Monday, June 16, 2014

My Fitness Pal - A First Look

Ahhh... Keeping track of what you eat. How hard can it be right? 

By now, it has become pretty clear that those who keep a food journal are more successful at losing weight than those who don't. The studies are many and pretty conclusive on this matter yet, you don't see many people writing down what they had for lunch at the local food court. Why? Because it's incredibly annoying. That's why.

"How many calories are in that?" "What's the serving size?" "Is that a half cup?" "Wait, how many ounces of soda did I just drink?" I'll admit it. I'm not a big fan. Forget about an actual food journal. You know, a notebook or diary where you write all that stuff down. I don't have the discipline to carry a notebook, let alone write in it. (alas, my life story will never be accurately portrayed, I guess.) Then came online trackers which are great but still not entirely convenient as you still had to wait until you were in front of the computer to upload what you did that day and to do that you had to, that's right... write it down, which I never did plus I had trouble finding some foods that are common here in Puerto Rico but not really known elsewhere.

Thankfully, things have gotten a lot easier over the years thanks to technology. Databases now cover almost any food you can imagine and now with the ever-present smart phone in our hands, the age of the electronic food journal has truly arrived. That's when I saw Mindy, from Road Runner Girl posting on her Facebook page about completing her food journal with My Fitness Pal, among others. At this point I was a bit reticent to give it a go but I thought:  "Hmm... maybe I should check this out." So I did.

The Menu Screen

As you can see from the menu screen, the app allows you to track food, exercise, goals and your overall progress. The more info and detail you add to to it, the more accurate the data you will get out of it. When you first log in, it will ask you several questions, including your weight and your goals, to determine a start point. Unlike other apps I have seen and tried, the activity level you put in at the beginning does not account for exercise. So if, apart from your exercise routine you just sit in an office chair all day, that's what you put in. Instead, whatever exercise you do that particular day gets logged along with your food intake and the calories you burn get deducted from your daily calorie allotment. This is a very good thing as the app doesn't "assume" you exercise consistently. The calorie allotment remains constant whether you miss a workout or not. I think it works better this way as it helps keep you honest.

Add Entry Screen

Entering food is as simple as choosing which meal and having the database search for whatever food you just consumed. The app keeps track of recent foods you picked which is really handy as one tends to gravitate toward certain foods so you don't have to go searching every time. You can also create meals and save them so you don't have to enter each individual item of a meal you might have frequently. All pretty handy. The database is powerful and robust. I'm yet to get an unsuccessful search. Obscure local, ethnic dishes like "Arroz con Pollo" (Sort of a stewed rice with chicken) and "Tostones" (Friend green plantains) show up with no hesitation in the searches. Spanish or English, the search engine on this app is yet to fail me.

Bar code Scanner

The bar code scanner however, takes the convenience cake, hands down. No searching. No guessing. You just scan and viola! Again, the database shines. I have scanned stuff that I was certain would not display a result and have been pleasantly surprised. Locally produced products I haven't seen anywhere else show up with no problem. This alone keeps me using the app regularly if only for the amusement.

The exercise search is a bit more tricky but still simple enough to use. The trouble I've been having is that my main form of exercise is of course, running. It's not really the app's fault in a way. Runners have an eternal debate over what is "running". As far as the database goes, the slowest form of "running" I have found is 12 minutes per mile which is still a bit on the faster side for me, especially if I'm running longer than 3 miles. So far, I play with the amount of time I put in so my calorie burn more or less matches that of my GPS watch to get an accurate number. I will play with writing "walking" and "jogging" in the search box to see if I get better results and let you know how that goes.

The app, like Dailymile, has a social component so you can keep in touch with friends and motivate each other. This works even better if log in using Facebook. You don't have to do it, but it makes it a lot easier to find friends and family who are also using the app.

So far, I've used the app simply to keep track of my intake and study my patterns and habits. I have been sticking with a calorie goal but right now my concern has been to see, right in front of me what my eating habits look like so I can work on improving them. I do manage to stay below most of the time but there have been some epic fails here and there. I will let you know all about it in the next post.


  1. This sounds great Frank. Where did you get this app and is it free? Also, do you have to download another program for the scanning capabilities? I am technologically challenged so I don't understand stuff like this easily, sorry.

    1. This folks, is why I don't get hired as writer for a magazine. (Yeah, like that's the only thing) I totally forgot to give that crucial info. You can log in through your computer at and there is an app for both iPhone and Android. Just search My Fitness Pal in your App store (or Google Play Store) and download for free!

      Also, the scanning feature is included. You don't need anything else. If your phone has a camera, you are set.

  2. Frank, thank you for motivating me yet again! I started off using this app and it helped me lose 85 lbs. After the marathon at Disney, my running wasn't as consistent, and I stopped logging in the fitness pal for a while. Gained 15 back. I'm back at the app and running more, (Dumbo Double Dare and a couple other halfs ahead have me training again). The key to the app, is definitely being consistent and logging in. I used to list activity goal as sedentary so it would lower my allotted calories so I would lose more.

    1. Well, join the club! I too have been having post marathon troubles with my mileage. Not only that but I came back super hungry for some reason and ate everything in sight. Using this app has helped me see where I'm going wrong.

      Folks, be on the lookout for a special project I will be working with Donald here. Well, actually he'll be doing all the work LOL but I think readers of this blog will enjoy it a bit. Stay tuned!

  3. I love My Fitness Pal! It has helped me lose 20 pounds! I love that it keeps me accountable for what I eat. And I love all the data it gives you! I'm a nerd lol!