MyFitnessPal: to use or not to use
MyFitnessPal is one of the most popular health and wellness apps to date with approximately 200 million users. It functions as an exercise tracker, calorie counter, and community platform. With MyFitnessPal all you have to do is answer a few questions. Then, in seconds you have personalized dietary recommendations of exactly how much to eat in order to reach your goals. This app has been a steady pioneer in the health and wellness tech industry since its creation.
However, just like most apps and technology, MyFitnessPal has its fair share of pros and cons, and it isn’t the right choice for everyone. We believe that understanding what this app offers, how it functions, and what it lacks is essential in determining if it is the right tool for you.
What is MyFitnessPal?
MyFitnessPal is a website and phone application that has three main functions: calorie counting, exercise tracking, and community building.
Having an app that keeps your personal food diary at the tips of your fingers is extremely convenient. Food diaries are an effective way to help people understand their eating habits and patterns. However, food diaries are extremely time-consuming for the patient because they have to manually document every single thing they eat. MyFitnessPal simplifies the concept of food diaries and makes them more efficient by creating a large food and nutrient database that automatically totals all your calories and macronutrients consumed at just the click of a button.
Be careful when analyzing your calorie and macronutrient totals because MyFitnessPal has some errors in its nutrition information. For example, a bagel that has 120 calories may be put into MyFitnessPal as having 200 calories. Therefore, it is important to understand that MyFitnessPal’s nutrition data is not exact and should be used as a flexible guide or reference and not a strict rule book.
Not only does MyFitnessPal track your exercise, but it allows you to build your own workout routines within the app. All you have to do is simply input the exercises that you completed and how long you did them. The app then tells you how many calories you burned and adds your minutes of exercise to your tracker. The routines you create are saved within the app so that you can go back and look at them at any time.
Tracking the calories you burn during exercise can help you refuel your body correctly. However, just like the nutrition data, the exercise data in MyFitnessPal also has errors. The calories you burn depend on a variety of constantly changing factors like your own personal fitness level and even the temperature of the environment around you. It is important to understand that MyFitnessPal’s calories burned estimation is a useful tool, but it is still a rough estimate that fails to take a number of factors into account.
MyFitnessPal has a community platform section where you can ask questions and receive feedback from other users. The community chat includes topics like intermittent fasting, bulking, sleep, and even mindfulness. After asking a question, you can expect to receive answers almost instantly. The community platform can be helpful for people who are motivated by hearing other people’s stories and anecdotes. It can be comforting to know that other people are experiencing the same struggles as you.
However, it is important to remember that the people in the community chat are not healthcare professionals. Their knowledge of nutrition, health, and wellness is limited, and they are not always credible sources. Therefore, we want to remind you that the health advice you receive from the community chat platform should be taken with a grain of salt.
Why is MyFitnessPal so popular?
When it comes to balancing work, family, and friends, it can be difficult to keep track of your food and exercise. That’s where the convenience of MyFitnessPal comes into play. With society’s increased awareness of the importance of health and wellness in recent years, the healthy living made easy industry has boomed to meet our needs.
What Makes MyFitnessPal Unique
MyFitnessPal is unique from other nutrition-related apps because of its large, easily accessible nutrition database. And you don’t have to track in isolation, the app allows its users to add and share new food items with other users in the app. Thanks to its users, the nutrition database is growing continuously. The fact that MyFitnessPal has nutrition information available and easily trackable for a variety of brands, products, whole foods, and restaurant foods is what makes it so popular and appealing to consumers.
The Pitfall of MyFitnessPal’s Uniqueness
On the other hand, the fact that users can submit their own nutrition data to be shared with other users on the platform is what contributes to a majority of the app’s errors. The data submitted by users are not verified or checked before it is accessible to the public. Therefore, you cannot rely on the nutrition information from MyFitnessPal to be entirely accurate. You should use these numbers as more of a ballpark estimate when keeping your food diary.
What are the disadvantages of MyFitnessPal?
While MyFitnessPal can be a useful health-tracking tool, it also has its downfalls. As discussed earlier, MyFitnessPal has some errors in nutrition and exercise data. Therefore, the numbers and values generated by the app should be analyzed loosely as a flexible guide for food and exercise choices. However, another issue with the app that is more serious is that counting calories and tracking exercise can be triggering and harmful for some people.
Inadvertently Encouraging Disordered Eating Habits
Strictly counting calories can lead to disordered eating habits or trigger past unhealthy eating behaviors. Disordered eating habits and unhealthy behaviors can look like yo-yo dieting, strict exercise routines, feeling the need to “burn off” calories consumed, skipping meals, and even just general anxiety around certain foods or food groups. Being so controlling over food can ultimately make you feel out of control. Trying to maintain an impossibly ”perfect” dietary intake — to the exact calorie — can take a toll on mental and physical health. If these are issues and feelings that you have dealt with in the past or in the present, then a rigid calorie-counting app like MyFitnessPal may not be the right fit for you.
