Most people who need to lose weight will flick back and forth between different diets, struggling endlessly to control their intake and keep the weight off for good. With that, is myfitnesspal a viable choice for those who seem resistant to losing weight? Let’s dig in.
When clients come to me, I hear a lot of ‘calorie counting doesn’t work and Myfitnesspal is just a load of BS that wastes my time’.
And I absolutely agree with them – on none of it.
And so we go about correcting wrongs, fixing up their tracking, and over time guess what magically happens?
Myfitnesspal does work for them and they magically lose all this weight they once thought was clinging to them, like some overly attached 5-year-old.
After all this time, I thought it was worth sharing why myfitnesspal just doesn’t work for you, and why it’s totally your fault. Because frankly, MFP does work if you learn how to use it.
What is myfitnesspal?
Myfitnesspal is a calorie tracking app that people use to track I dunno, their calories. Some people get fancy and integrate it with their Fitbit and Apple watch but you don’t need to do that.
All you need to do is open the app, scan the barcode of the food you’re eating (or search for it), type in how much you’ve had i.e one Original Glazed Krispy Kreme Doughnut, and out spits its calories and the nutritional data for you to fret over.
‘HOW MANY CALORIES?’ you yell.
And if you’re in the position of
A – Wanting to lose weight
B – Aiming to improve your body composition (ie less fat more muscle)
Then you’ll more than likely have found yourself on Myfitnesspal (let’s call it MFP please) at some point.
I recommend all my clients to use MFP for a number of reasons
To show them they’re eating too much or too little
Give them a better understanding of portion size
It controls their food intake
And makes them more self-aware of the amount they’re eating.
Here’s the thing, clients tell me time and time again ‘I’m hardly eating but I just can’t lose weight’. And then all of a sudden after using this magical tool correctly, they’re like ‘Damn, I can’t believe I was eating that much!’.
So where do people go wrong?
Before we dig into the nitty-gritty and set up MFP the right way, let’s take it back to the start as soon as you sign up because MFP always gets it wrong from the start.
Right from the get-go, you’ll need to enter your height, age, weight, goal, etc, etc until it calculates how many calories you’ll need to hit your goal.
It’s more accurate and way more realistic than what MFP has you eating. [note: To be fair, they’re getting better but have you ever noticed it just spits out 1200 calories no matter what age, height or weight you are?
Done that now? Cool, let’s move the fuck on.
That’s the first step where people go wrong out of the way with. The second one?
Eating back the calories that you’ve burnt off during exercise.
MFP has this rather stupid little trick of adding your goal calories + exercise calories to your daily total amount of calories like so:
You should not be doing this. As tempting as it looks, stop. The calories that the calculator above has given you already include your activity levels. So if it’s given you 2500 calories per day, that’s for everything – food and exercise included.
So like, let’s not add them in twice ok?
Cool, that was quick. Now why doesn’t it work for some people?
Excuse #1 – You seriously underreport
So you think you’ve eaten 1300 calories today? But in actual fact, it’s more like 1700.
Time and time and time and time and time and time again, studies have shown that people just can’t accurately report their intake. And that underreporting of calories can sometimes range up to 40%.
This study had 90 participants track their calories for 14 days straight.
Group A and Group B.
Group A consisted of 10 participants (previous diet resistance), and Group B, 80. (no previous diet resistance).
Before it began the participants of Group A were asked why they felt they were overweight.
7 of them stated genetic reasons. 3 metabolic reasons and 1 because they overate. 70% of them were in fact on thyroid medication and all of them had unsuccessfully tried to diet in the past.
10 subjects in Group 1 and 6 of the subjects in Group 2 were evaluated with regard to self-reported food intake, physical activity, body composition, and total energy expenditure for 14 days.
Note: The resting metabolic rate, the thermic effect of food, oxygen consumption in response to exercise, and total energy expenditure did not differ significantly between groups 1 and 2.
Group A stated they averaged a daily intake of around 1200 calories before starting the trial.
The scientists tested the group’s accuracy of portion size by using a test meal to evaluate the accuracy of the test subjects’ food reporting.
Here’s what they found.
Group A, which consisted of participants with a BMI over 27, and a history of failing to lose weight whilst following a hypocaloric diet underreported their caloric intake by an average of 1053 calories per day OR 47%.
Not only that but they over-reported their energy expenditure by an average of 251 calories per day.
And as the study went on to conclude:
💬 “The main finding of this study is that failure to lose weight despite a self-reported low caloric intake can be explained by substantial misreporting of food intake and physical activity. In addition to their greater degree of misreporting, the subjects in group 1 used thyroid medication more often, had a stronger belief that their obesity was caused by genetic and metabolic factors and not by overeating, and reported less hunger and disinhibition and more cognitive restraint than did the subjects in group 2.In conclusion, all the obese subjects we studied who had a history of self-reported diet resistance had appropriate energy expenditure, but they misreported their actual food intake and physical activity.”
