Week 1 of the Body Transformation Challenge and I’ve turned into a MyFitnessPal freak! Weighing out 6 oven chips and pouring my 100ml of red wine into a measuring jug I decided this was unhealthy way to live. I felt restricted and under the control of my calorie-counting app. Who was MFP to tell me I couldn’t have both wine and cheese with my 97 remaining kcals?
Fast forward one week and I’m a tracking convert. After seven huffy days, I realised that with a little forward planning and a positive attitude, meeting my goals was no more than a problem solving exercise. I like rules. I like things to line up nicely, add up and fit in. I don’t like doing things if I can’t do them properly. If I’m not all in, I’m all out.
When your goal is fat loss, your main concern should be sticking to a calorie deficit. After all, that’s what every ‘diet’ is based around, no matter how it’s sold to you. There are several different methods of achieving this deficit but one of the most accurate is by tracking calories in an app, like MyFitnessPal.
Here’s some tips for being all in, and making tracking less of a chore...
In my opinion, the most important thing for successful tracking is honesty. If you’re not being honest about what you’re eating, you may as well forget the whole thing. I get it; your nutrition coach can see your diary and that family-sized bag of Doritos you caned is embarrassing. But then, so is claiming you’ve been in a calorie deficit all week and not losing any fat.
Ways to stay honest:
Input. Every. Single. Morsel. Yep, even that chicken nugget you nicked from your daughter’s dinnerplate when she wasn’t looking. That tiny bit of shortbread that came with your coffee. It’s a hassle adding all those little bites you sneak in throughout the day; which is actually a blessing. If you make it a rule to put everything in, no matter how small, it might just put you off eating it in the first place! Other items you might simply be forgetting about include; milk in your tea, oil you use to cook with and the butter on your toast.
Don’t be tempted to pick the item in MyFitnessPal with the least number of calories! Here’s a good example; you go out for coffee and order a croissant. Search for it in MFP and a list of options appear. First one on the list is 100 kcal. Result. You can kid yourself on that your all-butter croissant is only 100 kcals. Or you can scroll further down to find the Starbucks one at 240kcal, or the Pret one at 300kcal. That’s a pretty huge difference to someone with a budget of just 1200kcals for the day!
Stop inputting values based on tablespoons and cups. One man’s tablespoon is another man’s ladle! More on accuracy coming up…
Keep a better track of how much you’re really drinking at the weekend. No one cares how many glasses of wine you drank on Friday night, all we care about is that you’re accounting for these calories in your weekly budget. If your nutrition mentor can’t see the whole picture, they can’t adjust your calories to make things work for you. If you’re out at a bar, keep a note of each drink as it’s being ordered. No need to make a song and dance out of it, but a quick tally in your notes app, or a sly pic of the drink before you neck it will help stop you misjudging how much you’ve had. If you’re at a house party, it’s a little more tricky. Make sure you’re in charge of pouring the wine instead of letting others top you up every 20 minutes! Try not to accept a top up until you finish a glass, so you can keep tabs on your consumption. And don’t forget to input all those handfuls of crisps you’ve been snacking on...
The second important factor in successful tracking is accuracy. If you’re not taking an extra few seconds to double check the weight of your pasta, tracking it could be pretty pointless. You won’t have to do it for every meal, but spending some time in the first week or so to get to know what common foods weigh is invaluable. Otherwise, you could be eating an extra few hundred calories a day and your deficit is gone. Along with your fat loss.
Ways to stay accurate;
Invest around a tenner on a set of digital scales! Leave them sitting out on your worktop. Weigh everything. Even just for a few weeks at first. It literally takes seconds and you’ll be surprised at what you thought was only 30g!
Stop believing what MFP says is ‘1 serving’. I’m always baffled at these ‘family sized’ lasagnes that say they serve 4. Four what? Mice? Let’s say you share a family sized lasagne with your other half. You scan the packet and add that you ate 1 portion, but the packet claims to serve 4, so you really just nailed 2 portions. Double what you thought. Just be aware of checking the grams match up.
