MyFitnessPal Calorie Counter: Watch What You Eat

Whether you take part in sports, want to lose (or gain) weight, or have a job where your fitness is important, it’s absolutely essential that you stay on top of your nutrition and your calories. Whatever you’re doing, you need to accurately record how many calories you consume versus how many you use up; this way you can successfully either lose, gain or keep at your weight.

MyFitnessPal is a really useful app for Android that helps you do exactly this. Let’s take a closer look at how the app works, and how you can use it to help you lead a healthier lifestyle at the weight you want.

Your Calories and Your Weight

Without going overboard on the science, a lot of factors influence your weight: what and how much you eat; how tall you are; and how much physical activity you do, to name just a few.

Eating and drinking puts calories into your body; a typical glass of orange juice could contain 110 calories, while a typical twelve-inch pizza could contain 2,300 calories. When you exercise, or take part in physical activity, the calories you’ve eaten get converted into energy and used up. A gentle walk for half an hour will burn 45 calories, whereas spending the same time jogging will use nearer 400 calories.

Using more calories exercising than you gain eating will typically cause you lose weight (this isn’t an overnight thing, it needs sustaining), and the best way of doing this is to manage and regulate how many you consume to keep track of what you’re consuming and whether you’re on target for your ideal weight.

MyFitnessPal

This is where the app comes in. It’s free from the market — albeit with a few (relatively unobtrusive) ads — and installed in a few seconds. Since the app is actually an extension of a web app, you need to sign up for an account; that’s annoying when it would be possible to store the data on the device, but, as I will explain later, there are benefits to this.

Signing up and setting up your account takes a few minutes. Once you tell it a little about your lifestyle, your weight and your ideal weight, it will calculate your total calorie target for the day (this is what you eat, minus what you burn exercising).

Recording Measurements

Whether you want to lose, gain or maintain your weight, the app’s ‘Measurements’ feature lets you log your weight. Simply touch the ‘Record Today’s Weight’ button in the ‘Measurements’ section and a single field appears, pre-populated with your last weight. Edit the weight and hit save. This also works for your neck, waist and hip measurements.

A nice touch (depending on how well you’re doing) is the graph which shows your progress over time. The software will watch your progress towards your target weight.

Measurements - Entering your weight (left), and the progress chart (right).

The Food Diary

This is where the app comes into its own.

When you eat anything, it’s unimaginably easy to touch ‘Add’ on the diary screen, touch the meal you’re eating it for (breakfast/lunch/dinner or snacks), then tap the barcode icon, and hold the barcode up to the camera. As soon as the camera detects the barcode, the online food database gets queried and the software selects the item associated with the barcode.

You enter the number of servings, then to confirm the serving size. For example, if I scan a packet of biscuits, I can enter a number of biscuits, or a number of packets.

One final tap of the ‘Add Now’ button places the item in your food diary and takes the number of calories from your remaining calories figure.

Another great touch for the health-conscious user is the fact that you are able to monitor other nutrients, like cholesterol, potassium, and certain vitamins, in your diet.

The Food Diary - Scanning a barcode (top) leads to the automatic recognition of food, and allows you to set your portion size (bottom)

The Food Database

The online food database is vast and impressive, and it’s equally impressive that it’s maintained by its users. If you scan a barcode it doesn’t know, and search for an item by name that doesn’t appear in the listing, you can add your own item, list all of its nutritional information from the packet and have it added to the database.

Users peer-verify each other’s results and this leads to a huge, Wikipedia-style collection of information.

While you would be astounded at the number and variety of foods in the database, you will probably be less amazed at the variety of barcodes it recognizes. This is because some foods, particularly own-brand products in big supermarkets, do not have registered product codes as they are only handled internally, which means that numbers can conflict and give strange results!

You don’t lose a lot of time typing food names in, and almost all brands are listed, so you’re not losing out on much when you can’t scan a barcode. After all, plenty of foods don’t have a barcode to start with!

The food database - You can enter the nutritional details for any food that isn't already listed (left), and view in-depth information on foods already listed (right)

Other Features

There are a few other neat features, some more useful than others.

Importantly, you can record your exercise in the diary along with your food, and this gets taken into account in your overall calorie requirement. Plenty of activities are listed, and you can enter the time you are active for and it will calculate the calories burned. There’s also an option to just add the calories you burned, which is useful if the calculation is done by another app, a pedometer, or even Wii Fit!

You can enter the water you drink, although this is just a notepad style number. It’s somewhat misleading that you are offered the option to add water to the diary, when if you add one glass, eight times during the day, when you look back at the end of the day, youare listed as having had just the one glass. This is the only case in the software where you are meant to enter the total every time.

If you enjoy cooking your own food, where a meal consists of several other foods, you can enter pre-defined meals and recipes on the web version of the app. There are even options to share recipes with the community! When these have been set up, adding them from the app is brilliantly simple and allows you to save a lot of time adding foods you eat regularly.

You have the option to print beautifully presented reports containing a lot of information from the web version of the app, which automatically syncs with the Android app, which would be very useful if you are working either with a healthcare professional or a personal trainer to keep control of your weight.

Overall

MyFitnessPal on the Market

This app is by far the best calorie counting app I’ve found for Android, it includes features that blow away even its iPhone counterparts. While the database isn’t perfect, you can help make it better by joining in and adding new foods, and, like all user-generated content, before too long, it will be full and strong!

If you are serious about making a change to your weight, or just want to keep on top of what you’re eating, this is a very good way to do it!


Summary

Very very good; my only quibble is the occasional inaccuracy of the barcode scanner on certain products and the lack of a version without the adverts.

9