Calorie Counters

My Fitness Pal Changes

When I first starting counting my calories I used a little journal. It was a spiral notebook, pocket sized, and I wrote down everything I ate or drank. It was rudimentary but it worked. I was accountable to myself. Was it entirely accurate? Probably not. It took awhile for me to realize that those were just estimates.

If it was a food that came out of a box, it was easier to track because it was right there on the box. I’d count out a serving of Wheat Thins and write down the calories. If it didn’t come out of the freezer or a box, I used the internet to look up calories and write them down. I slowly learned that not all calories were equal. Sure an apple is “around 80 calories” but that’s based on weight. If it was a huge apple, I was probably eating more like 120 calories. It was all a learning process.

I’ll be honest–I wasn’t really technological. I resisted getting a cellphone for a long time. Eventually I got a cheapo flip-phone. Then after Michael and I had been dating for about a year or so, he got me an iPhone for Christmas. Score! Fell in love with my phone. And the apps! Who else here is addicted to Words With Friends? {raises hand}

I started using My Fitness Pal to track my calories. I love it. It’s with me at all times, I always know how many calories I’ve eaten for the day, how many calories are left. I track my exercise in the app. I can look up chain restaurants to figure out what to order when we go out. Even with the app it’s often a guessing game. I can get close to what I think the calories are, but I’m sure I’m off sometimes. I’m okay with that. Getting close is better than not trying at all.

Recently MyFitnessPal has made some changes and upgrades that I wanted to share. I’m loving the upgrade! First, there’s a new feature where I can scan a barcode. It’s such a cool feature and my first thought was, “Why haven’t they done this before??” The barcode scanner is touchy. You can see the little “barcode” in the upper right hand corner, under the “Recipes” button:

You click on the barcode scanner and this pops up:

Sometimes it takes a few tries to get it and it doesn’t have everything in there. It’s a work in progress, and you can enter your own products into the app if the barcode is not in there. I scanned a can of tomatoes for the example. Here is what the barcode came up with:

See? Pretty simple! I like this feature because it makes it easy to log in things I use all the time–like condiments for example. Making a taco salad I can scan the barcode for the can of beans, can of black olives, and the sour cream. Easy!

The other upgrade is showing graphs of the nutrients. The one I find interesting is the breakdown of my Fat, Carbs and Protein intake.

When I first noticed the pie charts I was excited for new stats! I’m a nerd that way. Then I started to wonder, is that the norm? What should my percentages be for a “healthy range”? Especially for fats. Seeing that my Fat % was pretty high I wondered if that was too high. Off to Google to find the answer (who needs doctors, right?):

Question: What should be the overall percentage of fat in my diet? What percentage of this should be good fat and bad fat?

Answer: We should aim to get between 25 percent to 35 percent of our calories from fat. Of that, less than seven percent should come from saturated fat. That would be fats from meat and dairy origin. Less than one percent should come from trans fats, and that would be primarily from partially hydrogenated fats and a little bit from animal fat. And then the rest should really come from mono and poly unsaturated fats. And that would come from liquid vegetable oil.”

Excellent! Within the range!

Here is more data:

  • Fat: 20 – 35% of total calories (average 30%)
  • Protein: 10 – 35% (average 15%)
  • Carbohydrates: 45 – 65% (average 55%)

I like that I’m within the range for all categories. It makes feel even more confident about my food choices. If I want to check the full breakdown for the day, I can look at the list of nutrients.

It tells me what my goal for the day should be and what I actually got from the food I ate. I don’t enter the daily multivitamin I take so my vitamins are probably off. I always go over my daily “Allotment” for sugars. Reason: I eat an insane amount of fruit. I asked a nutritionist about that once and asked if I should restrict my fruit intake because of the sugars and she said no. I’m healthy, I’m fit, sugar from fruit is good for me. If I was eating a bunch of candy bars, that would be a different story.

QUESTION: What’s the hardest part of counting calories for you?


The Battle of The Calorie Counters

The Battle of The Calorie Counters

Hi folks! My name is Leah and I blog over at Leftovers For Lunch.

My story is like so many others – I put on weight because of too much beer and pizza in college and then diving into a desk job right after. I turned to calorie counting to help me lose the extra 30 pounds I was carrying around and have continued to count calories off and on to help maintain a healthy weight (read: lose and gain the same 10 pounds for 2 years).

