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Posts tagged ‘myfitnesspal.com’

The trouble with Tracking, and the Importance of Real Food

One of my clients is trying to lose weight, tells me she is doing all the right things, yet isn’t getting results. Now I’m going to say something that flies in the face of what we’d like to hear. Diets do work, and the math doesn’t lie.


Knowing how many calories you are eating is not easy. Knowing nutritional content is even harder. Staying on top of all this and not getting lazy or discouraged is even harder. I use tracking software, Myfitnesspal, and I play around with Fooducate. Even with that kind of help, it is very hard to get accurate answers. Either you have to spend a lot of time putting in every recipe, or you cheat and use someone else’s, which may or may not be close, and then you have to either measure the amounts you ate or guesstimate. User added information is not always reliable, and it doesn’t show the ingredients or amounts of mixed dishes like tuna salad. My fitness pal has a REALLY cool feature now where you can put the URL of the recipe you used and it puts it all in. However, that only works if you are using an online recipe. My recipes usually consist of

  1. What is in the house this minute.
  2. What might taste good together, or at least not be gross.
  3. Trying to follow a recipe, but seeing changes that might be good.

Still, that feature will make things a lot easier, because I can find a recipe that’s really close to what I made and get a more accurate log.

Outside of trying to help my client, it was really bugging me that my mineral content on Myfitnesspal was really low. While I do know that some of the user entries don’t include anything beyond calories, or possibly macronutrients, I didn’t think it was that far off.  I questioned the Nutrition Diva, and she suggested that it was inaccurate user data. I looked back and saw many things had no mineral content, and I know the items I had listed had some, so I’m assuming she’s right.  This reinforces the knowledge that unless you have access to a really sound database, and are diligent about measuring and logging, your information will always be vague.

Which brings me to my next point. We all have to be as dedicated as possible to eating whole, nutrient dense, minimally processed foods. This means fruits and veggies, dairy, lean meats and fish, legumes, nuts and seeds and whole grains. Don’t comment, I do realize that grains are seeds. A cracker is usually not a whole grain. A whole grain is one that resembles the seed as it grew. If we eat like that, with most of our plate being veggies, and everything else in smaller amounts, keep the bread to 1-2 servings a day, treat full fat items as condiments, and keep added sugar out as much as possible, we can cover what our tracking is missing.

To illustrate, I have the info for a Ritz Cracker. What does it have, besides calories and fat?

NUTRITION FACTS for a Ritz Cracker

Serving size 5 crackers (16g)
Calories 80 Kcal
Calories from Fat 40 Kcal
Total Fat 4.5 g
Saturated Fat 1 g
Trans Fat 0 g
Cholesterol 0 mg
Sodium 105 mg
Total Carbohydrate 10 g
Dietary Fiber 0 g
Sugars 1 g
Protein 0.25 g
Vitamin A 0 IU
Vitamin C 0 mg
Calcium 20 mg
Iron 0.36 mg

Even my beloved Triscuits, yes, some fiber and protein, paired with more calories, although if you notice, a serving of Triscuits is almost twice as much food, for only 1/3 more calories.

NUTRITION FACTS for a Triscuit

Serving size 6 crackers (28g)
Calories 120 Kcal
Calories from Fat 35 Kcal
Total Fat 4 g
Saturated Fat 0.5 g
Trans Fat 0 g
Cholesterol 0 mg
Sodium 180 mg
Total Carbohydrate 20 g
Dietary Fiber 3 g
Sugars 0 g
Protein 3 g
Vitamin A 0 IU
Vitamin C 0 mg
Calcium 0 mg
Iron 1.44 mg

Now lets see a carrot:


Serving size 1 carrot, 100g
Calories 41 Kcal
Total Fat 0.3 g
Saturated Fat 0 g
Cholesterol 0 mg
Sodium 88 mg
Total Carbohydrate 12 g
Dietary Fiber 4 g
Sugars 6 g
Protein 1 g
Vitamin A 21384 IU
Vitamin C 8 mg
Calcium 42 mg
Iron 0 mg

Grains give us energy (calories) and they taste good, but the above illustrates why they should only take up a quarter of your meal. For half the calories of the Ritz, in a carrot you get twice the calcium, 4 times the amount of fiber, pretty much your whole days worth of vitamin a, less salt and half the carbs. Pair the carrots with homemade humus and you’ll have a snack that will last all afternoon. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying don’t ever eat a Triscuit, just realize when you are hungry and trying to lose weight, vegetables and fruit are your best friends. You do need the calories from grains, and as long as they are whole grains, you are getting good stuff from them. Ritz are off my list, first, they have transfats- if it says hydrogenated oil on the label, it has transfats- there is a label loophole that lets them say 0 grams. Second, they are much more processed than Triscuits, no fiber or protein to speak of, plus more sugar.  Still Wasa rye crisps are far better than either of the other cracker choices, but I have to admit, for Americans it’s a bit of a stretch. No fat. How do they make them stick together?

