Weight loss with smartphone apps update #3

 

Some further insight into my experience of using the smartphone app MyFitnessPal for weight loss.

My little experiment has been going around 6 weeks now, and here are some more observations and thoughts about how to make a success of it.
There are so many rip-off schemes and scams out there that promise quick and painless ways to lose weight. I wouldn’t personally believe any of them. The golden rule is that if it seems too good to be true, then it probably is. If you want real results, you have to be prepared to put some effort in.

If you missed the first two posts in this little weight loss experiment, you can check them out here:

MyFitnessPal
Using the MyFitnessPal app to lose weight
There’s an old saying in performance management circles “what gets measured, gets done”. Let’s see if using an app to lose weight actually works.

 

lose weight
The MyFitnessPal experiment to lose weight. Is it working?
Nearly two weeks ago I posted that I was beginning a little weight loss experiment using the MyFitnessPal app. Let’s see how it’s working out.

 

It helps to take a long view, and look at your data week to week.
Of course, every day contributes to your overall progress (or lack of), but the point here is to consider the general direction of travel.

Caving in to cravings.

In practice, what this means is that sometimes you’re going to slip up and cave in to cravings and “fail” the target for the day. That’s just life.
Rather than being completely defeatist and using this as an opportunity to reach for the donuts to drown your sorrows, you should see it as a little blip. Looking at the weekly view will hopefully help.

Here’s a personal example. I was working late one night and eventually started the drive home at about 8pm. I was starving, by which I mean I had mild hunger pangs (I’m sure 99.9% of people who’ve ever said they were starving have no idea whatsoever what it really feels like to literally be starving).

Anyhoo, being a mere human, I’m sometimes open to marketing suggestions and weak moments, and as I drove down the motorway I could see that familiar little yellow M glowing in the distance.

McBlowout. I know, I’m not proud.

Pulling into the drive-in felt like I was letting myself down, not only in terms of the calorie overdose but the whole nutritional quality thing too.

The chart from the app clearly shows this guilt laden blip.
image

I notice too, a small blip on the Friday and cannot recall what caused it. Perhaps it was an end of the week treat. But the take home point is that the weekly average is under the threshold.

These blips were merely small islands in an ocean of calorific compliance.

When viewed over the whole week, I could see that the average was still well under the goal so despite my McBlowout, I was still doing well and on track.

Hard evidence – actual weight loss.

It’s all very well thinking you’re doing well because a chart shows you’re under the threshold for weekly calorie intake.

But so what? Have you actually lost any weight?

Without this firm evidence of a proper, real world outcome, what’s the point?

As it happens, the answer is yes.
image

Weight loss – natural ups and downs

Our mass fluctuates all the time. We’re constantly gaining or losing weight based simply on the simple fact that we all eat and drink regularly, and excrete waste (and sweat). Then there are added little complications like the way your muscles will retain water after a long ride, to aid recovery, so you might appear heavier.

What all this means is that we have to take the long view, and we should expect to see little ups and (hopefully bigger) downs.

Other observations about how to use MyFitnessPal effectively

A big challenge is the tedious monotony of recording absolutely everything.
Sure, you can scan barcodes but the irony here is that if you’re eating healthily, you’ll be eating fresh produce that doesn’t have a simple bar code. It’s easy to get really anal and start thinking about weighing all your ingredients, but who’s really got time? So, there’s always an element of approximation.

1. It therefore pays to be a little bit mean and if you’re not sure how many calories it contains, overestimate rather than underestimate.

2. Bike days became “don’t bother to record food days”. My commute is almost 20 miles each way, so within reason, I don’t need to be so careful about what I eat on days when I bike to work.

3. As time goes on and you succeed in cutting out sugary snacks, you will not crave that kind of food so much. You will have ironed out the spikes in your blood sugar levels and won’t be subjecting yourself to those awful lows which cause you to give in and reach for a chocolate bar.

What does this mean? As you lose weight, it becomes easier to maintain your daily allowance. That’s great news, right?

That’s one powerful positive feedback loop!

Final update before publishing this post: I haven’t been using the app very much at all over the past two weeks but have continued to move towards my goal. My last weight measurement was 69.5kg, but the lowest so far has been 69.1kg..

For me, getting under 70kg is when I know it’s going to feel great on the bike and those hills feel much easier (or you can just go up them faster!).

Summary

Using MyFitnessPal to count calories in order to lose weight actually works – no doubt about it. And why wouldn’t it? It’s just physics. Ok, mixed with biology…   ah, science :-)

Here’s my final screenshot showing my history of weight loss data.

myfitnesspal weight loss progress

 

So, there you have it. You can lose weight just by tracking your calorie intake using a simple (and free) mobile phone app.

I did, and you can too.

But is losing weight really that simple?

You still need motivation, will power and all those things. In short, you need to WANT to lose weight. It’s all very well knowing that an app can help, but you’ve still got to have the strength of mind to actually make it happen and resist the chocolate cake.

Please drop a comment below – what sort of things do you struggle with, in terms of sticking to something like this, and what helps you keep it going?

Comments

  1. Tim says

    I swear by MFP. I lost 6st using to to measure my food intake and weight. I still use it everyday. It’s not the answer by itself but as a tool to help it is without equal.

  2. Mo says

    I use the Training Peaks website for my cycling and sports recording. Mainly as my coach likes it for looking at data. The basic site is free. It also has a calorie tracking function that my coach told me not to bother with as it was difficult to track everything (as you say in your review it’s hard to know what a handful.of blueberries weighs, for example). There is a database that users populate with some data in that you can use. I believe that there is also an iphone app (and maybe android too) for TP, but as I’ve previously had a Blackberry and now a Windows Phone there isn’t an app I use. I imagine that if I had the phone app I’d track calorie intake better than doing it retrospectively which is harder in terms of wilpower than just putting down the fork! The beauty is that as I record my activities (mainly cycling, but occasionally hikes and runs) you have an idea of the other side of the calorie balance equation.

    Well am soon to.receive a new phone for work an it may be iphone or Android so if I get it I will try the app and see. It’s encouraging to see these results.

    You can back load data to TP so maybe you could test it by uploading all your calorific info plus rides?

  3. Gareth says

    Good article. Yes – I found MFP was a great motivator – like a good angel on my shoulder telling me what I really should be doing! I found it very encouraging that exercise can be recorded in programs such as Wahoo Fitness and that it can upload directly from that app to MFP. This then translates to calories burned (possibly a bit optimistic) and adds to the total amount of calories you are allowed that day. I use MFP whenever I want to lose weight – but do find it slightly tedious to record everything. I can’t believe it’s free!!

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