Since I wrote my review of Lose It!, I’ve actually changed the app I’m using to track nutrition and exercise data. I also dropped the other apps I was using. Today, I’m exclusively using myfitnesspal on my iPhone and computers…
I realize I may “spoil” the rest of this review when I say my only reason for using myfitnesspal is because my friends use it. Compared to Lose It!, I don’t feel like I gained anything (or lost anything, either). It boiled down to the simple fact that more people I know use this app rather than the other options.
App Review: myfitnesspal
Is there a PC or Mac native app: No.
Is there a companion web app?: Yes.
Adding food or exercise is easy, although a touch clunky at the start. To add an entry, you have to pick a meal it “belongs to” before proceeding. If you are eating many small meals, this can be annoying.
Once a meal is picked, you can select multiple entries from a personalized list of commonly used foods. You can also search for a “new” food that isn’t on the personalized list or you can use the bar code scanner to do automatic entry.
The bar code scanner and database are excellent, based upon my usage. Both national and local brands are well represented and result in “hits” when you scan the bar codes. Even things I thought would be too obscure to hit were in the database. This is great because it makes data entry very easy…especially if you are a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s addict.
The food database is excellent, but has one problem similar to what other suffer…
As I mentioned regarding the bar code scanner, the database is comprehensive. Entering food is easy and rarely do I have a problem finding an entry for food that I’m eating or that I purchased. However, this choice of options can be problematic…
If you don’t scan a bar code, it can be difficult to find a product using the text search functions.
For example, if I enter “Odwalla chocolate protein monster” I may find a number of entries that turn up. It can be difficult to determine which is appropriate. Often, the title of the product is the same across multiple entries but calorie details differ. This problem is far worse for generic foods like “french fries”. Such a search returns many identically named options with different weights, units, and calories (even for identical weights). This can be frustrating.
Also, the search doesn’t seem to be very intelligent. If I mistype the name of the brand (“Odewala” instead of “Odwalla”), I usually find myself with zero hits. Try to find a clemintine orange and you may get no hits. Spell “clementine” correctly, and suddenly you have choices. This is frustrating.
For foods that are in the database (and that have easily spelled names) it’s very easy to use the app. And, as I mentioned earlier, myfitnesspal is great when adding data for local brands. Given how much our house shops at smaller, locally owned chains…this is a huge benefit.
Myfitnesspal doesn’t track a huge number of variables. Essentially, it can record any of the details you can find on the nutrition label of a box.
There’s no other tracking, so if you need to track a specific mineral or nutrient…this won’t work any better than Lose It!.
The main benefit of an app like this is to keep me focused. Knowing I have to record everything I eat encourages mindfulness when I’m making decisions…and as a result, I pick healthier foods over junk foods when the data has to go into the system.
So, in this kind of situation, I keep track of micronutrients on the side to be sure I’m not coming in very low on any specific vitamins or minerals. Other than that, I don’t rely on an app like this because I also don’t trust it to be particularly accurate. As long as I’m in the ballpark on critical items (calories, protein, etc…) then I’m happy that I am likely going to see the health results I want most.
The app only allows for one type of goal: weight loss.
OK, that’s not true. You can enter some goal information that’s related to exercise…but the reporting and tracking on that is nearly non-existent. It’s certainly not useful on a daily basis.
So, I’m going to say that from a practical standpoint, there’s only one goal setting dimension.
As with other apps that help track progress towards a weight goal, myfitnesspal asks for basic demographics – weight, height, sex, age, and general activity level. You can select the number of pounds you want to lose per week and your goal weight. From there, the app calculates the calorie deficit you need.
On the weekly display, it shows a bar chart illustrating the over/under for each day. This is nice because if I know I’m going to go over my calorie limit one day, I can be extra careful for the day or two before and run a small deficit to compensate for overeating.
Graphing and Tables
The app will provide a simple graph of weight over time. It’s nice, but it’s really not that important once you are using the app for a few months.
Strangely, the graphing and reporting on the website is worse! than in the app on the phone! The few times I’ve attempted to graph anything on the website I’ve been disappointed. I’ll just say that in this situation, the website is a nice complement in terms of data entry and social motivators (see below) but it’s absolutely awful if you are a data fiend. If you want to slice and dice your data in endless ways, this is not the app for you.
Motivators & Social Elements
The app has a few motivators, but they aren’t very powerful. The app can remind you that it’s been “X” days since your last entry. That’s more of a guilt-trip than a motivator, though.
There aren’t any badges or competition elements included with the app that really drive positive behavior. For example, I picked up a Striiv a few weeks ago and it has some motivational elements that are excellent. You won’t get badges or congratulations from myfitnesspal.
The indirect motivators are the social messages that users can post and see.
These provide the main reason I switched. Several of my friends use the app and I can see how well they are doing…so the motivator is really “peer pressure”.
(Aside: If anybody wants to friend me on the app, my user name is rfd1970.)
Myfitnesspal is a solid, stable app that tracks calories, exercise and weight. It is easy to use and the interfaces are all very well done. The food database is comprehensive and the barcode scanner is simply awesome. It lacks a few features, especially those that motivate me (or you?) to keep logging data or to push myself a little harder…but that’s not a critical failing.
Given its solid performance and it’s price (free!), it’s a great app to use to track basic weight-related data and to get a sense for where problems may lay (too may calories because of snacks, fewer calories burned when exercising than imagined, and so on).
I reviewed Lose It! a few weeks ago. I was working on my review of myfitnesspal and hoped it would be done today, but life slowed me down.
Instead of uploading something half-done, I thought I’d write about what I learned when using six tracking apps at the same time….
Wait, you used six apps at the same time?
Yeah. I know. You see, I recently realized I have purchased six different apps to track diet and exercise in the last few years.
I decided to install them all and try them all out. I thought I would review every one of them.
Buuuuuuuut….it turns out that when I had to enter a meals into six different apps, I quickly figure out which ones are good and which need to be deleted ASAP. Deleted apps get no reviews. Y’know?
There were two that survived and will get reviews:
…and some others that I won’t review:
(Wait. Is that six or seven? Dag nabbitt! Wait…it’s seven but I never installed MyNetDiaryPro. So I only used six. Lemme look at it. Heck, it has a barcode scanner. I’m installing it now, as I hit “publish”. I guess I’ll let you know about #7 in a few weeks…)
Anyhoooooooow…one of the benefits of using
seven six apps at the same time is that my tolerance for clunky apps quickly dropped to zero.
LiveStrong was dropped after the third week for what seems trivial but isn’t: it didn’t have a barcode scanner.
The two that remained had similar functions, although very different interfaces in some ways…but they both did seven things.
How to tell a good app from a bad app:
Did I say seven things? I meant eight! Arghhhhhhh!!!
I’ll admit it. I’m a recovering app addict. At first, when I got my iPhone, I was good about things. I only downloaded or purchased apps that I needed. Then, I got a little more rambunctious and started to buy apps that I “needed“.
In this dark time, which was also a time when I was not taking care of myself, I would buy fitness or health apps as a surrogate for actually doing something about my health. Of course, this was all expertly rationalized…but it was rationalization. Downloading an app can provide the illusion of action to the psyche, except the only physical action was the fluttering of my fingers across the screen. Blah. :(
That said, I’m going back to these apps now to see which might actually be useful. I have eight (that’s EIGHT) apps that are all diet/exercise trackers. These include Lose It!, MyFitnessPal, and (six) more.
So…I’m using them and I’m going to write about them.
…and now, with this one-time preamble finished, lets review Lose It!. Read the rest of this entry »