Double check nutritional values on labels. MyFitnessPal is great, but it’s not always accurate. Take a minute just to glance over your food label to verify what’s in your app. If not, add it to the ‘My Foods’ section, especially if it’s something you eat regularly.
Are you really weighing out and eating 100g of pasta, 100g of potatoes, 100g of chips… or is it just the quickest and easiest way of inputting it to MFP? When I invested in a set of scales, I was shocked at how little 100g actually was. Weigh it out for maximal accuracy!
When it comes to food that you are cooking yourself, weighing ingredients raw is the most accurate method as cooking food changes the weight depending on method and time. Meat can lose 25% of its weight and pasta/rice increases in weight! If you do have to track cooked food then make sure you pick the option that matches how it has been cooked. Eg grilled, skinless chicken breast will have completely different calories than fried chicken thigh with skin! The same rules apply for other foods like fresh fruit vs. frozen fruit, grilled veg vs. raw veg, etc. As long as the option picked matches what you plan on eating!
Now we’re getting super geeky… have you ever weighed out a scoop of protein powder? (any street cred I had left has well and truly left the building) My protein powder comes in scoops of 25g–apparently. I weighed out a level scoop that came with the pack, and it weighed in at a whole 9g over! So that 100kcal shake I’ve been drinking was actually 136kcal. That’s an extra 252kcals per week, which might not seem a lot, but multiply that by any other miscalculations that are happening, and it could end up being into the thousands.
Eating out. While you’re probably not going to be able to stay accurate when out for dinner, something is always better than nothing. When your goals are fat loss, try to over-estimate rather than under-estimate. If it’s a restaurant chain you’re in, chances are the meal is already in MFP - happy days. But when it’s not, do the best you can. Plan ahead; check out the menu online beforehand and input it into your diary before you go, so that you know roughly how many calories you need to save for it. (It might also stop you having a blow-out and ordering extra sides, or that dessert you didn’t budget for!) Remember that the chef’s goal has everything to do with how the food tastes, and nothing to do with your calorie deficit, so as I say, try to overestimate to make sure all is accounted for!
Be aware of recipe kits when you’re scanning them. Generally these kits only include the calories of what’s actually in the box, for example; a fajita kit would provide nutritional information for the wraps, salsa and spice mix only and you would be expected to weigh and count your meat, veg and sour cream separately.
Here’s where we don’t need to be a super-geek. Low calorie items like salad and veg. Misjudging 20g of baby spinach is not going to make or break your calorie deficit like misjudging 20g of peanut butter might!
Once you realise that you are in control of your calorie consumption–not your app–it becomes a more enjoyable experience. Starting out, generally you’ll have a calorie goal and a protein goal for the day. What you eat, and when you eat it within that is up to you. We’re not going to tell you what you can and can’t have; as long as you are staying honest and accurate about what you consume, and it stays within your calorie goals, the fat will come off!
Tracking for muscle gain, or overall health, gets a little more complex in terms of what you eat and when but the same principles still apply. You could be completely honest about what you think you’re consuming, but without weighing and measuring, you could be literally eating into that calorie deficit every day. Similarly, you could be bang on with every gram you weigh out, but if you’re choosing to leave select items off the app, your nutrition mentor has no idea why the number on your scales is not going down!
If you’ve been reading this post and realising there are holes in your tracking, or areas that could be stepped up, invest a little time and energy into these tips this week and see if it makes a difference!
Note: If you’ve been reading this and thinking ‘Jeez that girl needs to get a life’, I don’t blame you! Until I started tracking properly, the above all sounded like an absolute snooze-fest. Then I realised it’s a lot more simple than it sounds; and the results are worth a little extra effort! From our experience, those who take the time to weigh and measure their food see the most dramatic transformations, and are the ones who ingrain habits for long term success.