3 tips on how to use calorie counters

Posted on May 30, 2011


I wrote a post on free calorie counters a little while ago and I wanted to expound some more thoughts on the topic. I’ve been following my clients on myfitnesspal for a decent amount of time now and here are some things I’ve noticed:

1) Don’t half ass it

If you are going to use one (which you should), use it! That is, write down EVERYTHING you put in your mouth.  If you add a spoon of mayo to your sandwich,  write it down, anything you drink, write it down, if you eat dirt, WRITE IT DOWN.

I’ve noticed some people won’t write down “healthier” things such as fruit/vegetables, but remember these have calories in them too. Those 300 calories you are eating from fruit each day, but not counting as part of your calories, could be hindering your fat loss.

Conversely, I’ve noticed other people won’t write down when they binge or eat“unhealthy” things. One reason for the counter is for it to persuade you to not eat that 1000 calorie burrito because you know you’re going to have to write that down and have it look back at you. If you are only going to write down what you want to write down then using the counter is nearly pointless.

Also, in the case of my clients using it, if you don’t write down everything it makes it much, much harder to figure out why you’re not losing weight / what you can improve upon. In other words, help me help you (I think we just had a moment 🙂 ).

2) Don’t bother with some features

Specifically the calorie burn calculator / exercise calculator. This is because either the calculator overestimates how many calories you’ve burned (which happens often), or the person entering the data overestimates how hard they worked out, which then gives an overestimate of how many calories have been burned.

This then becomes a problem when the person eats an extra 500 calories, justifying it because, “Hey, I burned a 1000 during my workout today.” When in reality that person might have burned 300 calories in their workout.

One of the negatives about My Fitness Pal is once you calculate how many calories you burned it then rewards you by adjusting your daily calorie goal in relation to how many you burned. So say you were supposed to eat 1800 calories today but burned “500,” the calculator will then say you are supposed to 2300 calories today.  The last thing most people who are trying to lose weight need is a justification to eat more.

Now if you’re actually burning a 1000 calories per workout then it probably is a good idea to eat some more than you were originally supposed to. But the average person reading this does not burn 1000 calories per workout.

3) Don’t assume

Lastly, it might seem trivial to some but I’ve seen this happen, make sure you are always reading the serving sizes correctly. Companies want to seem like their product is low in calories so they are going to represent the nutritional profile on their product in the best light they can.

For example, you look at the bag of chips you are about to eat and it says 200 calories, but that’s for one serving and the bag is two servings. So actually you end up eating 400 calories from that little bag of chips because you assumed there was no way that bag could have 2 servings.

Again, might be common sense in your mind, but you know what they say about common sense…

Hope these tips help with using the calculator and your weight-loss!


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Posted in: Losing weight