January 26, 2012

Pal o' Mine

For the past 3 weeks or so, I have been using an awesome app on my iPod Touch called MyFitnessPal. 

It's basically a food and fitness journal that tracks and analyses everything you eat and all of your physical activity*. You start out by entering your stats (age, sex, height, weight), set it for weight loss, weight gain, or maintenance and it does all of the calculations for you. You get to decide how fast or how slow you want to see results, but it will warn you if your goals are unsafe or unreasonable. (From what I can see, it won't set my daily minimum calories at less than 1200, no matter what I put in.)

Once it is set up, all you have to do for the food portion is to add the items that you've consumed, and it will give you a running total of your calories consumed, plus protein, carbs, fibre, fat, etc. It's a great way to see where you're at as you are going along, so that you can make better decisions on the fly. (ie: eat more fibre today or watch your salt intake.) It also lets you budget your calories for the day, which is great if you are planning a night out, getting together with the gang for brunch, or simply deciding between the medium or the large popcorn at the movies. 

One of my favourite features is within the food diary section. In addition to adding single food items, you can create recipes and meals. I use the recipes feature if I am cooking something that I might make again, or something that has multiple portions and I want a more accurate count of what is in each serving (like a soup). I use the meals feature to organize combinations of foods that I might eat on a regular basis, such as my go-to Subway lunch (6" egg white on honey oat with extra veggies and a bag of Baked Lays) or my lunchtime serving of raw veggies (aka the "vegelanche" - carrots, snap peas, cauliflower). When it comes time to log my food, I can easily add a serving of either a meal or a recipe in just one click, as opposed to, say, 12 clicks. 

The fitness portion allows you to enter your cardio or strength training activities, and adds your calories burned to your daily calorie "allowance". So, for example, if my daily goal is to consume 1400 calories and I burn 400 in a spinning class, I now have 1800 to eat. And, conversely, if I don't work out, then I have to stick to the baseline calories. The database has hundreds of physical activities - from auto repair to Zumba. (Ok, they technically don't have Zumba, but they do have high-impact step-aerobics.) I don't bother with stuff like "light housekeeping", but I do make sure that all of my spinning, Group Power, running, and even yoga get logged. (I've even bought a heart-rate monitor wristwatch to make my entries more accurate, but more about that in a later post.)

At the end of each day, you click a button to complete your entry and then it gives you a little message that tells you where you will be in 5 weeks, based on the current day's data and your progress. At any time, though, you can check your stats, update your current weight, or change your goals. I review my nutrition stats pretty much every time I log in to make an entry, but from time to time I like to take a peek at the little pie chart which gives me a visual of my carbs/fats/protein, just to see if I am getting the balance right. And it's all about balance, right?

I've been doing it for 3 weeks and I have already lost 3.5 lbs, so there must be something to it. Or, maybe it's just making me think before I cram stuff into my mouth... "Sure I can eat that cookie, but do I really want to have to add it to my diary?" A few people I know are using it, so it's been kinda fun to compare notes and stuff. I'm only trying to lose about 14 more lbs, but I can see sticking with it, if just to be more aware of how I am fuelling my body and to help me make healthy choices on an ongoing basis. Getting fit is hard work, yes, but I think staying fit takes just as much vigilance and commitment.

What I love - the barcode scanner for entering packaged foods. 
What I don't love - the database is largely crowd-sourced, so you have to be fairly knowledgeable when you are choosing items. 

MyFitnessPal is available for iPod Touch, iPad and iPhone, or online at myfitnesspal.com

*Well, the activity that you choose to share with it. ;-)

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