to create an exercise, which might work well for those with an accurate pedometer that tracks your calories burned.
As you enter activity, the app will tell you how many calories you’ve consumed, how many you’ve burned and how many you have left to consume (based on weight loss/maintenance/gain goals you established when you set up your account). You can also view a nutrition screen that will tell you where you’re at with intake on fat, cholesterol, vitamins, minerals and all that jazz.
While this method of tracking isn’t quite as visual as my kittens/puppies calendar, I think it’ll work. I’ve been using it for almost two weeks and I’m ADDICTED. After eating a heaping pile of Gardetto’s on day 2, I felt utter shame when I realized I had just eaten a fourth of my daily calories. It’s not like I ever thought Gardetto’s were good for me, but seeing the real numbers and how they factor into my day (meaning I had to eat a tiny dinner!) changed my perspective. It’s also given me insight into how much sugar I used to eat. I haven’t had any pop in my second week, or ice cream, yet my sugar intake is still a little over my target.
I’m hoping that as each week goes by, I get better and better about making the healthier choice.