July 17, 2011


Given my multiple recipe postings last week, I'm taking a break from Recipe Sundays to share some real content. I'm thinking about developing a recipe-based challenge, of sorts, so if you might possibly be interested, keep your eyes peeled for more info later this week!

Yesterday, I signed up for an account at MyFitnessPal. It's a free website that tracks your weight loss progress as you enter your daily food/water intake, exercise, and a weekly weigh in. My main goal with using the program is to perfect my food tracking. As I've mentioned before, my long-term goal weight of 135 might be too low given my activity level - I will likely transition to maintenance at the higher end of my healthy BMI level, around 150-155. Between now and that point, I want to work on getting a better understanding of nutrition.

In the beginning, I didn't track my calories. I generally knew how much I was eating, aiming for 1200 calories, but I wasn't sitting down and writing every bite. I didn't see that as a sustainable life for me - filling notebook after notebook for the rest of my life with quickly scribbled "light yogurt, blueberry, 100 calories." It's the same reason why I didn't sign up for Weight Watchers - I wanted to understand food and nutrition based on how it made my body feel, not based on a Points system. (Which is not to knock Weight Watchers in any way - it works amazingly well for so many people, it just isn't right for me.) I read "Eating Mindfully" by Susan Albers and tried to eat intuitively, and for a while, it worked very well.

Fast forward to a year later. The game has changed, so to speak. At 345 pounds, the difference between 1200 and 1400 calories wasn't a big deal, because not only were 200 calories easier to burn, but I had a lot more flex room. My BMR was 2354 - meaning that even if I didn't exercise at all, I'd be able to lose a little over 3 pounds per week if I stuck to 1200 calories. And I was working out like a fiend. So, an extra 200 calories could get a little lost in the shuffle when you're talking the kind of deficits I had. Weekly 4-6 pound losses make sense now.

But at 197, my BMR is much lower: 1710. With a sedentary lifestyle and strictly 1200 calories a day, I can expect to lose less than 2 pounds a week. Activities that used to burn 140 calories on Wii Fit now burn only 75, and an hour on the elliptical only burns two-thirds of the calories it used to - because I'm doing them without the extra 100+ pounds on me. Awesome, yes - but the lack of wiggle room is still another change, another thing to adapt to.

Yesterday, I broke out my food scale (a very cheap non-digital one) to measure portions but ate normally, then plugged all the foods/quantities into the MyFitnessPal tracker. Something I remarked right away about the site was how off my calorie estimations were on foods. For example, this is a lunch I've previously noted in my tracking notebook as a 250 calorie lunch:

Understandably, there are variables and small differences from one website to the next - like 105 vs. 110 calories for a banana. But, for example, the small wheat and white sandwich rolls that I assumed were around 100 and 125 calories respectively are actually 170 and 200. Underestimations like that can add up very quickly.

Part of me worries that this is going to make me fixate on numbers - I know myself and my tendency to get caught up on them. At the same time, though, I'm feeling pretty confident after my first day. I don't want to weigh my food for the rest of my life - but I know that after a while, I'll be able to "eye" what a good portion size is. And I'm very proud that my first thought wasn't to panic over how many calories are in the roll, but just to recognize that they're a "sometimes" food and for a daily sandwich, I really need to try and be strong so I can keep things like 100-calorie sandwich thins and 80-calorie tortillas in the house so I can maximize my calories as much as possible.

What about you? Do you track your food/exercise? What do you use - programs like MyFitnessPal and Weight Watchers, pen and paper? Have you had any big surprises with tracking - things having way more/fewer calories than you assumed?


Bonnie said...

I have been using "myfitnesspal" since February and I believe that is the one thing that I have been consistent with. It has definitely helped me to shed 43lbs thus far.
I don't really like tracking, but it helps to keep me accountable. It's very convenient because I have the app on my iPhone as well so it is with me at all times, with no excuses....

Unknown said...

I've been using MFP for a year or so now and it has really helped me. Whilst my will power has held me back, it was MFP that has helped me to understand calories, how they work, how they effect me, what I need to eat etc.

