Monday, December 31, 2012

My Fitness Pal: Changing Your Goals (Motivational Monday)

Happy New Year's Eve!  Being the new year and all, many of you have probably resolved to lose weight or to start eating healthier.  Today I want to motivate you to start recording your food!  I already posted about the best food tracking apps (be sure to read the reader comments for even more ideas) and how I believe tracking food is helpful because it makes you more mindful, but you can read a bit more about how tracking your food can help you lose (or maintain) weight here and here, and here  (you know, just in case you weren't convinced!)

This is my lunch that I pack almost every dayWhen I was using My Fitness Pal I found out the lunch that I once thought was about 500 calories, was actually about 700.  HA!  The little things you find out with fun food apps :)

As I said in my last post, I decided to use My Fitness Pal (MFP) for about 3 months before I slipped into my dress for my September wedding.  I didn't use it to lose weight, but to maintain weight (it's hard to stay on track when you have showers and other weddings to go to before your own wedding!).  I quickly learned that for someone with a history of an eating disorder, using an app to track calories isn't so smart.  While it helped me for those three months, I deleted my account as soon as I got back (Nick made me, and I'm glad he did).  So before I go on and explain my tips on setting up an account and setting goals on MFP, I want to say that if you have any history with an eating disorder, please do not use a food tracking app. It's just not smart.

When I first started dating Nick 7 years ago (when this photo was taken, I still had disordered eating tendencies.  I told him a few years ago that he needed to put me in my place if he ever noticed me becoming obsessive again.  He kept his promise.  Such a good guy.

Today I want to give you 5 tips I give my own clients for setting goals on MFP (or other food tracker apps).  Tomorrow (if I make it to the computer....) I will post about why it's important not to record your workouts. Yes, you read that right.  That doesn't mean don't workout.  Read tomorrow to learn more.

Source: iStock Photo

Ok, let's begin!  When you create a MFP account (or any other food tracker account), they ask for your age, weight and activity level.  Then they (the program) create goals for you based on the information you provide.  These were my goals, created automatically by the app.

Here are some general tips for changing and personalizing your goals;

1.  Take it from me, it's best to change the recommended carbohydrate percentage from 55% to 45% if you're trying to lose or maintain weight.  My Fitness Pal gave me a goal of 239 grams of carbohydrates per day (which is 55% of my total calories).  Wowza, that's a lot.  My average carbohydrate intake is much lower than that, and if I would have strived for 239 grams per day, I would have put on weight.  Period.

2.  Below are the micronutrient, sugar, and fiber recommendations given to me by MFP.  I don't like them.  For starters, 2500 mg sodium is slightly high (although for some people this is probably pretty low, sadly). It's even higher than the completely outdated Daily Values you see on food labels. The bottom line?   For most people 1500-2400 mg is a good goal.  If you eat out less, eat more whole fruits and vegetables, and less processed foods, this shouldn't be a problem.  You may notice for your first few days or weeks this is hard to achieve, but make it your goal, and you'll not only be healthier, but you'll lose weight because you'll be making better food choices.

3.  Make your fiber goal 25-30 g.  Why not give yourself a higher number to strive for?!  This will motivate you to choose more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

4.  While I'm a huge proponent of limiting your sugar intake (especially if you're trying to lose weight) the 35 g sugar goal, listed above, accounts for fruit, vegetable, dairy, grains, and added sugars.  Thirty-five grams is absurd, and it's really difficult to stick to that goal while maintaining a balanced and healthy diet.  One cup of most fruits contains about 30 grams of sugar alone, so.....a goal of 35 grams/day is ridiculous. A more reasonable goal would be about 70-100 grams (generally speaking). 

Source: iStock Photo

I'm not saying go eat a bunch of candy bars, but instead consider that you get 12 grams of sugar in one cup of milk, about 15-30 grams in a piece of fruit, and then various amounts in vegetables.  As for added sugars, read my post here to learn an appropriate limit (wouldn't it be nice if these apps actually accounted for added sugars vs. natural sugars in fruits, veggies, and dairy?! First we need to convince the FDA to require added sugars to be separately listed on nutrition facts!). Bottom line:  for most people, a sugar goal of 70-100 grams per day should be perfect. If you already eat that amount, and still can't lose weight, aim for less.  Aim to get most of your sugar from dairy, fruits, and especially vegetables.

