What I Use: 3 Apps to Stay Fit – Part 3: MyFitnessPal

This is part 3 of my series on my favorite apps/websites for health. Read part 1 here and part 2 here.

Even when I up my game when it comes to exercise, I eventually plateau with my weight loss because I’m not eating the right foods. In fact, I’m usually eating way too much of the wrong foods. Portion control is not one of my strong suits. Nor is eating healthy in general. As you can tell by my Food I’ve Actually Made board on Pinterest.

Enter MyFitnessPal. I started using this app a little less than a year ago when a girlfriend and I had planned a last-minute trip to Florida. We couldn’t possibly stand another three months of Minnesota winter without a sunny, warm-weather vacation. Here’s basically what it looked like outside when we decided we needed to escape:

It seems pretty in theory...

It seems pretty in theory…

I had been running, but not consistently. I knew I needed to ramp up my time on the treadmill and the number of days I was running, but I also knew that miles alone wouldn’t be enough. I did some research (LifeHacker reviewed these top 5 user-generated sites/apps) and decided that MyFitnessPal was the best option for me. (I did a review of MyFitnessPal shortly after I started using it — you can read it here.)

Anytime I eat something, I enter it into MyFitnessPal to track my calories and other nutritional information. I can enter it in manually by doing a search, or I can scan the barcode (if it comes from a container with a barcode). You can even find most chain restaurant items too.

chipotle

Honestly, the functionality of MyFitnessPal is so expansive that I probably don’t even know half of what it can do. One cool thing I learned this summer is that I can enter recipes I find on Pinterest. All I do is enter the website with the recipe, MyFitnessPal will recognize it and tally up the nutritional information. Then I can select that as my meal, and just enter how many servings I consumed. If it’s a recipe you make often, you can save it to use it again the next time you make it.

recipes

You can also save meals. If you’re like me, you might make something and eat it for three or four days during different meals because you have leftovers. Or it’s something you eat all the time. For me, I typically eat the same post-workout food (hard boiled egg) after my treadmill runs. This made it super quick to enter.

meals

Using this app helped me learn that I eat way too much sugar. I knew I was eating some, but I had no idea just how much I consumed every day. It also helped me ask myself, “Is this food really worth it?” I typically snack throughout the day, and it’s usually because I’m bored, not because I’m hungry. Putting it into MyFitnessPal helped me see how it would impact my calories/nutrients for the day, and then helped me decide that the 5 minutes of enjoyment I’d get out of that Snickers bar probably wasn’t worth the 300ish calories and guilt I’d feel the rest of the day.

MyFitnessPal also was great for tracking my physical activity. You can enter your workouts, and it’ll calculate how many calories you burned based on what you did. I don’t think the strength training/weight lifting calculations were accurate…but that’s OK. I liked tracking my running, as well as any walking I did throughout the day. It was helpful to see how little activity I was getting outside of my workouts. There were quite a few days that I didn’t even crack 2,000 steps (approximately a mile).

Another feature of MyFitnessPal is your weight loss tracking. When you first start using the app, you enter your current weight along with your goal weight. MyFitnessPal will then tell you how many calories you should target per day to help you reach that goal. You can enter your weight every day if you’d like (I usually entered it twice a week), and it helps you see how far you’ve come and how far you have to go.

MyFitnessPal has a newsfeed that’s similar to Facebook, but it highlights things like, “Lindsey completed her food diary today and was under her goal!” Or, “Lindsey worked out for 60 minutes today and burned 500 calories!” It’s nice if you have a few friends who are also on MyFitnessPal and you can “like” each other’s posts, and leave inspirational words of encouragement. There were days I didn’t stay under my calorie goal, which means a post will go up that says, “Lindsey completed her food diary today.” Since there was no mention of being under my goal, it’s pretty clear I didn’t make good choices. It was always nice when a friend would leave a comment like, “There’s always tomorrow!” on the post.

What you need: Basically just your smart phone. I use an Android phone (Samsung S4) and the app works smoothly for me. Most of my friends have iPhones and the app seems to work fine for them as well. If you wanted to track your physical activity throughout the day, you might want a pedometer of some kind. My phone has one built in – I believe there are lots of free apps with step counters if your phone doesn’t have one built in.

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