Labeling Food as “Good” or “Bad”
A food’s calorie count also doesn’t show the whole picture. A 100-calorie apple is a whole food with fiber and high nutrient density, but still contains the same amount of calories as a 100-calorie highly-processed cookie. Furthermore, rather than viewing a handful of nuts or avocado as a nutritious snack full of healthy fat, you may begin to view these foods as high-calorie items that need to be restricted. Therefore, your perception of what is “healthy” can become skewed by the overwhelming obsession with staying within MyFitnessPal’s allotted daily calories.
Lack of Individualization
Counting calories and tracking exercise can be an effective motivational tool for some people, whereas it may be triggering and detrimental to others. Being self-aware of your struggles and feelings is all part of developing a healthy lifestyle around food. Therefore, you should assess your relationship with food and determine what diet strategy is best for you. You may find MyFitnessPal is a useful tool to use alongside visits with a nutrition professional, or, the app may simply not be a good fit for you at all.
Is it worth paying for MyFitnessPal?
MyFitnessPal offers a premium package with exclusive food and exercise benefits. The package costs $19.99 a month or $79.99 a year. Through the premium package, you get access to the barcode scanner, customizable macronutrient tracking, and more than 85 different workout routines and videos. Let’s take a look at these features that will help you determine if paying for MyFitnessPal premium is the right investment for you.
The Barcode Scanner
This handy tool used to be included in MyFitnessPal’s free membership. However, the company moved the barcode scanner to the premium package in 2020 after it was sold by Under Armor to a venture capital firm in San Francisco. This feature allows you to skip the process of having to manually search for packaged food in the large database. Instead, you can find the exact product and log its nutrition information by scanning the barcode with your phone’s camera.
This barcode scanner makes the food diary aspect of MyFitnessPal faster and more convenient. However, if you are a person who eats more whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and meats, then the barcode scanner will not be of much use to you. Whole foods generally come without a barcode. Also, meals from restaurants do not have barcodes, and therefore do not work with this feature either. The barcode scanner is most useful for those who eat more packaged and processed foods.
Customizable Macronutrient Tracking
MyFitnessPal automatically generates daily recommended macronutrient intakes based on your answers during the onboarding process. With the free version, you are unable to change or customize these recommended daily totals. The premium version, however, allows you to customize your macronutrient goals down to the exact calorie and gram. This feature can be useful for people who have specific recommendations from nutrition experts, like dietitians or physicians, that they would like to incorporate into their MyFitnessPal experience. Additionally, if you enjoy the tracking part of MyFitnessPal, but want less stringent boundaries and calorie limits, then the customizable macronutrient tracking feature may be beneficial for you.
Workout Routines and Videos
The MyFitnessPal premium membership also gives users access to over 85 different workout videos and routines. These videos range in length, difficulty, intensity, and style. Having access to pre-made workout routines and video demonstrations can be a useful tool for people who may be new to the gym. However, you can easily find workout videos and routines for free on YouTube. Some examples of free workout videos to search for include 30-minute pilates, ab routines for beginners, and intense HIIT workouts. Although the workout videos and routines provided in the premium package can be a helpful tool, you can also find this content for free on other platforms.
Is it worth it?
You have to assess your own unique needs and goals to determine if the features in the premium package are worth the cost for you. Before investing in the monthly or yearly packages, you can try MyFitnessPal’s one-month free trial to see if you like it.
What is a good alternative to MyFitnessPal?
If MyFitnessPal doesn’t seem like the right fit for you, try researching these foodhealth alternatives. You might find one that serves your health needs best:
Mindful Eating App
This app focuses on your hunger cues and building a healthier relationship with food. After each meal, the app prompts you to fill out a survey that asks you when you ate, how hungry you were before the meal, how hungry you were after the meal, what you ate, and your thoughts and feelings about the food that you consumed. The Mindful Eating App explores the concept of intuitive eating, which is the practice of mindfully paying attention to your body’s cues regarding food and hunger.
If you want to better understand how different food affects your own unique body without stringent rules, then you should give bitewell a try. This platform gives food items and restaurant meals foodhealth scores personalized to you. These foodhealth scores are generated based on your anthropometric data, allergies, goals, and health status that you enter during the onboarding process. The score is high for foods that will positively impact your body and low for foods that will likely negatively impact your body. Plus, the platform’s cost is covered by your company! Ask your HR team about bitewell to get started.
Shutterbite is a food diary built through pictures. There is no calorie counting or concrete numbers to track in this app. Instead, you document your meals based on pictures of your food and rate your hunger and fullness on a scale. Shutterbite’s goal is to visually address the reason we eat and make the food choices that we do. The data from all your photo entries are saved in the app so that you can go back and look at past meals, recreate good experiences, and make more mindful food choices in the future.