When I first started calorie counting, I started with pen and paper. I’m pretty sure that lasted like two days before I went crazy and started hunting out online calorie counters. After a brief fling with My Pyramid, I got serious with The Daily Plate. I logged in there for over a year and a half before it was consumed by Livestrong.

Recently, I’ve moved on to Sparkpeople for my latest bout of calorie counting and I’ll be the first to admit, it was for completely superficial reasons which I will get in to in a minute.

While I know I am totally biased, I think that Livestrong and Sparkpeople are basically the top two calorie counters. (Sorry, Lisa! I know you use My Fitness Pal!) There are serious pros and cons to both sites though.

With calorie counters and most weight loss websites, there are two distinct aspects of them: the functional and the feely.

The Functional

The primary function of a calorie counting website is obvious: calorie counting. And to make it as easy as possible for the user to count, naturally. Both LS and SP have extensive databases but on a side-by-side test, my preference is for Livestrong for one reason and one reason alone: everything is embedded and works a lot like the new Google search feature, actually.

You are in your “plate” adding things and you just type it in to the search bar, you can see the basic nutritionals, and it will even have a blue star on things that you have used multiple times before.

Now, I didn’t realize how cool that was until I moved over to Sparkpeople. My huge annoyance with Sparkpeople is that when you go to search for food to add to your log, it opens in another window. And to be specific and search the entire database, you have to select some radial buttons. And then if you want to look at the calories for that food option, it opens in another window.

So let’s say you are at work and your amazing boss gave you a Lindor Truffle and you want to add it to your log before you forget about it, you have to log in, click “Add Food”, change the search options, type in what you are looking for, double check that you selected the right item by clicking on the nutrition button, then close that window, click “Add Food”, then close that window. And if you are at work and trying to be discrete, having multiple non-work related windows open at once just to add a chocolate that your darling boss gave you and it takes you a solid 5 minutes and a million and one clicks to get it in there.

Ok, maybe I’m overreacting  but when you are adding upwards of 15 items a day into your log, all those extra clicks add up and just bug the crap out of me.

But it’s pretty.

This is how I first got hooked on Spark, actually. I would see Brie’s daily screen shots and I was oohed and ahhed by the pretty colors and cleanness of it. So I can overlook its faults, I suppose.

The Feely

The other main aspect of calorie counting is the emotional aspect of it. I don’t care what anyone says, losing weight and trying to get in shape is hard. I think that the people with the most success would attribute a lot of it to a support system, be it their significant other, a workout buddy, or, in the case of us calorie counters, the community.

And as far as community goes, Sparkpeople wins.

I frequented the message boards and groups on Livestrong and Sparkpeople but here’s the highlights of what Sparkpeople offers that Livestrong doesn’t.


Sure, LS has groups but the teams on SP have a really awesome set up – just like message boards with multiple topics going on at once.

LS groups aren’t broken out like that – it’s more like a blog with posts that people can comment on but it is arranged by date so you have to scroll a lot to get to an old topic.

It just isn’t as conducive to really networking and developing relationships.

LS and SP also both have challenges (dares) that you can participate in and databases full of information on health and fitness but I’ve explored more on SP than LS in the few short months I’ve been on SP for one reason: Sparkpoints.

Sparkpoints are great for the overachiever. They don’t really do anything, per say but the “A” student in me wants to get them and as many as I can.  Trophies and medals for surfing the web? For exercising? For posting on the message boards? Um, yes please!

Oh, and I love that you can create and personalize your own Sparkpage, though some of them can be a little MySpace-like. (Ew.)

So there you have it, my long abbreviated run down of the two calorie counters I’ve used. There are obviously a lot more facets to them than I have shown here but I am really happy with the switch I’ve made to move to the Spark.

Not trying to lose weight? Check out the Spark’s other websites: Spark Recipes, Spark Savings, Baby Fit, Spark Teens, and Daily Spark. *

* I wasn’t paid to say any of these. I just really really like Spark People!


Lisa’s Note: Thank you Leah for kicking off the Guest Posts. I particularly enjoyed this because I am a calorie counter and yet I haven’t tried the other programs out there that are available. I think this is a good breakdown of different options. I do use My Fitness Pal to track my calories and exercise and I like it. It’s easy, it’s convenient and it’s on my iPhone. I never use the website, I solely add my calories on my phone. Thanks Leah!