Each quarter, our wellness team tries and reviews a popular wellness trend. This quarter, we're trying weight management apps, and Katherine tested out MyFitnessPal.
MyFitnessPal is a free food-tracking app that gives you “the tools you need to successfully take weight off – and keep it off.” The app focuses on “making sure you can log your meals as quickly and as easily as possible”.
How It Works
After downloading the app, users will complete their profile and health goals. Then, you log daily meals, exercise, and water intake. There is an option to log weight, but there are no rules about frequency. Each day, the app gives you a projection of your weight based on your daily calorie consumption (ex: If you ate like this every day, you’d weigh ___ in 5 weeks.) After completing daily food logs, the app will ‘post’ to your ‘wall’ about successfully completing a log; these posts are similar to Facebook in that they are interactive. Being able to add friends from an existing Facebook account keeps users accountable and increases engagement on the platform.
Fitness Tracking – ★★★
Fitness tracking in MyFitnessPal proved to be somewhat tedious in my opinion. For folks who are logging a single exercise (i.e. cycling), this is a relatively easy and straightforward feature. However, I got bogged down in the minutiae of logging each set of squats with different weights (i.e. 10×45, 10×85, 10×90, 10×95, etc.). This is definitely not something you want to be logging in the middle of a workout as it can be time-consuming.
As part of the fitness tracking, this app encourages users to weigh themselves regularly. The results of each weigh-in are logged on a line graph so users can see their progress. I really liked seeing my progress displayed this way.
Food Tracking – ★★★★
With a barcode scanner, pre-loaded options, and pie charts that break down your calorie consumption by meal, MyFitnessPal is a strong food tracking app. I found myself utilizing this feature every day. Because I was eating the same foods every day (i.e. coffee creamer), MyFitnessPal recognized the frequency, and offered this food as a pre-loaded option close to the top of my searches; I found that to be very convenient and save me time. Other folks who have already tracked a certain meal or food product can load these into the app for others to utilize; this also saved me time! Additionally, the scrolls to alter serving size and servings consumed make personalizing your meals quick and easy.
Each day, you finalize your meal log and MyFitnessPal gives you a projection, “If you ate like this every day, in two weeks, you’d weight…” I wasn’t looking to alter my weight, but this is a cool feature of the app! One day, I didn’t consume enough calories (i.e. fewer than 1600) and MyFitnessPal wouldn’t let me finalize the log as this fosters disordered eating. Instead, it would remind the user that eating below a certain calories amount isn’t safe and instead offer USDA calorie recommendations. I found this to be very responsible, though somewhat frustrating on days when I couldn’t remember what I ate.
The reason this section gets 4 out of 5 stars is due to the inconsistent nature of the pre-loaded foods. For example, an apple could be listed as 90 calories or 120 calories. This made it difficult to choose and lead to some confusion.
Finally, I liked that the app encouraged users to log daily water intake. Just noticing that water was a tracking component made me more cued in to my daily consumption levels and encouraged me to drink more throughout the day.
This app doesn’t let you skip meals! With notifications on, I was reminded to track breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day. This was especially helpful for me because I am always on the go and don’t necessarily eat lunch at the same time each day. If you prefer not to receive notifications, you can always turn them off in the app’s settings. After tracking for a week straight, the app notified me with a small achievement: “Katherine tracked for 7 days in a row!” The only downside of the notifications was the occasional notification to track a meal after I had already done so. I should note that there are no notifications for weighing in, which I liked, as daily weigh-ins can lead to eating disorders and/or body dysmorphia.
This app is laid out very similar to Facebook: there is a ‘feed’ of all updates (personal and friends’), you can like and comment on others’ posts, add friends, and your profile includes much of the same information, including a profile picture. In addition to this familiar and engaging format, MyFitnessPal also has a Community tab, which is basically discussion boards. You can search for a wellness/fitness topic you’d like to learn more on or discuss with others, jump onto a discussion board, and share to your heart’s content. This is also another great way to add friends to your account and check in with each other’s progress! I like how this app fosters a community approach to fitness.
MyFitnessPal also offers a Blog section full of articles on everything from success stories to spaghetti squash chicken pad thai recipes. I ended up spending a lot of time in this section of the app because of the engaging stories and new recipes (some of these are ones I’d never heard of before)! Thankfully, any of the recipes from the Blog section can be easily added to your daily food log.
Ease of Use ★★★★
The app is quite straightforward! One can intuitively navigate to whatever tracking component is needed. Additionally, the online platform makes inputting data on your desktop simple. It’s nice that the app syncs often to pick up any data you load online.
I really enjoyed the option to paste URLs of new recipes I found into the recipe search bar. MyFitnessPal then logs the recipe into the platform and allows you to note how many servings you consumed; then the app loads that to your food diary. This feature saved me time and encouraged me to branch out and try new recipes!
MyFitnessPal is available to download for free in the app store and google play store. With the free option, the user still gets a lot of great features like fitness and food tracking, social networking, and frequent engagements via notification. With the paid version ($9.99/mo.), users get to view their detailed nutrition information. For example, if I ate an avocado, the nutrition specifics would be available to me for that food; with the unpaid version, users can see the day’s aggregate nutrition data.
In a nutshell: MyFitnessPal allows users to track fitness, food, water, weight, and accountability and is great for folks who are focused on the physical dimension of health and want to stay committed to tracking their data.