Lose weight by calorie counting with MyFitnessPal (free version)

My weight is constantly fluctuating through cycles of bulking to put on muscle mass and cutting to trim off the fat. I’ve been lucky enough to be blessed with a fast metabolism, which makes it really easy for me to lose weight. This is a double-edged sword because putting on muscle has always been relatively difficult for me. This sounds like a first-world problem, but I’m sure most skinny guys can relate. I was 115 pounds in high school and it took years of eating 3000+ calories to finally jump up to 175 pounds that I weight now. My fitness goals have changed in recent years, but the tool I used has been the same.

MyFitnessPal has easily been the most effective tool that I’ve used to meet my fitness goals. When I ask people what their fitness goals are the most common answer I get is “I want to lose weight to look good”. I am a firm believer that calorie counting is one of the most effective ways to lose weight. People who are new to the gym commonly think if I run “x “amount of miles or workout for “x” amount of time that is the quickest way to lose weight. You’d be surpised at how much work burning 300 calories is compared to just omitting that from your diet. It may feel like you’re doing more work because you’re sweating but 300 calories is 300 calories. Calorie counting also puts into perspective how densely caloric some foods are and how easy it is to overeat.

MyFitnessPal comes in a free version and subscription-based premium version. I’ll be talking about the free version of the app because that is what most people will be using. Ever since UnderArmour purchased MyFitnessPal on February 2015, the app has a lot of UnderArmour advertising to either get you to buy UnderArmour fitness products or upgrade to the premium version. The premium version is expensive coming in at $9.99 monthly or $49.99 yearly. However, I get everything I need from the free version so upgrading is not necessary.

Upon opening the MyFitnessPal app, you are greeted with a summarized version of your calories remaining and a quick access dashboard.  You can toggle through home, diary,  quick add button, progress, and settings.

The diary toggle gives you a summary of the food you’ve eaten and the corresponding calories. This is where you’ll be spending the most amount of time. Clicking add food will bring up a list of your most recent eaten foods. I eat the same food on a daily basis so most of my foods are located at the top of the recent food list. When adding a food, a pie chart of the macronutrient contents plus how many servings you want to add is pulled up. For those that don’t know, macronutrients are comprised of protein, carbohydrates, and fats. This is information that is easily found on all foods that have nutrition labels. 

You can also add food using the barcode and location icon located at the top-right corner of the app. I use the barcode scanner frequently when adding new foods. If that food has already been listed than all the corresponding information such as macronutrients and serving size will be pulled up for you to add. The location icon is a nifty tool to find restaurants and the nutrition information of their menu. The downside of food trackers like MyFitnessPal is that it won’t have nutrition information for smaller local restaurants so you will need to estimate calories.

There are times you can’t find a certain food in the MyFitnessPal database. You can “create a food” or “quick add” calories. The quick add feature on the free version only allows you to add calories. The subscription version lets you quick add macronutrients as well. The create a food option lets you add in the description of the food along with all the information you would find on a nutrition label. I prefer to only add the macronutrients but you can also add in the micronutrients as well.

The quick add button seen on the home page lets you quickly add information like status, water intake, food, exercise, and weight. The exercise option is a barebones workout tracker that is mostly used to gauge how many calories you burned.  I track my weight on MyFitnessPal. You can get an UnderArmour scale to automatically load your weight onto the app but the scale is absurdly expensive. I can’t justify spending more than $100 on a scale when I can buy a cheaper one and just input my weight by hand

The progress toggle on the dashboard is a simple graph to track your weight. You can add progress photos as a visual tool to see if you are slimming down or gaining more muscle.

You can set weight goals on the settings option under “goals”. MyFitnessPal will calculate how many calories you should hit based on how quickly you want to gain or lose weight. It will also give you macronutrient goals as well. I like to make sure I hit a certain threshold for the amount of protein that I consume to optimize my muscle growth. You can view your daily nutrition information by going to the diary toggle and then going to the nutrition option located at the bottom. This will give you valuable information such as how many more carbs you need to eat or the distribution of macronutrients consumed throughout the day.

What sets MyFitnessPal apart from all other food trackers is the sheer number of people who use the app. MyFitnessPal is the most popular food tracker, which makes the database incredibly robust. The problem I had with other food trackers was the difficultly finding certain foods due to the lack of users. Daily users are constantly adding new food and in the course of a year I’ve seen more and more restaurants with nutritional information. This is fantastic for the consumer because it keeps restaurants transparent. It puts into perspective just how many calories you are consuming everytime you eat out.

Whether you’re looking to lose weigh or build muscle, you should really consider using MyFitnessPal. Diet is going to be the one of the biggest influences on how you look. Making sure you know how many calories you are eating also helps to build discipline when it comes to portion control. You’d be surprised at how small serving sizes actually are and how easy it is to overeat.

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