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My Fitness Pal is a great free tool for health and fitness tracking, but are you using it correctly?

using My Fitness Pal correctlyThe beauty of the digital age we live in is that there are now so many tools available to us on our phones, tablets, or computers to take advantage of as part of a journey towards a healthier lifestyle. Journaling your food intake and activity can exponentially increase your odds of reaching a fitness or health goal, and one of our favorite tools for tracking, My Fitness Pal, is free and easy to use. Nevertheless, free tools are only as useful as how well you use them, and there is a correct way to make My Fitness Pal's tracking and calorie recommendations work for you instead of against you. Here's a list of 6 things you want to make sure you are doing (and why!) if you're using My Fitness Pal correctly for weight loss or fitness goals.
  1. Be Honest. This sounds like a no-brainer, but when setting up your profile, be very honest about your general activity level, NOT INCLUDING WORKOUTS, on an average day. Accurate age and weight is also important for the program to calculate your base metabolic rate, and then give you an estimate based on your specific goals. If you sit in a desk chair for 8+ hours per day, you are going to fall into the sedentary category. That's ok! It's your reality.
  2. Less Is NOT More. The number of calories My Fitness Pal gives you based on your profile setup is the NET not GROSS you need to reach your fitness goal. It is not your base metabolic rate that you should try to consume less than in order to lose weight. THIS IS THE NUMBER BASED ON AVERAGES THAT WILL PRODUCE YOUR IDEAL RESULTS! It already has a calorie deficit built in if you have a weight loss goal, calculated at a rate that will allow you to lose weight without shutting down your metabolism or making you 'hangry' or tired. It's the sweet spot for success, the Goldilocks of calorie deficits, not too high, not too low, but just right! If My Fitness Pal estimates you need 1350 calories daily to lose 2 lbs per week, you will only slow you progress by only eating 1000 calories. You could even slow down you metabolism, lose muscle mass, feel exhausted, and mess up your natural hormone balance! Your body is a wonderful living machine, and it needs fuel. It's also too smart and will adjust based on your actions, do not try to beat it at its own game.
  3. Track All Additional Activity. If you understand #1 & #2, then this will make sense. When you workout or do activities above and beyond your typical workday, your body burns more calories, you base metabolic rate increases, and therefore that calorie deficit 'sweet spot' for weight loss moves up as well.  When you workout or expend a lot of extra energy, input these activities as exercise into my fitness pal. You can use close approximations, but put something in! And you'll notice My Fitness Pal adds to your Calorie Needed count- so you get to eat more! Not only do you get to, but you absolutely should for reason #2 above! See this as a positive thing, and fuel your machine!
  4. Include every nibble. On the flip side of that coin, you also want to make sure you record every little bite or snack or nibble, as these areas are usually the ones that sneak up on us and can throw intentional eating to the wayside. Even if its just a piece of fruit, or 2 crackers, or a bite of someone's cupcake... include it in your journal. Tracking these small nibbles can tell you a lot about your habits and why you may be working on a fitness goal in the first place. You may discover that you are eating for emotional reasons, or out of boredom, or because you have an energy crash later in the afternoon which may mean you need to take a closer look at your lunch contents. A fitness coach can help you fine tune these issues. On the other hand, many of our small easy snacks are packed with sugars, fats, or salt that can add up quickly, so it's worth tracking to make sure you know what you're putting in.
  5. Look at the nutritional data. Most people starting to use My Fitness Pal are wanting to change their health or fitness, but may not be entirely sure what to change. Tracking food is just half of the benefit of using My Fitness Pal because it makes you think twice about what you eat since you have to record it. The other benefit is going back into the nutritional data, looking at the macronutrients and any trends of areas you are exceeding or if you have a deficit in certain nutrients. You can see how many grams of sugar you are actually eating in a given day (it'll be shockingly high the first time!) or look at your macronutrient balance to see if you're getting a good mix of proteins, carbohydrates, and healthy fats.
  6. Set personalized nutrient goals. This is for the more advanced users, or someone working with a health or fitness professional. My Fitness Pal defaults to an average macronutrient breakdown of 55% carbohydrates, 20% protein, and 25% fat for your caloric intake goals. Depending on your specific body type, health, goals, and how your body responds to foods, this may not be the ideal balance for you. If you have questions, ask a health or nutrition professional. If you learn that a different balance may work for you, you can adjust these preferences in your profile and play with it until you find a balance that feels optimal.
If you are doing those 6 things, you should feel confident that you are using My Fitness Pal correctly and should see progress towards your health and fitness goals! As with most things health and fitness, everyone is an individual and there's no one-size-fits-all solution to healthy eating. My Fitness Pal is an accountability and feedback tool, and a very good one, but its ranges are approximate, so if you are following these 6 tips but not seeing results, you may want to seek professional help.

Still feeling overwhelmed on what to do to change your health and fitness?

Finding a solution that personally works for you, including eating habits and healthy lifestyle elements, is what we do! If you want help reaching your goals, request your free consultation today.
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