On March 11th, I embarked on a modest weight loss trek with the goal of losing 10 pounds at an average of 1 pound per week. On May 10th, I achieved my goal. I am proud and humbled at the same time. (More on the latter later.) I used MyFitnessPal to track daily calorie intake and output. I’ll share with you my impressions of the tool, what it does right and what it doesn’t do well. I’ll also share my list of Sobering Truths About Weight Loss. Anyone who has ever endeavored on a weight-loss journey, whether modest or ambitious, (which is most of us) will recognize these. And, in them, you realize why losing weight and keeping it off is so damn difficult to do.
MyFitnessPal, a free app and companion website, has everything needed to calculate and track daily calorie intake. When you begin, you enter height, weight, age, gender and daily activity level. This information is used to estimate how many calories you burn in an average day. Then you enter your goal – weight loss, maintenance or gain – and, in the case of weight loss or gain, how much you want to gain/lose per week. The website uses this information to determine your daily calorie intake total. Each day, you enter what you consume and any exercise you do and the app/website keeps a running total of calories consumed and how many calories (net of calories burned from exercise) you have available to you for the remainder of the day. You are encouraged to weigh yourself periodically so you can track your progress toward your goals.
What I liked:
Entering calories consumed was quick, easy and user friendly. Their database of foods (boasting well over 1 million) is vast and continues to grow from user input.
It has a tool that calculates how many calories per serving are in a recipe. It just takes a few minutes for you to enter the ingredients or, if the recipe is available online, download the information automatically.
The program encourages exercise. Any calories burned through exercise gets added to your calorie intake goal for the day, in essence, buying you more calories.
- It’s free. Yes, there are other devices that make tracking activity automatic and track more variables pertaining to fitness. But they’re expensive and require one to wear a monitor twenty-four hours a day. Plus, not all the tracking is automatic. Some important information, such as food intake, must be entered manually. Tracking calories in and out is all you need to reach or maintain a weight goal. MyFitnessPal does that for free as long as you’re willing to invest a few minutes a day to enter the information.
What I didn’t like:
- The exercise module is not as accurate and the database is tiny in comparison to the food module. To be fair, it is extremely difficult to accurately estimate calories burned during exercise. In fact, unless one is exercising in a lab hooked up to monitors, it is impossible to know exactly how many calories one has burned during exercise. Even those previously mentioned expensive activity monitors are horribly inaccurate in terms of calories burned. Plus, MyFitnessPal relies on user input to grow its database of food and exercise. While everyone who uses the tool eats and enters food consumption, not everyone who uses MyFitnessPal exercises. This makes the database smaller and less accurate. There are websites with free online tools that help one estimate calorie burn for a given exercise. This is what I used when I was unsure and I purposely underestimated calorie burn so I wouldn’t over-consume calories that day.
- I’m not into the metric system, many Americans aren’t. I can look at a serving of food or drink and accurately estimate how many tablespoons or cups it is but I have no clue how many grams or milliliters something might be. A lot of the database is recorded only in metrics. For example, type “homemade tossed salad” in the search and several options will come up. You have to click on each one to see the serving size and nutrition information listing. Often I would have to click through several before I could find tossed salad listed in cup measurements as opposed to grams. I usually could find a listing that had measurements I could relate to and, if I couldn’t, I made a new entry myself and added it to the database. But, this made the process more time consuming.
- The MyFitnessPal app didn’t work on my smartphone. I have no idea if this is an app or phone issue. If I wanted to use the tool on my phone, I had to open up my phone’s browser and enter the information through the website.
Sobering Truths About Weight Loss
I was hungry – all the time. There’s no way around it, the point of weight loss is to run a calorie deficit, day after day, until you’ve lost a predetermined number of pounds. When you burn more calories in a day than you consume, you are going to be hungry. Period. Is it any wonder people give in and give up? When I was about half-way to my goal, I often asked myself, “Do I really need to lose 5 more pounds?” It is a constant mental, physical and emotional slog.
We are hard-wired not to lose weight. Humankind is approximately 35,000 years old. Yet the phenomenon of being chronically overweight as a population and, therefore, the concept of adjusting one’s diet to lose weight is less than 50 years old. And, even then, the vast majority of our current worldwide population lives in impoverished countries where the chronically overweight don’t exist. The human body is programmed to avoid weight loss for survival. We are all here because our oldest ancestors had bodies that were most efficient at conserving calories and energy and, most importantly, the best at storing it and holding onto it. I believe this fact is the reason behind the weight-loss plateaus that anyone who has ever lost weight is familiar with. Even a small weight loss goal, like my 10 lbs, isn’t immune. The first 6 pounds came off quickly. The last pound, the 10th pound, took me 19 days. Think about that… almost 3 weeks of hunger and diligent monitoring of every morsel and drop I consumed to lose one lousy pound. Like I said, constant mental, physical and emotional slog.
Why I’m humbled. In the end, my goal of 10 lbs in 10 weeks was realized. But there was not a day in those 10 weeks that was easy. There are many reading this who are probably thinking I don’t have a clue what it’s like to have to lose a significant amount of weight. And they would be right. I only know what it’s like to lose 10 lbs. I only know how hard that was and how excruciatingly long those 10 weeks felt to me. If you’ve ever lost over 20, 50 or OMG 100 pounds, I stand in complete awe of you. If you are staring a huge weight loss goal in the face right now, I am rooting for you. And I will freely admit, I only know a very tiny fraction of what you’re going through. It is a constant mental, physical and emotional slog and you are an inspiration to your friends and family and all of us striving to become and stay fit.