And it makes sense, right? I mean, let’s play a game. I’m going to give you 4 different types of food and you just have to guess their calorie totals.
One bag of Haribo Starmix
One handful of Honey Roasted Peanuts
One medium-sized Big Mac meal from Maccy D’s
And a Snickers bar
How far off are you?
The thing is, no one tells you how many calories are in x, y, or z, and who looks at the back of the pack anyway?
Just me? Oh, ok.
Whenever my clients start their journey, I get them to send pictures of their food to me, via WhatsApp or Google Drive and of course update myfitnesspal with the meal so I can go over and be a reference point. I’m not catching them out, I’ve just been in this game long enough to know what I’m about to see.
Take this for example, from one of my clients. This was his meal a couple of weeks ago. Tilapia, in flour, potatoes, salad, and a pint.
And this was his reporting of the meal in question.
Notice here that they kinda don’t add up. What I’m looking at on WhatsApp isn’t the same as what I’ve witnessed via MFP. I mean, their portion of potatoes is almost half the plate. The Tilapia has been fried in gram flour, no salad dressing has been tracked nor have any of the oils the foods been cooked in. And let’s not forget the beer…
See how a meal that supposedly 370 calories has in fact been under-reported by as much as 700 calories.
If you were to enter the foods above again, it could look a lot like this:
So all of this to say that basically, you’re underreporting your food.
Excuse #2 – You only track the good stuff
We’re all perfectionists, I get it. We all want to look great and appear to have a handle on everything. It’s why we only track the good stuff.
As if by some magical potion, what you don’t track you haven’t eaten.
I only need to reference the picture above, where the beer, flour, oils, and condiments were excluded from MFP.
‘But I eat healthily!’ I hear you scream.
I’ve known a few clients to nail their caloric target for the day, 20 days in a row – to the last calorie. Man, it looked magical. Like heavenly. A perfect score across the board.
‘This client really does get it and must have their shit together‘ I thought.
Then weight was tracked and hadn’t budged much and their waistline wasn’t going in the direction we wanted – or MFP would have you believe.
What could possibly be the reason I thought?
So I probed and prodded, the diet looked spectacular, like the stuff an Olympic gold medallist would be proud of.
Heck, I don’t think Cristiano Ronaldo ate that well…
And then we spoke and I found out the occasional Mars bar wasn’t tracked. Dried nuts, it was only a handful (a couple of times a day), oh and that wine? I didn’t realize I had to track that too. ‘It’s only a glass’ she brushed off.
What started out as a perfect diet unraveled into a poor diet interspersed with some of the good stuff.
What happened after that?
We brushed off the antics, tracked everything, and finally started to lose the weight.
Look, I don’t want you tracking 100g of broccoli, but rather the pack of minstrels you just deepthroated – no matter how much guilt it brings up looking through the day’s intake.
Excuse #3 – It’s too fuckin hard
Yeah yeah, in case you hadn’t noticed. This getting in shape thing is really actually quite difficult. I’d call being overweight harder. Tracking your calories and learning the art of portion control and emotional triggers? A worthwhile investment.
Myfitnesspal may seem hard at first but isn’t everything the first time you tried it?
I don’t see you crawling on the floor anymore? And it took fuckin ages to learn to walk. Nor did you give up on that project at work because you had to do it. You saw the benefits and you carried on. The same can be said here.
Sure, it’ll take you a while to get used to the flow of the app, understand where to put things, and how much to add, etc.
You’ll no doubt say it’s clunky and confusing and how it’s ‘oh so boring’, or that you don’t have the time.
But 3 seasons into Game of Thrones says otherwise.
If it takes a month to get used to it but it’s a skill that will last a lifetime then it’s worth the trade-off.
I suggest the following, to speed things up:
Create your own recipes of the foods you normally cook, that way you can just add the recipe rather than every single ingredient every time you cook it
Add the food throughout the week you know you’re going to eat on a Sunday evening when you’re looking for things to do. That way you just need to plug the holes M-S.
Instead of this section being way longer than it needs to be, at the end of the blog I’ve included tracking tips and tricks that’ll save you a ton of time, you can skip to that part here.
Excuse #4 – Picking the wrong goddamn item
You need a level of common sense here, so if you have it? Great.
When you’re on MFP, make sure you scan the barcode as often as you can. That way you cut out the chances of you fuckin up. There are so many items stored on MFP it’s easy to just be lazy and select the first item you see.
Don’t do that.
Some items come up with ridiculously low calories, others just come up with empty macros.
You wanna make sure you can see that little verified tick and use it. That means MFP has verified it as trusted. The number of times I’ve seen people enter 200g of potatoes, only to come up with 100 calories (see my client’s pic above)…
As a general rule of thumb when you can’t use the barcode or find the verified tick, filter through 3-5 food items find the average of all of them, and use that one. I’d rather you overestimate calories than underestimate. Doing this is just doing your due diligence.
