I don’t know about you, but I survived the long, hard winter with its bitter cold snaps by curling up with a warm muffin or two, gaining about 5 pounds in the process.
Five pounds doesn’t sound like much until you see it in the mirror. It’s roughly the weight of a laptop computer or maybe a toy poodle.
At any rate, I don’t need it. So it is with gratitude that I acknowledge a tip from a co-worker about an app called MyFitnessPal.
As of this writing, it’s the top iPad app and No. 2 iPhone app in the health and fitness category on the Apple (AAPL) app store. It’s one of many fitness and diet apps available for iOS and Android devices that are worth a look.
Many of these apps are designed to focus your attention on either food intake or exercise. Most include calorie counting, but MyFitnessPal and another app called Lose It do more than that by encouraging exercise, goal setting and peer support. With either, you can fine-tune your diet.
Based in San Francisco, MyFitnessPal has 30 million users and is available for iOS, Android, BlackBerry and Windows 7 as well as on the Web. Supported by advertising on Android and its website, but ad free on the iOS app, it was developed by two brothers, Mike Lee, a veteran of Silicon Valley startups Palm, Handspring and Beyond.com, and Albert Lee, who has an MBA from the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley.
I downloaded MyFitnessPal, logged on as “lowcalguy” and filled in a few details about myself and my fitness goals. I wanted to lose 5 pounds, but my eyes popped when the app set a goal of 1,380 calories a day to lose 1 pound per week. That’s not a whole lot of calories, but there was a method to that madness. It spurred exercise.
Saturday morning, I plugged in my breakfast of two slices of La Brea wheat toast (160 calories) and a banana (105 calories) and went for a brisk walk.
Another app I like to use for hiking charted my 6-mile walk of 90 minutes over hilly terrain at around 4 miles per hour.
Returning to my car, I plugged my exercise into MyFitnessPal and my daily calorie allotment shot up to 1,575 calories. I’d burned 460 calories on my walk.
The message was clear: If I exercise more, I get to eat more.
If I’d wanted to share any or all of my information on Facebook or with a group of friends, I could invite them to join me. MyFitnessPal also connects with a variety of external body monitoring devices.
The app has 2.5 million food items in its database, and what isn’t there you can try to find with a built-in barcode reader. My snack of raw almonds gets an appreciative “Great value!” It has most of the stuff I buy in grocery stores. My morning crumpet is there, at 90 calories. Normally I don’t fret, but now, they’re like a constraint on my food intake for the rest of the day.
Lose It, based in Boston, started as an iPhone app, added a website in 2010 and Android in 2011. It claims users have shed 18 million pounds, and has been downloaded 13 million times. While both apps look alike, Lose It is more than just a pretty interface, said Charles Teague, Lose It’s chief executive.
“We think of ourselves as a weight loss program, more like Weight Watchers,” Teague said. “The app is an important part, technology is an important part, but on the whole we’d like to be evaluated on how well we help people lose weight.”
With a paid subscription, introduced in October, you can plan future meals based on what you had to eat today, and set goals for vital signs like blood pressure, and for exercise and sleep. It has a barcode reader too. External monitoring devices like activity monitor Nike Fuel automatically connect to store readings in the app or on the Web.
So far, after a week using both apps, I’ve lost 1.5 pounds.
Teague said his approach boils down to tracking and peer support.
“When you see how easy it is to rack up 300 calories eating, and when you see how hard it is to lose them, you think, ‘I’ll skip that desert tonight,’ ” he said.
It’s true: I never knew a vending machine packet of smoked almonds contained 250 calories. It’s sitting in my desk drawer like a live grenade.