Calorie counting app

MyFitnessPal is calorie-counting app available for Android, iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry, and Windows phones. It has proven EXTREMELY effective for me in large part because it leverages my inner data-nerd. It’s really pure psychology — but this happens to be the psychological strategy that suits me perfectly. I have no idea whether this app will work for anyone else as well as it has worked for me, but it has definitely changed my life in a very positive way. I’ve lost 45 lbs. so far using this app with no change in exercise.

Once set up, your main task with the app is to log what you eat throughout the day. You accesses a massive database of foods (partially from a clean dataset, partially crowd-sourced) that you can either do a text-search on or use a very slick barcode scanner via the phone’s camera. The barcode scanner has proven to be 100% reliable, extremely fast, and amazingly complete — it’s found everything I’ve searched for correctly and essentially instantly.

When I eat something without a barcode (like from a restaurant), I almost always find the exact item I’m looking for. Almost any menu item from any franchise is in there, as is an extensive variation of customized menu options (e.g., 6″ Subway double-meat turkey with provolone no mayo….etc.). If you can’t find a specific item, you can easily enter your own recipes by assembling a set of individual components from items already in the database or that you create yourself. When you select any particular item, you can usually select from a series of different serving sizes, and separately enter any number (including decimal fractions) for a fraction of the selected serving that you actually eat.

There is much more to the app than I’ve described here — including an entire social network component. The website is incredibly robust and easy to use. There is a growing list of partner apps and devices (such as the Fitbit Aria Scale) that seamlessly synch with your MyFitnessPal account. The main problems I have with the app are that it offers extremely limited control over the reports and graphs, and there is no obvious way to get access to my raw data for downloading. As a data-nerd, I find this extremely frustrating. Also the crowd-sourced content may have multiple entries for what seems like the same thing but with very different nutritional profiles.

I still eat most of my favorite foods; just less of them, and I haven’t missed anything or had any cravings. After the first few weeks, I’ve almost never been hungry (certainly much less often hungry than before I started). I’m a scientist so I intentionally wanted to focus strictly on diet first, then I’ll switch to focus on exercise once I reach my target weight — one variable at a time!

-- Richard Pyle 03/13/13