We wanted to share some apps and digital health “helpers.” For many, mobile Apps are an easy and affordable way to keep both physical and mental health practices top of mind.
Today we’ll be looking at one food tracker/calorie counter app called “My Fitness Pal.”
First of all, what is it? The app promotes itself as a no-nonsense approach to weight management. They write: “[L]ose weight the healthy way… We believe — and medical studies prove — that the best way to lose weight and keep it off is to simply keep track of the foods you eat. Gimmicky machines and fad diets don’t work, so we designed a free website and mobile apps that make calorie counting and food tracking easy.”
We first heard about this app through a friend who was recently diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes and successfully used the app to support his weight loss and his fibre and carbohydrate intake, which helped him manage his condition.
Tell me more? The app is designed with customized calorie and food intake goals including daily macro and other nutritional objectives. You are able to print off daily food entries to show a dietitian or trainer for you to troubleshoot different problems with blood sugar, weight loss plateaus, training goals, and help have better food planning strategies for the future. It serves as a thorough educational tool for those beginning to learn about the nutritional value of foods. On the tracker there are places to write notes about your exercise for the day, save recipes, log physical activity, take pictures, and join an online community or challenge to help participants stay motivated or reflect on their progress. It can be combined with other apps of the same brand (also free) to help track and import data like “Map my Walk.” There is a blog component with recipes, reflections, motivational stories, and tips by trainers, dietitians, psychologists and more.
What are the drawbacks?
- Calorie Counting/Food Tracking May Not Always Work: Many professionals are coming to the conclusion that calorie counting may not be a sustainable strategy for weight management. This article explains some of the concerns around calorie counting. Many professionals are turning away from this model of weight management in favour of looking for underlying causes of excess weight such as inactivity, hormonal problems, and seeking mindful eating practices.
- Ads: There are a significant number of adds (not video ads), which can be avoided by upgrading and paying an annual fee.
- Time Consuming & Boring: The most prevalent downside to this method is that it takes persistence and valuable time to enter your food every day. Burnout from data entry is the main reason that people tend to abandon the app, but there are some strategies listed on this site to help choose a tracker or a focus that may be better. The app offers some repeat meal options and favourite selections to ease entry fatigue. Additionally, new daily articles can help reduce the monotony of using the app.
- Mental Health Risks: Another very important drawback is that if you struggle from disordered eating in any sense, these apps can take away from mindful eating approaches and may only serve to aggravate your condition. The National Eating Disorder Information Centre writes “Get Rid of your Diet” and “Get Rid of Your Scale” in favour of more healthy, positive mindsets around food, body image, and wellness. We recommend speaking to a registered clinical counselor to learn more about your challenges around food, as your difficulties with may actually stem from other sources.
Anika Cornish, Registered Clinical Counselor, offers free consultations at Eastpoint, if you would like to learn more about how counselling can support you if you are concerned with or struggle with disordered eating patterns.
In summary, this app seems to be great for those starting to learn about appropriate calorie intake and healthy eating, and can support people looking lose weight with a calorie restriction method. It is affordable, straightforward, and easy to use. However, this app is best paired with support from professionals and supervision of a doctor, especially if you are dealing with specific health concerns. Some practitioners available to support you with healthy eating patterns include dietitians, naturopaths, chiropractors, trainers, physiotherapists, and/or mental health professionals to make lasting, healthy changes adjustments to your diet and lifestyle.