MyFitnessPal can be a great, free (currently) tool for weight loss, allowing the user to log calorie intake and exercise and to set goals for same. In return you get some custom graphs and infographics that vary from useful to WTF. Unfortunately, if you’re using MyFitnessPal and you aren’t seeing positive results in your weight loss, the bottom line – nay, the fact – is that you as the user, whether consciously or unconsciously, are not being entirely truthful with the data you are submitting to it – either by deceit or by omission. If that sounds harsh, it’s not to suggest that you are deliberately sabotaging your own weight loss efforts, but more simply that MFP makes it very easy for the user to make mistakes by misinterpreting the data it requires and provides. To try and help you use it in the most productive way possible MAN v FAT has engaged our think tank to come up with a list of the most commonly made MFP mistakes so we can all avoid them or fix them.
MISTAKE #1 – SETTING YOUR PROFILE TO PRIVATE
Hopefully, if you’re reading this, you’ve bought into the ideology of MAN v FAT as a community, and the MFP forums are no different [they’re just nowhere near as fun – ED]. Change your privacy settings so people can see what you’re eating and drinking. If you need to register anonymously then do so, but don’t hide your light foods under a bushel. It’s great if they can see you have done your diary and you’re under your calorie goal, but unless you’re prepared to show us behind the curtain so we can sanity check the fact that you didn’t just have one pint then you’re cheating yourself.
MISTAKE #2 – LEAVING THINGS OUT
It’s very common to see MFP users tracking the cereal they had for breakfast, but not tracking the milk. Yes, it’s a pain to do, but you only have to do it properly once and then you can copy the meal across and you’re getting a more accurate picture. Just grit your teeth and for one day really drill down and ask yourself if there is ANYTHING you’re missing off. And we mean do this on an atomic level:
- Are you tracking the travel sweets you have in the car?
- Are you tracking calories from drinks – and we don’t just mean alcohol, but soft drinks, energy drinks, milk in tea, squash and that old wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing, flavoured water?
- Are you tracking the food you finish off kid’s/partner’s/colleagues’ plates?
- Are you tracking the stuff you eat on the move?
- Are you tracking the right amounts – e.g. was it really a 100g serving or are you choosing that because it helped you fit your calorie goal?
- Are you tracking the calories for the right meal? A good rule when you can’t find something in MFP is to pick the second most calorific on the list. It’s painful but it keeps you from selling yourself short.
Naturally, this goes double for leaving things out on purpose because you know they don’t fit your calorie goal and you’ve allowed either shame or hubris to convince you to cover it up! We all fall off the wagon sometimes – better to plan cheat days/meals of course, but even that isn’t guaranteed to prevent one from overindulging when the opportunity arises. The important thing is to track even our failures, not with shame, but with purpose, to know where we went wrong and to use that to our advantage. Information is the key gents.
MISTAKE #3 – TAKING OFF CALORIES FROM EXERCISE
It’s particularly frustrating to see an MFP user baffled by their lack of results when you see them tracking a 500 kcal burn for 30 minutes of light cleaning. Unless you follow up your vacuum cleaning with a vigorous dose of hardcore ballet like Freddie in the video for I Want To Break Free, then there’s no way you’re burning through the calories you think you are. Let’s repeat that and put it in some kind of bold text:
there’s no way you’re burning through the calories you think you are
Frankly, unless you’re training in a lab with a top of the range heart monitor then your fitbit/Garmin/iPhone is offering you a WILD guess, so you don’t get to take that off your daily total. Check out our “experiement” to track calorie expenditure from different sources, as you might imagine there’s a wild difference between them.
So, yeah, forget about calories from exercise unless you’re training for an event and need to balance your carb intake.
MISTAKE #4 – GUESSTIMATION
Speaking of taking wild guesses, if you’re tracking a meal you didn’t prepare and you haven’t had access to either the full list of ingredients or the nutritional information, then how can you possibly give MFP an accurate figure for your calorie intake? When a shepherd’s pie portion varies from 276 calories to 868 you can see how easy it can be to fudge the issue – especially when it comes to fudge.
You may have convinced yourself that it’s fine to guesstimate, either because you have an almost preternatural awareness of the calorie value of any food, since that time you got bitten by a radioactive nutritionist; or because you’re pretty sure you’ve massively overstated the number of calories you ate, therefore any extra calories you saved are a bonus. In the case of the latter, let’s say for argument’s sake that by some miracle you have correctly overstated your calorie intake and achieved an even greater calorie deficit than that to which you set out – well you’ve still failed to hit your calorie goal for the day, which could mean you haven’t eaten enough, which can damage your chances of sustaining your ongoing weight loss – not because of starvation mode, which you hopefully are aware is nonsense, but because you’ll feel hungry and have less energy and demotivate yourself.
The best way to avoid this is to plan all of your meals in advance, obtain the nutritional information all restaurants must provide and beseech your lovely, supportive and understanding spouses and dinner party hosts to make a note of their recipes for you.
MISTAKE #5 – BELIEVING THE HYPE
Like a good and loyal pal, MFP will try to encourage your weight loss by reassuring you that you will definitely fit into your old speedos by the time the first ray of sunshine heralds the start of summer. For so many reasons, you should take this kind of encouragement with a pinch of salt. When MFP tells you that if you continue to hit your calorie goal you should be 4 lbs lighter in 4 weeks’ time, failing to achieve that can be massively disheartening. Regularly setting yourself achievable targets for weight loss can be a great boost, but a target should never be confused with a deadline and a prediction should never be confused with a sure thing. Best not to invest too heavily in the magic numbers it generates.