Honestly, had I been more strict with myself this thing would have helped me. I do get fixated by the numbers, yes, but it doesn't take over my life.

If you want to add me, please do so, I'm Lithuria


Karen said...

Earlier this spring I decided to try online tracking and took suggestions for readers. I tried the same one as you and several others, until I settled on one I liked the most, or disliked the least:) I was not losing and decided maybe the time had come to see what I was really eating. I got tired of it fast, and it wasn't helping, so I stopped. Fast forward several month. I won a fitness tracker and decided to use their food tracking as well so I could really compare calories in vs. out. Very interesting!

Denise said...

I track my food in a notebook that I have with me most of the time. Some days I am really good about tracking and other days I suck! I only track calories because when I try to track other numbers (fiber, carbs, etc) I get too stressed. I think if I had a smart phone I could use a program. For exercise I am tracking minutes because of working toward the 100 hour challenge at my Y and for my work challenge. I have not had any big surprises. I am trying to make smarter choices and finding good substitutes for some of my comfort foods.

Jillian said...

This is a pretty relevant post for me right now. I've been tracking everything using fitday.com for the last two months. I really like it, and I like the fact that it allows me to track my measurements and set goals for myself. It tells me how much I need to lose per week to reach that goal by my goal date, and it has a handy graph that shows my progress. However, it doesn't allow me to track my water intake OR my sugar intake, both of which I feel like I should keep a better eye on (well, mainly sugar, I'm pretty good with my water). Maybe I'll check out the one you're using, because I'm thinking of changing to a different tracker if I can find one that holds me accountable in all the same ways as fitday, but also has a sugar tracker.

I haven't had too many surprises with tracking, except for a few times when I've gone out to eat unexpectedly. Usually I plan before I go, but if I have to make spur of the moment decisions, sometimes things look like they'll be just fine, and then I get home and look them up online--holy crap.

Kelly said...

I've been tracking for a while since I use the Bodybugg. I used MyFitnessPal before I got the Bugg though. I track because it keeps me accountable to what I've eaten. I also weigh stuff to get a better idea of how much I'm consuming--I saw something one time and I wish I could find the link (if I do I'll put it on my blog) that shows how much more accurate weighing things is than measuring them.

Weight Wars said...

I've been using MFP for quite a while, I do like it when I'm on track it's quite rewarding.

It's helped me understand portion sizes a lot and how much I can eat of particular things.

kellybmomof3 said...

I've been using Lose It! for a month now, just to see how much I was eating. I was surprised at the amount I had been eating, once I started tracking. I've lost 6 pounds since I started tracking. I also like that Lose It! also has an app for my iPHone, so I can track anywhere I am.

Big Clyde said...

I use sparkpeople.com and find that it works well for me, but I haven' tried the others. I appreciated your calculations and did some figuring on my own. It looks like I could lose 4 pounds per week with 1,800 daily calories and exercise 5 times per week. I wonder, however, if eating so few calories with pretty rigorous exercise is holding me back.

Any thoughts?

marisol said...

I use the WW app and have been successful in losing weight with it when I use it.

Remember that this is a tool not the key to losing weight. Don't let yourself get obsessed with it to the point that you worry more about tracking than enjoying life.

Denise said...

Coincidentally, I signed up for my fitness pal yesterday as well. I love it because of the range of foods in its database as well as there being an app and a website. It's more functional than Lose It!, in my opinion.

I had always overestimated my calories--I'm bad at estimation to begin with, and with food it was horrible--and I realized that I was doing more harm than good by not eating enough calories.

Sarah said...

I use MFP too. Been using it for a few months now, use to track it in a notebook. I love MFP better, so easy to use. I find that tracking really helps me stay accountable and realize what I put in my body. I think in general I am shocked what certain foods have for a nutritional value, I am much more aware of food labels now then I have ever been in my life.

Jennie Palluzzi said...

I use daily burn and I like it, but I feel it's similar to the one you use! Good for you lady!!