12 Quick Tips for Success With Myfitnesspal

Really, you don’t know about Myfitnesspal? Are you living in a bunker? Pick up your machete, assault rifle, and spare ammo and come out into the sun to get the scoop.

bunker
Nice bunker.

Myfitnesspal is a free app on iOS and Android for tracking calories. I have used it to lose 23 pounds in 4 months. You can read more about my journey here.

Here are some practical tips I have learned using Myfitnesspal for several months. Some of these tips aren’t specific to Myfitnesspal and will work for LifeSum or any other food tracking system.

They should work from a bunker too. At least if you’ve got wifi down there.

1. When in doubt overestimate.

If you aren’t confident in your calorie estimate, pad it with extra calories. That way poor estimation won’t set you back. It’s not rocket science, but most people vastly underestimate the number of calories in their food.

2. Use the Quick Add Calories button

If you graze on handful after handful of chips at a party and don’t know how much you ate, just tap the Quick Add Calories button. Use a number of calories that is higher than you would like by 30–50%.

Even if you’re way off at least you have some constraints for the rest of the day. Also, you want to record your failures to stay within your calorie goals too. Denying their existence by not entering the data is tempting, but you should know How often mistakes happen and how severe they were.

The hassle-saving
The hassle-saving “Quick Add” button.

3. Use nutrition calculators on websites for chain restaurants.

Chain restaurants like Potbelly, Chipotle, and Papa Murphy’s have slick nutrition calculators on their websites that let you customize your order exactly the way you get it. Doing this ahead of time can bring excellent insights. Getting your Papa Murphy’s pizza with thin crust can save 120+ calories per slice, which means you can eat more slices!

In lieu of nutrition calculators many restaurants have PDFs with nutrition info. That’s how I know that the Picasso Roll at Kona Grill runs 390 calories of scorching jalapeño and Sriacha-drizzled delight.

4. Add your own foods with descriptive names, like “Josh’s burrito bowl”.

Most of us tend to prepare the same meals at home and order the same things at restaurants. You can add your own food to Myfitnesspal, prepared exactly as you make it with a nice descriptive name to make data entry easier. I’ve added “Josh’s Burrito Bowl” with the calories and macros for a Chioptle Burrito Bowl with black beans, onions, peppers, and chicken. It’s 345 calories if you were wondering. I can enter that by typing “bur” and Myfitnesspal fills in the rest.

My customized burrito bowl in all its savory glory.
My customized burrito bowl in all its savory glory.

5. For home-cooked meals scan ingredients from packages, enter them manually when needed, and omit insignificant calorie ingredients.

I love using the scanner via my iPhone camera to scan a bag of chicken breasts and have their nutritional information slurped right into Myfitnesspal. If you don’t have access to the package then ingredients can be entered manually, but that’s only needed the first time you use that ingredient.

Items like salsa, lettuce, and grapes are very low calorie items and won’t break the bank. I skip tracking them. Micros and macros are very secondary to me (with the exception of protein). If you care about sodium intake or need more detailed info, you can still add that in Myfitnesspal.

6. Measure cups and ounces of food at the beginning to learn estimation.

I don’t do much cooking. I had no idea what a cup of Kashi Go-Lean Toasted Berry Crumble would look like, so I actually measured out 1 cup the first few times I tracked it. Now I know how full my cereal bowl looks with a cup of cereal in it, so I don’t need to measure. These estimates are close enough.

The same goes for weighing food items like meat.

7. Do a sanity check for similar items in the Myfitnesspal database.

There’s a mom and pop restaurant near my house with a killer chicken salad with goat cheese, walnuts, and blueberry vinaigrette. They have no nutritional info whatsoever. I could try to eyeball the calorie-significant ingredients and add them individually but that’s too much work, especially for a salad.

I did a search for a chicken salad with blueberry vinaigrette and goat cheese in Myfitnesspal and found one sold at PDQ convenience stores. I know my fresh salad is far superior to some day-old, wilted gas station salad-in-a-package, but calorie-wise it’s pretty close. The upside is you get micro and macronutrient estimates as well.

Convenience store salad-in-a-cup
Convenience store salad-in-a-cup

I have done similar things for lasagna and other pasta dishes.

8. Track your food when you consume it.

You will never remember exactly what and how much you ate as well as you do right afterwards. I find that if I’m running low on calories or trying to save some for an indulgent treat I enter my calories before eating so I can better regulate them.

9. Rotate the food diary to landscape mode to see micro and macronutrients.

The Myfitnesspal iPhone app shows your daily food diary items and calorie counts in portrait orientation. What you might not know is that in landscape orientation you see all your macronutrients and micronutrient totals and goals. I go here to check on my protein status.

Food diary in landscape.
Food diary in landscape.

10. Make sure Myfitnesspal knows your weight every day so tip #11’s complete awesomeness works.

Either let Myfitnesspal pull your weight from FitBit, Apple Health, or enter it manually. If it knows your weight it has a great motivational feature (see Tip #11) that worked wonders for keeping me on track.

I personally have a FitBit Aria wifi scale that logs my weight to FitBit every morning. You can then set up Myfitnesspal to suck in your FitBit data quite easily.

11. Use the Complete Entry button each day on your food diary.

Do Tip #10 first. Then tap the Complete Entry button at the bottom of your diary at the end of the day. Myfitnesspal will extrapolate 5 weeks into the future and tell you what you would weigh if every day of eating were like today.

This is super motivating to continue to eat well when you see the significant weight that can be gone in 5 weeks. Also if you’ve had a bad day and you see a message that says “If every day were like today, in 5 weeks you would weigh your weight +10 pounds” it motivates you to make sure every day is not like today.

What you see after completing your diary entry at the end of the day.
What you see after completing your diary entry at the end of the day.

I will have more to say about the psychology of this in a future post.

12. Show negative adjustments if you have an always-on tracker, especially one with a heart rate monitor.

If you have a FitBit, Apple Watch, Jawbone, or similar that ties into Myfitnesspal it will use it’s calorie burn estimates from your activity that day to adjust your ideal calorie intake. This motivates me to get moving because if I want some ice cream tonight I need to maximize my allowed calories for the day. It really shows how small bits of activity can add up to big differences.

These are all things I have found to help me. Happy tracking!

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