Brilliant facts

Whole grain rye flour, Salt

Nutrition facts

Serving size: 2 Slice (18g)
Servings per container: about 15

Nutritional information
Per Serving (%Daily Value)
Calories  60
Total Fat 0g (0%)
Saturated Fat 0g (0%)
Trans fat 0g
Cholesterol 0mg (0%)
Sodium 70mg (3%)
Total Carbohydrate 14g (5%)
Dietary Fiber 3g (12%)
Sugars 0g
Protein 2g
Vitamin A 0%
Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 0%
Iron 2%

The end

If any of you had absolutely no interest in my weight loss experiment, your in luck. I hit my target so I’m done. I am going to use the “maintain my weight” feature of myfitnesspal.com, to see how well that works, and maintain this weight for a week or two before letting get back up.

One of my interests was to see if it would change my measurements, and I was surprised it did. I lost half an inch on my waist and an inch off my hips. For only five pounds that surprised me.

The one down side to this was that it was harder to workout as I am used to at the gym. I can tell I have been in a deficit. Also, they talk about the ketone bodies being broken down when you are using fat as fuel, and that causes an odor to your breath that I dislike. No amount of brushing your teeth will get rid of it, as it is a byproduct of metabolism. Overall losing weight was not easy, but it wasn’t mount Everest either.  There were days I was hungry all day, and others where I didn’t even want to eat the next meal. I didn’t totally deprive myself. I had pizza, carrot cake and chocolate, all in moderation and other than my birthday, I still met the target for the the day.

Getting back to the software. Now that I have used it for a few weeks, I do like it. Like a video game, it is rather addictive to play with the numbers. It is easy to use, more an more so over time. I only used it as a guideline, as it is not perfect in it’s calculations, but I wasn’t perfect in my measurements either. It was really fun to see the nutrition breakdown too. Remember the fiber commercial that tells you it’s almost impossible to get enough? Nope, I hit it almost every day. I got more protein than I “needed”, but that is because the weight lifting community and nutritionists disagree on how much you “need”. I never did add my calcium supplement, and I should’ve since it said I wasn’t hitting that one. I did put my multivitamin in, and that put me over in most of the nutrients. Without it, most are only 30-60 %. That makes me disagree with those who say you don’t need a multi vitamin. If you are a big person, eating clean, no, you probably don’t. But everyone else probably does.

Summation? If you are having trouble losing weight, get serious with some kind of tracking. Losing weight is not too hard, there is some hardship, but not extreme. Accept that it isn’t a picnic and get on with it. Make it a lifestyle and it gets even easier. Eat your veggies and skip the bread. Treat yourself once in awhile, but then cut a bit other places.

First follow up

After nearly a week of trying to restrict my calories, I can post an update.

1) Losing weight is hard. It is hard to not eat when you want to, and to stop when you are still hungry. The first couple of days I was light headed and dizzy a few times. Even the meals that are the same as always don’t fill me up any more, my body knows it is in deprivation mode.

2) Tracking is not easy either. Making sure you write everything down, takes a bit of persistence.  Since I am using software, finding the appropriate food does as well.  I have to admit, more than once I’ve just said “close enough”.  The nice thing is, since I eat foods multiple times, once it’s in there, I can just add it to another day. Also, I have to get more serious about measuring. Often foods are listed as grams. I would recommend a gram measuring scale to anyone serious about weight control.

3) Persistence pays off. Everything mentioned above is getting easier. For one thing, I recommended the software to my daughter who is trying to gain weight, since she is pregnant. She showed me there is a bar code scan feature that I didn’t even know about. That’ll speed things up.  For another, going without as much food as I’d like is not as stressful as it was the first few days.

The software itself, myfitnesspal.com, was one of my targets of investigation. So far I am neutral about it. I think software in general is very helpful, I like the scan bar feature and it is not too difficult to use. On the down side, the search feature is not very efficient. If I type in “onion” I would expect some form of plain onion to be at the top of the list. This is not the case. Searching by relevance, rather than name is better. Often, you can’t get an easy answer, no matter how specific you are. Some of this is to be expected. If there are 400 brands of chicken soup, It isn’t easy to get homemade to come up to the top. There is a place to enter your own  recipes, which is the right way to do it. That is the other thing, if you do most of your own cooking, which is the best way to eat healthy, you do need to enter your recipes for any degree of accuracy.

It  bugs me how they figure out calories. They don’t assign them for strength training, citing that it is too variable, yet they assume 530 calories an hour for karate, which I find extravagant. They do allow for “calisthenics” which is what I use to cover my strength training. When I used my pedometer software to go for a walk, and the calories assumed by both peices of software were pretty close. The proof will be in the numbers on the scale, which I can’t start looking at yet.

I also am not sure about their measurements of the other nutrients. According to it, I am not making my USRDA of vitamins. While I do take a multi vitamin, it seems I ought to at least make “A” on the day I eat squash. I just found out last night you can use it to add your vitamins and other supplements. Now I’m over on all my nutrients.

The other thing I like about the software is you can use it to gain weight or maintain as well. Also, it yells at you if you go under your calorie goal, making it a responsible partner.

I don’t have anything earth shattering to say about losing weight. Let’s face it, it is probably one of the most talked about subjects on earth, I do think my experience will help me when others ask for advice. I know people might get upset hearing this, but it’s also kind of fun.

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