MyFitnessPal is by far the most popular app for tracking food and calories and the good news is that it's free and super easy to use.
And if you're wondering why you need to count your calories, just take a look at the scale next time you're on it. The #1 reason you (and millions of others) aren't losing weight/fat is because you're eating too many calories.
It sounds pretty dumb and it's pretty much a no-brainer that when you eat too much, you don't lose weight, but there's a fine line between overeating and undereating.
First off, if you are trying to lose weight (what I really mean is fat), then you MUST be in a calorie deficit. Even if you're training your ass off, eating nothing but chicken, sweet potatoes, and broccoli, if you are over your calorie requirements by even a single calorie, you will not lose weight.
It's that simple.
And the #1 reason you are overeating isn't because you're a fat pig, it's because you have no idea what you're actually eating.
Most people grossly underestimate the number of calories in their food and for those that do read the labels, the portion sizes can be deceiving and tricky.
Like telling us that each serving has 50 calories but we don't see that the box has 100 servings so we end up eating waaaaay more than we thought.
Or that little bit of ketchup you put on your burger that you forgot to count or that spoonful of peanut butter you thought was only 100 calories, but was actually 200.
Those things add up quickly and before you know it, you're over your calorie requirements. Fuck.
So now that you know that counting calories is pretty important if you're serious about losing weight, then it's time to download MyFitnessPal and get to work.
Keep in mind that there are plenty of other quality free apps for tracking calories like:
It's all about personal preference and ease of use and I've found MyFitnessPal to be the most user friendly. Plus, I can see my clients food logs, which help to keep them on track.
I also want to add that counting calories sucks and is a pain in the ass. And while it is a very helpful tool when trying to lose weight, it doesn't have to be permanent.
I mean who wants to count calories forever??
Ideally, you'll come to understand portion sizes and your relationship with food will change. Plus, most of you will never be competing in something that requires you to be ultra lean and have to be spot on with your calories.
So for most us, if we screw up our calories, we just need to make some small tweaks until it works.
Getting Started With MyFitnessPal
So after you install the app, you'll need to set it up. I've already set up my account, so I created a second one so I could walk you through the whole thing.
It will ask you what your primary goal is:
- Lose weight
- maintain weight
- Gain weight
This will (hopefully) change over time, but start where you're at. For most, it will be to lose weight.
It will then ask you how active you are:
- Not very
Most of you will be lightly active unless you're walking all day.
Enter your gender, DOB, and zip code and hit the --> in the top right of the screen.
Enter your height, weight, and weight goal and hit the --> button.
Enter your weight loss goal. If you have a lot of weight to lose, like 50+ pounds, you can be more aggressive and opt for 2 pounds per week, otherwise use 1-1.5 per week.
Enter your email address, password, and user name and hit -->.
You're now ready to start using it and it will tell you your recommended daily calories.
Based on my profile, it told me I needed 1,950 calories daily to lose 1 pound per week. I'm at 188 pounds and my goal is 175 pounds.
This number looked low, so I did my own math as I have no clue how MyFitnessPal determines recommended calorie intake.
I personally use the Harris Benedict Formula to determine calories, which is a pretty accurate tool. Here's how to use it (it looks like a lot, but it's really simple):
- Calculate your BMR. Here is the link. Don't confuse this with BMI, which is a sucky indicator of health/fitness.
- Once you get your BMR (shown below circled in red), click the Harris Benedict Equation link.
- This chart will tell you what number to multiply your BMR with based on your activity level.
- For me, I use the "lightly active" number because I've found that using the more aggressive numbers gives me a ton of calories to eat and I've had success with the 1.375 multiplier for years.
- So now I take my BMR (1,838 calories) and multiply it by 1.375. This totals 2,527.
- 2,527 is the number of calories I need to maintain my current weight. But I want to lose weight, so I have to do some subtraction now.
- Using a 20% deficit is a great place to start. It's not too much of a cut but is enough to get you losing some lbs. So 20% of 2,527 is 505 so I subtract that from 2,527 to get 2,022.
So it's not too far off of MyFitnessPal's number but you may want to check your own numbers, especially if you take a more aggressive approach to cutting.
The first thing to do is to change your macro goals as the ones that come pre-made are shitty. I'm oversimplifying this but want to make sure you get all the steps in. And some of you are retarded when it comes to technology..
From the home screen, hit the 3 small dots in the lower right.
Next, click "Goals"
Then hit "Calorie & Macronutrient Goals"
These are your macros.
Depending on your goals, body type, and a number of other things, you'll want to adjust your macro goals. If you're following a Primal Diet like me, then it'll look something like this:
- Protein 30%
- Fat 45%
- Carbohydrates 25%
Of course you can manipulate it as you see fit and there is no "right" macro profile. So if you can eat a diet rich in complex carbs like potatoes and rice and still get good results, then by all means, use it.
For those of you who have roundish body types (i.e. endomorphs), you'll probably be better off with a keeping your carbs under 40% of your diet.
Entering Your Foods
Now you can start entering your food, water, exercise, etc.
Do that by hitting the big + sign.
Now add what you need to add. Start with "Food".
You'll then select Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, or Snacks, which will then take you to this screen, where you have to search or add new foods to your food library.
Fortunately, MFP saves your meals, which makes it easy to use them in the future and the database of foods is huge.
You can also hit the bar code icon and scan the foods right from the package. This saves a TON of time!
You can also create your own foods and you'll have to enter the macro profile and calories yourself as shown below.
As you start adding meals, you'll see the calorie goal declining and you'll know exactly how many calories you have left.
Keep in mind that this is not an exact science and food counts, portion sizes, and user error make for a pretty wide swing in accuracy.
I've read that food labels can even be up to as much as 20% off of actual calories, so if you're tracking diligently, are under your requirements and still not losing weight, you may need to revisit your numbers.
Also understand that there are a number of variables that play into how you process calories including your digestion of them.
If you're taking the time to track your calories, you'll probably be exercising as well. MFP allow you to track your workouts and calories burned and let's you select "Strength" or "Cardio".
The database for cardio and strength exercises is huge, so just search and it'll tell you the calories burned. You just need to add the time you spent doing it.
Just remember, the calories you burned through exercise should be added back to your calorie goal. So if you burned 500 calories in your workout and your daily calorie goal is 2,000, then you'll eat 2,500.
It's not quite that simple though and this article explains this subject very well.
You can also sync your FitBit or Garmin to this app to track your steps, which is a pretty cool feature.
There are a few other cool features that can help you in your fitness journey and they are:
Both of these are great tools and the accountability of the challenges is a huge plus.
Now it's time for you to get out there and start tracking!
I won't walk you through every single aspect of this app because it'd be 10,000 words, but it's easy to navigate so just play around with it until you get the hang of it all.
This guide should get you started on tracking calories and if you'd like me to add a specific section or expand on one already here, drop a comment and let me know.
**As a side note, it appears that MFP is really trying to push their premium service and some of the features that used to be free aren't any longer. This guide is based only on the free version.**