Beginner pitfalls when using a calorie counting app and how to avoid them.

When you first start trying to calorie count, an app like My Fitness Pal can be really helpful in making things streamlined and easy. However, for many beginners it can also be somewhat deceptive if not used correctly and lead you to thinking you’re doing the right thing hitting your caloric goals, when in fact you’re probably not.

Below are some of the big pitfalls I’ve seen clients fall into, to help you avoid them:

  1. Providing inaccurate details – MFP will use your height, weight, age, weight loss/gain target and estimated weekly activity level, to determine your estimated daily caloric goal. If any of these details are wrong it can have a substantial impact on the calculation and thus the target calories. This could be what puts you from thinking you’re eating in deficit to actually eating in surplus. Make sure these details are accurate and if you’re not sure (like many in the case of activity levels) consult your trainer for advice on which option you should pick.

  2. Linking your fitbit or phone health/steps app to MFP – Tracking steps is fine, encouraged even, but linking to your app will cause MFP to assume you can eat more food in the day and actually change your daily calorie goal without you knowing. While decently accurate, sometimes it’s not and can give a false impression of what you’re to consume on any given day and so it’s best to turn it off and stick to the target calories.

    Please note however, it’s still a very good idea to track steps throughout the day. For more advanced trainee’s, on high step days it may actually be a good idea to eat more to compensate. For beginners though, this can over complicate things.

  3. Dodgy food options – Because many of the food option are user submitted it can be a bit of a minefield trying to find one that accurately reflects the food you’re consuming. The other day a client entered that they ate 20g of cheese without realizing it also said 50g of fat. It’s worth your time to go slow and double check anything that does not seem to add up. To avoid this, scan labels when able, to ensure you get an accurate option to use. If you can’t, try to consult Google to figure out if the option you’re looking at is accurate. For example, at one stage I was using an option where 200g of chicken breast was giving me 45g of protein, however it turns out that on average 200g of chicken breast should be closer to 60g of protein. So the first option looked accurate, but ultimately was causing me to over eat when I didn’t need to. Always double check when starting out. MFP will remember your preferred food options, so once you find one that’s accurate, keep using it.

  4. Guess work and poor measuring – When starting out DO NOT GUESSTIMATE as often as you can avoid it. Most of your food intake will be food you prepare at home yourself. Make sure you weigh things with a digital scale and get used to using grams and mls over cups and tablespoons. Accuracy is important, especially when losing weight. Consistently guessing that you’ve had ‘roughly .5 cup of potato’s’ when you didn’t, can have a huge impact. When you can, be as accurate as you can.

  5. Using default meal options – When you have spaghetti bolognaise at home, don’t assume that MFP’s ‘homemade spag bol’ option accurately reflects yours, it doesn’t. Don’t use meal options in the app that you yourself have not created as often as you can avoid it.

  6. Not creating meals – Save yourself some time and create meals for regular foods you have. An example from my own experience is a chicken salad wrap I enjoy making. Roughly 10 ingredients or something all up every time. I am not manually going to enter that every time and so I make it a meal that I can type in and hit enter whenever I make it. I prefer creating meals over recipes, as meals will enter each ingredient individually meaning I can change certain quantities of things each time I make them. Sometimes I want more chicken, sometimes less and the recipe option does not give this flexibility.

  7. Missing important details – When starting out, yes, recording your vegetables is important because it all adds up. Also the oil you use for cooking is frequently missed and can be the difference between being within your fat goal for the day and being 10g over. The cream in sauces, the sugar in sauces, garnishes like nuts and sesame seeds etc, everything adds up. This again, is why making meals in the app is important because I too hate boring food and I want stir fry’s and cream sauces etc. So making it a meal so I don’t need to do it manually every time is a big time saver AND makes sure I am being accurate.

Hopefully this helps you either avoid, or address some of the easy issues beginners run in to when calorie counting and using MyFitnessPal. If you can think of one I’ve missed, or have any questions, please let me know.

Have a good one!