Nutrition Articles

How to use My Fitness Pal

Counting calories has been shown to be an extremely successful method of losing weight, it’s something that I have used with hundreds of my Online Personal Training clients. In order get results with it, you need to be able to use a calorie counting app, such as My Fitness Pal. In this article I show you how to use My Fitness Pal properly, so that you can lose weight effectively.

What is calorie counting?

Everybody requires a certain number of calories per day. The amount we need will vary from person to person, based on a variety of factors including weight, lean mass, age, how active you are and how much exercise you get. (I show you how to work out exactly how much you should be eating later in the article).

If you eat the number of calories your body requires each day, you will maintain your body weight.

In order to lose body fat, you must be in what’s called a calorie deficit. This means you eat slightly less calories per day than your body requires. If you have ever followed a diet successfully, you will have been in a calorie deficit.

Counting calories is one method you can use to ensure you stay in a calorie deficit. Put very simply, you add up the total number of calories that you eat each day, to stay within a given target range. 

One of the reasons many people fail with diets, is because they cut out all of the food they enjoy eating. It’s common to cut out chocolate, wine and pizza right? When you then re-introduce these foods, you end up putting all of the weight back on.

This happens because you don’t have control.

With the calorie counting method, you can always stay in control. If you record and log your food each day, then you can include foods such as chocolate, wine and pizza and still lose weight.

Who is calorie counting for?

  • People who have a very basic knowledge of food.
  • People who are tech savvy and are able to use apps well.

Who is calorie counting not for?

  • People who really struggle with food.
  • People who are neurotic.
  • People who hate or can’t work technology.

If you decide that it is for you, then you can begin.

Setting up a My Fitness Pal profile

To begin with, you’ll need to set up a My Fitness Pal profile. Here’s how you do it.

  1. Download the app or log onto www.myfitnesspal.com
  2. Press “sign up now”
  3. Follow the onscreen instructions and set your account up.

Logging Food

Once you’re all set up, it’s time to start logging your food. There are three main ways that you can log food on My Fitness Pal:

Scan your food

With this method, you can use the apps in built barcode scanner, to scan the barcode of the food you are eating.

It works well if you are eating foods such as premade salads or sandwiches, as one quick scan of the barcode and all the date will be inputted into My Fitness pal for you. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Open the app and press the blue “add” button at the bottom, centre of the screen.
  2. Press the orange “food” button.
  3. Select the meal you wish to log (breakfast, lunch, dinner or snack).
  4. Press the “barcode” symbol, in the top right hand side of the screen.
  5. Scan the barcode of the food that you want to log.
  6. Adjust the portion size of necessary.

Search and add

This method works well if you are eating foods that don’t have a barcode, such as fruit and vegetables. Here’s how you do it:

  1. Open the app and press the blue “add” button at the bottom, centre of the screen.
  2. Press the orange “food” button.
  3. Select the meal you wish to log (breakfast, lunch, dinner or snack).
  4. Press on the “search for food” tab and write down the name of the food you want to log.
  5. This is where it can get a little tricky, don’t just rush and pick the top entry, you may need to scroll and find the item that fits most accurately.
  6. Select what you want to log, then alter the quantity.
  7. Press enter.
  8. NB: After using My Fitness Pal for a while, you will build up a list of recently added food. If you eat an apple each day, then you’ll just need to log the apple from the “recent foods” list, rather than go through the previous steps.

Quick add

This method is handy if you are following a recipe that displays the calories, as you can simply enter the intake without having to add each individual ingredient.

It also works well if you are at a restaurant that displays the calories of it’s food on the menu, as you can quickly enter the total without having to do a search.

  1. Open the app and press the blue “add” button at the bottom, centre of the screen.
  2. Press the orange “food” button.
  3. Select the meal you wish to log (breakfast, lunch, dinner or snack).
  4. Scroll to the very bottom of the page and select ‘quick add”.
  5. You can now enter the number of calories you are eating. If you have a premium account you can also enter the amount of protein, fat and carbs for this meal.

Recipes

If you eat the same recipes on a regular basis, then it’s best to add all the ingredients once and store it as a recipe in your account, then when you need to log it it’s quick and easy as you’ve already saved it. Here’s how you do it:

Add the recipe

  1. Open the app and press the blue “add” button at the bottom, centre of the screen.
  2. Press the orange “food” button.
  3. Select the meal you wish to log (breakfast, lunch, dinner or snack).
  4. Select “recipe” in the top right hand side.
  5. Press “create a recipe”.
  6. You now have 2 options, either “Add from the web”, where you can import a URL of the recipe you are cooking.
  7. Or my preferred method is to press “Enter ingredients Manually”.
  8. You then add a recipe title and the number or servings the recipe has.
  9. Press the arrow in the top right hand side of the screen, then select add ingredient.
  10. Search for the food on the database, then adjust the amount you are using in grams, then add it.
  11. Repeat this process for all of the ingredients in your recipe and then press the arrow in the top right hand side of the app, followed by “Save”.
  12. Your recipe is now logged in your data base every time you need to use it.