Or if that doesn’t work, you can cross-reference the food item with this website, or this one to make sure you’re on the right path.
Excuse #5 – But I eat out a lot
Firstly, if you’re wanting to lose weight. Cut back on the times you’re eating out. Studies have shown that restaurants underreport calories within their meals by up to 40%. With restaurants like Nando’s, Zizzi’s, and Pizza Express, their menu can be found on Myfitnesspal so don’t fret.
Whilst I give advice to my clients on how to handle meals out, such as reducing calories in the week, or thinking about protein first, what happens if your restaurant isn’t on the app? Simply, find an alternative restaurant that’s similar in nature to the one you’re in.
At a burger joint but can’t find it? Use Five Guys or Byron Burger instead.
If this is you, don’t worry. It borders on #1 above in terms of underreporting but it’s also understandable.
If you’ve grabbed a teaspoon of peanut butter, you’d do well to just put down a teaspoon. The problem is, you might have triple-layered that teaspoon like a MOFO and it might possibly end up being 3x the calories.
I remember a client cooking us both an omelette after we finished a workout. I said I wanted to hang about for a while to go through some post-workout nutrition. Historically this guy skipped his post-workout to crack on with work, ‘I’ll eat later in the day’ he’d often say.
So when I said I’m staying put, he decided to whip us both up an omelette. Tracked of course.
What went down as 1 tablespoon of olive oil could have simply been replaced with 3. What my client eyeballed, I have no idea. But the amount of oil used was probably 3x the amount tracked.
These little things count more than you think. It’s cool if that’s your portion size but track the correct amount. That itself is the difference between 145 calories and almost 500.
The one on the left is 110 calories, whereas the one on the right is 49. That’s a fairly big jump for just a teaspoon.
Now you know where you’re going wrong, let’s see if you should be using it?
Look, tracking your calories is great, and all my clients have to track theirs, but here’s the deal.If you are susceptible to eating disorders or are known to have a history of them, leave the app to one side and focus on your relationship with your food first.
Whilst tracking is incredibly insightful, it also may lead to obsessions and negative associations to certain foods.
So if that’s the case, put your phone down and delete the app.
If however, you want to lose weight, gain weight or change your composition and you’re not obsessive by nature, then download the app and crack the fuck on.
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Setting up Myfitnesspal for success
Remember at the start I said you needed to ditch MFPs recommended calories but they’re completely useless and instead gave you this calorie counter to use?
Well here’s where you change your calories to reflect the new ones I’ve given you.
Myfitnesspal → More → Goals → Nutrition Goals → Calorie, Carbs, Protein and Fat Goals → Click Calories
As a rough guide, change the percentages as follows
Protein → Slide until you hit the total grams the calculator has given you.
Carbs [your preference] Fats [your preference]
Carbs and fat totals don’t matter when it comes to weight loss. What is the total amount of calories you’re bringing in vs burning off.
Protein 40% // Carbs 30% // Fats 30%
Is a pretty safe bet though.
To be honest, it’s a topic for another day, and this article is long enough as it is.
But, read this article whilst you’re at it which breaks down fat loss and gives you the targets to aim for if fat loss is your goal.
Down and Dirty Tracking tips & ideas
If you’re lazy like the rest of us or new to the game. Use these tips to make Myfitnesspal your bitch.
Don’t worry about tracking vegetables. Seriously. They’re so low in calories and high in soluble fibre, there’s no need. You’re not going to be overeating vegetables anytime soon.
Saying that, make sure you track these starchy vegetables though. Carrots, sweet corn, potatoes, beets, green beans etc. These veggies are higher in calories and insoluble fibre, that is all.
If you eat a piece of fruit, don’t bother tracking. Again, it’s low in calories and fruit does not make you fat.
Track sauces, except for these. Soy sauce, relish, sriracha, salsa, mustard and gravy.
But for the love of Jesus, track ketchup, BBQ, mayonnaise and Nando’s extra hot peri, will ya? I know how much of that stuff you pile on.
Weighing before or after. For meats, weigh before cooking. For carbs, do the same. For rice, weigh after. If you forget, don’t panic. Head over to Nutritiondata and reference the food item. It generally gives both raw and cooked nutritional values.
If you eat things out of a jar, like jam, honey or peanut butter here’s a simple trick. Set your weighing scale to zero, put the jar on, and then scoop out what you need. The scales will then give you a total like -8g. This is more accurate and a whole lot easier than trying to measure a sticky tablespoon of jam on a bloody weighing scale.
For stuff like this, you don’t need to measure the jar every single time you use it. Remember it once and roughly pick out the same-sized scoop the next time. A gram here or there isn’t going to suddenly pile on the pounds.
And there you have it.
Learning to track your intake isn’t a forever fix, but it is one you should seriously consider if you’re at a crossroads with your fat loss. Making small and subtle changes as outlined above will have you winning your war with myfitnesspal and that increasingly annoying stubborn fat that you haven’t been able to shift.