We’re only a couple of months away from Christmas which is traditionally a time for over indulgence followed by a panicked decision to start afresh in the New Year. Because of this I thought I’d preemptively review a few health based gadgets and services to help you prepare for your get fit New Year’s resolutions.
First up is the Website and App “MyFitnessPal“, a free-to-use service that helps you keep track of your food intake, exercise, weight goals and much more.
To start with, we’ll take a look at the MyFitnessPal website. After you’ve created your free account (using your email address or Facebook account) you’ll be prompted to set up some goals and enter your basic information. Goals can be quite simple like “I’d like to lose 5Kg” or “I’d like to maintain my current weight” or bit more involved. Once this is completed, you’ll be presented with your dashboard:
This overview shows you how many calories you have to “spend” for the day (based on the goals and information you added when you set the account up), cumulative weight loss, a list of recent forum topics and a News Feed which lists previous food/exercise entries. In my case you can see that I’ve not added anything since April. That’s because I’m both a) very naughty and b) was having issues with my phone so I had to uninstall loads of apps – honest!.
Before you start to add food to your account, I recommend customising a few things that will help you later on
Customise Meals and Items Tracked
MyFitnessPal allows you to add food and drink to categories that you can specify if you don’t wish to use the default set-up. I personally adjusted mine to separate out drinks and alcohol so I could track how my calories were being split between high-in-sugar soft drinks and beer (one of the perils of working behind a bar part-time!)
To set up your categories, go to Food > Settings
Here you can also change the type of data you are tracking such as carbs, certain vitamins, different fat types etc, whether your account details are public (useful if you’re a member of a group) and the default view to present when you get to the food screen.
Setting up basic meals
There is a section under Food called “My Meals” which allows you to add food to your food diary and then pull them altogether to make a single meal. I haven’t used this function as I’ve found it easier to create meals under the “Recipes” section as you can add multiple ingredients (and exact quantities) in one go and simply add the whole recipe later.
I have certain meals that I eat on regular occasions such as meatballs & pasta, Sunday Roasts and a nice warming beef stew in the winter. To save me having to add the ingredients to these each time I have created a “Recipe” that contains all the ingredients for a dish and then saves them together. I could have added these as a “Meal” but as the quantities are measured and don’t change I felt it was better saved as a recipe.
First you need to create a name for your recipe – try to be descriptive so you know what it is later, then you need to add all the ingredients.
To add a food item to your recipe (or food diary), you can search through thousands of pre-entered items that include all major foodstuffs from the Supermarkets in the UK. As this data is crowd-sourced I’m sure it contains information on foods from pretty much everywhere.
Simply enter the same of the food, click search, find the matching item from the list, enter the quantity (depending on the type of food this could be number, grams, ml etc) and hit add.
Keep adding all of the items in your recipe until it’s complete. You can then edit or save your final recipe for use later. You can also select to make the recipe public so other people can find it. Below shows the final recipe for my meatballs using Lloyd Grossman Tomato and Basil Sauce:
Once you have added all of your regularly used recipes and items, they’ll then be available to add to your food diary.
You can add items to your diary as you go, or all at once at the end of the day. As you add items, it’ll update the amount of calories you have used/remaining, and the items you set to track in your settings.
On this page you can also keep a separate track of your daily water intake:
After you have finished adding all of your entries for the day, you can close the entry off by clicking on the “Complete this entry button”.
You can link MyFitnessPal with several of the bigger-name tracking applications such as Fitbit, Runkeeper, Jawbone etc. and have your fitness data imported into your MyFitnessPal account. Or, if like me your device isn’t one of those supported, you can manually add exercise details in a similar manner to the way you add food entries.
You can search for exercise types under cardiovascular or strength types, select the amount/duration (depending on fitness type) and level (i.e easy stroll, brisk walk etc).
You can also track your weight, neck size, waist measurements etc. as well so you can see how closely you are keeping to your goals:
And then run various reports (weight, neck, calories etc.) to see how you’re doing
MyFitnessPal Mobile App
The mobile app offers the same functionality as the desktop app, allowing you to add, edit and delete food or exercise entries. I’d recommend setting up the majority of your food items on a desktop first though as I found it a lot more convenient.
Images from left to right: Food List, Add Number of Servings, Food Info, MyFitnessPal Android Widget
One thing that is really handy in the Android widget is the ability to click the barcode icon and then scan the barcode of the food item you wish to add. The app quickly found the item I wished to add (in this case Tesco’s cranberry juice) and I simply had to drop in the quantity.
This website/app is simple enough to use once you have gone through the initial set-up and it supports a wide range of fitness devices to help with tracking your fitness goals. It’s free to use and although the Android app I tested is Ad supported they don’t affect the functionality or are intrusive in any way.
Although I haven’t used it, there is a very active community of groups and a forum that can help with questions, recipes and motivation so that’s well worth a look if you’re trying to find like-mined individuals in your area.
If you’re looking for a free, basic calorie and fitness counter for desktop, iPhone or Android then I don’t think you could go far wrong with MyFitnessPal.
Over to you
What websites/Apps do you use to track calories and exercise? Are there any I should take a look at – let me know in the comments.
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