5.  Remember, the calorie goals should be considered more like a recommendation.  It's ok to go under on some days, and over on others, just as long as your average calories are close to those given to you by My Fitness Pal.  Don't make it a goal to reach those calories every day, because one day you may not be very hungry.  You still need to eat intuitively, right?!  If you continue eating just to reach your calorie goal, and despite not being hungry, the app is pointless.  Sometimes the app overestimates calories, so if you think you could manage eating less, you should.  It could also go the other way around.

QUESTION:  Do you have any tips to provide about My Fitness Pal, or any other nutrition/food tracker app?

Stay tuned for tomorrow's post, which will be about adding exercise to My Fitness Pal.  I tell my clients not to add their exercise......and you'll see why tomorrow.  BE SAFE TONIGHT AND HAVE A GREAT NEW YEAR'S EVE!  I'll see you next year (unless I wipe out in these killer new year shoes!)

The Candid Rd

NOTE: I love comments!  But, be sure to come back to read any replies to questions or comments, as they do not go directly to your e-mail.


  1. Oooh those are perfect NYE shoes!!!

  2. Aww Nick is such a great guy and I'm glad you are smart enough to listen to him! I think tracking food for most people is good for awhile and then you just start to naturally know what is in the stuff that you eat and then it doesn't have to be such a time suck haha. I'm going to guess tracking your workouts is bad bc it will let you eat more haha. Can't wait to see if I'm right :)

  3. Thanks for the tips, especially #4. :)

    BTW - hot shoes!

  4. First of all love that shoes, love anything glittery and high heels :) I think I have some disordered tendencies and I feel like I have gained about 5-7# over the holidays I am very stressed about it. This is such a appropriate post for me to get back on track and be at feel good weight.

  5. I hate MPF's website but the app is AWESOME! I've been using it lately and like you, I've found that my lunches are higher than I had thought, even though I usually eat a salad. My salad contains grilled chicken, fresh fruit, nuts, and cheese, plus some sort of homemade vinaigrette. So good and filling, but closer to 600 calories. It's a lot of food, and all very wholesome, but I was underestimating by quite a lot! Oops! :)

    P.S. I love those shoes!
    P.P.S. Come visit soon, I MISS you guys!!!!
    P.P.P.S. Have fun tonight!!

    1. I agree Nicole, the app is much better than the site!! Plus, with the app you can scan barcodes, I love that.
      We miss you too!! We will be visiting sometime this year, don't you worry! Mini vacation :)

  6. love the goal of tracking but if I must confess I'm not a tracker. Even the numbers above and the technical stuff made me anxious....from a time commitment standpoint. Do you have clients use aps? Recent NYT article compared them too. Great photo above, happy new year to you look forward to many fun food "conversations" in the year ahead and you have an exciting year, enjoy it.

    1. I do find that this is the most user friendly app for my clients, and most of them use it daily. They really have to be committed though. IT's hard at first, but after a while it's pretty simple (once most of your favorite foods are in there!)
      Happy new year to you Lauren!!

  7. I love all the info in this post!

    Awesome shoes!!!

  8. I have used mfp to track for almost 2 years. It's helped me to lose weight, educate myself about food choices, and be fitter in general. I love the community that I have on there too. I have been tracking on and off but have only just got tracking again to help kick start my cut. Although I'm wiser and more in touch with when my eating behaviours start to spiral, my boyfriend, like yours, is going to be keeping tabs and cancel my account if I start obsessing. Another, thing that begs to be adjusted on the intake goals is protein intake. It's pretty low, especially for those with fitness goals, but I suppose once you reduce the carbs as you suggest, the protein naturally increases! Great post :-)

  9. Wow, those shoes are awesome!! I agree with you about the MyFitnessPal thing. I used to have a little bit of disordered eating when I was younger, and last summer when I tried using SparkPeople to lose weight, it really started to get in my head. I still want to be able to track stuff, because how else am I going to lose weight? For me, at least, tracking that stuff on my own works a lot better. I choose now to only count protein, fiber, fruit/veggie servings, and water intake. This way, instead of focusing on limiting my calories, I'm focused on increasing those other things. The positive instead of negative focus definitely works a lot better with me.

  10. You made brilliant tips there. I made a search on the subject and found the majority peoples will agree with your blog post .