I want to lose weight and my Google research tells me keeping a food diary is essential to this goal. My wife said they taught her at Weight Watchers:
If you bite it, write it.
If you nibble it, scribble it.
If you drink it, ink it.
If you snack it, track it.
If you steal it, reveal it.
If you sneak it, leak it.
If you chose it, disclose it.
If you hog it, log it.
If you grab it, blab it.
If you indulge it, divulge it.
If you ingest it, you guessed it!
If you imbibe it, inscribe it!
If it goes in your smacker, it goes in your tracker!
If you lick it, bic it!
Grab your pencil before your utensil!
I’m not a joiner, so Weight Watchers isn’t for me. I’m a do-it-yourselfer, so I found a couple of apps to help me out.
Loset It! and MyFitnessPal are both great programs that help you lose weight by tracking what you eat. They both work from a web site and/or mobile device. Both have barcode readers to quickly look up calorie and nutritional content. Both help you track calorie intake and calories burned through exercise. Both programs are essential for fighting weight loss. Both programs have social networking features. Both are easy to use. Both work with iOS and Android. Both are free.
So how to pick one? Since they are free you could just start with both and see which one you liked.
However, my basic characterization is Lose It! is best for non-techies and MyFitnessPal is best for power users. Lose It! has an elegantly simple user interface that goes deep with features with the minimum of thinking. MyFitnessPal is a tiny bit harder to learn, but you can do more customization. MyFitnessPal gives more nutrient information and it’s barcode scanner seems to recognize slightly more foods, but it’s program menu structure is a touch more cumbersome than Lose It!’s menus. I like proportion control in Lose It!, but MyFitnessPal can be more accurate if you like math.
You sign up for each program and answer some questions about your height, weight, age and your weight loss goal. The program then tells you your daily calorie goal and what date you’re reach your weight loss goal if you follow their routine.
My goal is to get down to 180 pounds by July 25, 2013 by losing 1 pound a week. I get 2,271 calories to work with each day. I can eat more if I exercise more. For years I’ve felt like I was dieting all the time because I wasn’t eating all the food I wanted and had given up all my favorite junk food. But tracking calories closely clearly shows I was still eating too much. Well, duh! I’m still fat.
The Math of Weight Loss
I want to lose 1 pound per week. 1 pound is about 3,500 calories, so that’s 3500 / 7 days = 500 less a day. Lose It! asked my age, height and weight and told me 2,271 calories is what it takes for me to lose 1 pound per week, which means eating 2,771 calories maintains my weight, and eating more means my bodily universe expands.
It’s extremely important to honestly record everything you eat and use accurate proportions, otherwise you are fooling yourself. Don’t cheat, or you won’t loose weight.
Both programs work in almost an identical way. You track calories by adding food or exercise to a diary that’s broken down by:
You add calories to your diary by selecting food items by:
- Scanning the barcode
- Searching a database
- Selecting from items you’ve already added
- Selecting from complete meals you’ve already recorded
You decrease your calorie count by adding an exercise from:
- Menu of exercises
- Exercises you’ve already listed
You can use both of these programs from the web if you don’t have a mobile device. I don’t have a smart phone but I do have an iPod Touch that I carry with me everywhere. It’s the current generation with a camera, so I can scan barcodes. It’s extremely easy to keep a food diary with these programs and a mobile device. It’s pretty easy to just use the web version, but it will be a bit more work because you have to run find a computer after you eat each meal, or jot down what you eat during the day and enter it at night.
Here’s what the daily diary looks like for the two programs:
Lose It! (the program I use)
MyFitnessPal (the program I’m testing)
Neither program had physical therapy exercises on their list, so I used yoga as a substitute.
Once you’ve looked up most of the common foods you eat, recording a meal or snack in the diary takes seconds. I make up menus of my favorite meals and just add the whole menu with one click. I tend to eat a lot of the same meals. In Lose It!, breakfast is one item that’s a stored recipe, but lunch is from a restaurant.
Eating out is a big problem. No barcode to scan, or label info to read. Both programs lists items off of chain restaurants, but if you go somewhere else you have to make the best guess you can, or build an approximate recipe. This restaurant guide at CalorieKing is very helpful, but I wished they had photos of the food, with dimensions. At CalorieLab you can search 70,000 foods and 500 restaurants for similar meals and hope you get close. The FDA is rolling out a law that will require all restaurants with more than 20 locations to list nutritional information. It would be great if the menus had little barcodes to scan.
More than Counting Calories!
These programs are about more than counting calories, they provide overall nutritional information, like this my current information from Lose It! (I haven’t had dinner yet):
I eat too many carbs, and too much salt, and I need to eat more protein in relationship to the carbs and fats. I’ve seen all kinds of recommendations for the proper ratio for Carbs/Protein/Fat. Moderate is 50/25/25, but the Zone diet recommends, 40/30/30. I’m a vegetarian, and not a particularly healthy eating vegetarian so my protein is low and my carbs high. As I work on my diet I want to get close to the Zone diet ration of 40/30/30.
Not only do these programs help me watch calories, they help me watch the kind of foods I eat. When it comes to nutrition data, MyFitnessPal is superior to Lose It! Here’s what MyFitnessPal shows for Quaker Oat Squares cereal:
Here’s what Lose It! shows (but for 1 and 1/2 cups – Lose It! is easier to adjust proportions):
I find Lose It! a breeze to use and adapted to it quickly. I’m tempted by MyFitnessPal because of the extra nutritional information, but for now I’m going to stick with Lose It! When I want to know more I just add the foods to MyFitnessPal.
My wife and two friends use Lose It! This helps us stay on track and gives us stuff to discuss and argue. My friend Peggy nags me about my carbs. I nag her about her cholesterol and protein.
I’ve just started using these programs. I wished I had discovered them years ago, or I wished they had existed decades ago. Back then I tried keeping a food diary. It involved a pen, a notebook, and a nutrition fact book. It was tedious and I gave it up after a couple of days. I’ve adapted very easily to Lose It! But it’s too soon to see if I’ll stick with it for a whole year. However, I feel closer to dieting success than ever before.
JWH – 6/16/12 (Happy Birthday Susie)
I ended up picking MyFitnessPal for my standard app. I preferred the look of Lose It!, but MyFitnessPal had way better barcode scanner and nutritional database. And being able to scan the barcode for information is just too handy.
After losing 10 pounds I started getting lazy with recording my food intake. I thought I could remember my good habits, but I was wrong. If I don’t record everything I don’t lose weight. I’m now back to using MyFitnessPal, but it’s hard. I try to tell myself I can’t eat anything unless I record it first. Or it’s not worth eating if I’m not willing to record it.
I hate having to control what I eat, but the act of maintaining a food diary helps that control.
MyFitnessPal makes it about as easy as possible to record what I eat, but it’s still a pain in the ass. I’ve even thought of eating the same meals every day so I won’t have to record.