Log a previously saved recipe

  1. Open the app and press the blue “add” button at the bottom, centre of the screen.
  2. Press the orange “food” button.
  3. Select the meal you wish to log (breakfast, lunch, dinner or snack).
  4. Select “recipe” in the top right hand side.
  5. Your logged recipes are now there to select, simply scroll down and select the one you want to add.
  6. Then adjust the servings if necessary (the default serving size is “one” so if you’re only having one serving leave it as it is.
  7. Press the white tick in the top right hand side of the app and you’re all done.

Issues with using My Fitness Pal

Accuracy

My Fitness Pal works a little bit like Wikipedia, in that anyone can input data into the database.

Unfortunately, this sometimes means that people do not accurately log foods, so if you select something that Sandra from Accounts hasn’t inputted properly, then it’ll mean you aren’t logging accurately yourself.

You can get around this by doing a quick bit of research yourself by looking at labels of the foods you are eating, or by performing a quick Google search “how many calories are in a banana” for instance, then logging it into My Fitness Pal.

You’re never going to have 100% accuracy with this, but if you’re being more mindful and making a concerted effort to take control of your food intake, then even if you’re 90% accurate you’ll make progress.

Logging calories is about being in control. It’s better to be 90% in control than 0%.

Knowing how much to eat in the first place

One of the major flaws of My Fitness Pal, is how it works out exactly how much you should eat per day.

I don’t believe it is accurate enough and will often massively underestimate how many are needed per day.

This often means you are eating next to nothing, it then doesn’t take long before you’re hungry and struggling to stay on track.

Instead I use this simple method to get started. Follow these two steps and you’ll have a rough starting point of how many calories you should eat.

Step 1 - Work out your BMR

BMR stands for Base Metabolic Rate and can be defined as the number of calories your body needs to carry out it’s most basic tasks on a daily basis (breathing, sleeping, lying down etc).

You can work yours out here: http://www.bmi-calculator.net/bmr-calculator/


Example: A 5’ 5” female who weighs 60kg (132lbs) and is 34 years old would have a BMR of 1374.9 calories per day.


Step 2 - Adjust the calories to your own level

The next step needs an honest assessment of your lifestyle and how active you are. Take your BMR and multiply it by one of the numbers below, based upon how active you are day to day.

The number you now have, is called your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE).

  1. If you are sedentary (little or no exercise) = BMR x 1.1
  2. If you are lightly active (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week) = BMR x 1.275
  3. If you are moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week) = BMR x 1.35
  4. If you are very active (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week) = BMR x 1.525

Example:Someone who walks 8-10k steps per day and exercises 3 times per week, would use 1.4. Using our 5’5” female in the above example… 1374.9 x 1.4 = 1924.86 calories per day.


You now have the total calories you need to eat per day to maintain your weight. In order to lose weight, eat 5-10% less than this number, which will put you in a calorie deficit.

Please note that this is never going to be 100% accurate. It is a ball park figure for you to begin with, you can then alter this as the weeks go on.

After consuming this number for a week or ideally two, you can then note progress in terms of weight loss and adjust this number if needs be.

If you’ve dropped 1-2lbs then carry on. If your weight has stayed the same then lower your calorie target by another 5-10%.

It is an ongoing process and you’ll need to learn to alter things as your body weight comes down.

Please don’t go too crazy too soon. If you are too aggressive and eat too little, you give yourself very little room to alter things as the weeks go on. Start as high as possible and go from there.

NB: Working out the number of calories to consume is something that I do for all of my Online Personal Training clients, as it takes the stress and the guesswork out of it.

Conclusion

By now you should have worked out if logging calories on My Fitness Pal is for you or not. If it is then follow the simple steps that I’ve outlined to log your food.

After you’ve used the app for a week or two, it should become fairly quick and easy.

It shouldn’t take more than 5-10 minutes per day to log your food, meaning that you can easily stay on track with your weight loss goals.

Make sure you log everything. One common mistake I see is people logging their food Monday to Friday, but not bothering to log the weekends food intake. They then wonder why they are not making progress!

Be honest, log everything and create long lasting habits.

Have you found this guide to My Fitness Pal useful? Then make sure you sign up to our weekly newsletter for more handy hints and tricks, so that you can cut through the BS and get simple, honest advice.

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Nikki Clarke

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