Calorie Counters, Food Trackers & New Year's Resolutions, Oh My!
It’s a new year and our Fed Ex and UPS guys are traversing to-and-from Pad & Quill HQ. Already weary from the rush of a record-setting online shopping season, they are only becoming more wearied by the onslaught of purchases made by those gifted a plastic card this holiday season. Be kind to them, those faithful purveyors of presents, for they likely log a marathon of steps every day in their efforts to compel commerce forward.
As it is a new year and Mr. PQ is heading off to the Consumer Electronic Show in Vegas. So for now, Mrs. PQ is taking off her administrative hat and donning her dietitian/personal trainer cap to give her two cents regarding health and food tracker apps.
For anyone with a New Year’s resolution to get healthier, eat better, lose weight, or conquer some recreational Everest, there are myriads of apps available to track, motivate, plan, inspire, confuse and yes even injure you (here's looking at you CrossFit).
Calorie Counters Vs. Food Trackers
I did a quick survey of the Apple App store to find food trackers and calorie counters. My first observation? There were a handful of apps available when I searched “food tracker”, almost all of which required in-app purchases and almost none of which had been reviewed by customers. When I searched “Calorie Counter” the offerings multiplied 10 fold with the same distribution of “in-app” purchases and customer ratings. Not very encouraging...
I’m often struck by the psychology of “tracking food versus calorie counting." In my experience, this breaks down to tracking what I did wrong or counting what I did right. My clients who track food tend to write a simple “salad” for lunch but elaborate in a tortured list their weekend binge. Whereas Calorie Counters tend to document concisely every lettuce leaf which passes their lips, while under-guestimating that pan of brownies they ate one fork at a time.
Similarly, there's “losing weight” versus “improving health.” Losing things has an almost universal connotation of frustration, stress or sorrow, whereas “improving” denotes positive change. I think a key to success is to evaluate what you are desiring to “lose” in addition to pounds, e.g. negative self-image, rejection, etc. When you don’t have a comprehensive grasp of what is truly motivating your loss, you will have a difficult time overcoming the comfort foods cravings and long reinforced neuro-pathways that drive you to certain foods.
The best example of this I can give is of my client, in her mid 20’s who weekly stopped by McDonalds on her way home every Wednesday. I asked her what she ordered and was surprised by her reply; a hamburger, small fries and small soda- essentially, a Happy Meal. I asked her what routinely fell on Wednesdays, and it was not a surprise that her day ended each week with a stressful project review meeting with her boss. Happy Meals were a regular “reward” in her family when dad had navigated a stressful week. Ah hah!
As a whole, improving health can be difficult to quantify unless you have an outstanding medical condition such as hypertension. Apple apps, however, can help you chart milestones, eg I could barely walk a mile, now I am jogging 2. I’ve noticed I feel more energetic now when I go to the park with my kids etc.
The Experiment Begins...
Back to the Apple App store. Glancing through the list of food trackers I chose the one most representative of what I’ve used for clients these past 22 years, and decided to plunk my money down upfront to avoid getting lost in all the pop-up add-on gadgets and in-app purchase whosiwhatsits. I went with iFoodFit, programmed by Jeff Carter, with an up front cost of $9.99. This app has been on market since February 2015 and requires OS X 10.6.6 or later. For my “Calorie Counter” app I went with Calorie Counter Pro by MyNetDiary Inc which is compatible with iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch and, hooray, it also interfaces with Apple Watch. This app cost $3.99, requires iOS 7.0 or later and is available in 3 languages (English, French and Russian) for you polyglots.
iFood Fit... For What??
This app was simple and straight-forward to set up and use. The data is easy to understand, but also includes some more granular details that are helpful to show your health care providers, eg mineral tracker, weight trajectory and activity log. The downside to any app like iFoodFit is that it is only as reliable as your data input, so if you are committed to a healthier, trimmer you, be ready to allocate 30-40 minutes a day logging your food and activity. This app has a comprehensive food database including popular restaurants and ethnic foods as well as the ability to input a recipe of your own design. The more you use the app the easier it becomes to log your food as you will become familiar with keywords to enter as you search the food database. Another plus is the activity tracker and net calorie counter (food in+energy expended) so you are able to log net positive or net negative calories each day/week and month. The graphs and reports can give great positive reinforcement when you can look at the results of your effort over time. (We Personal Trainers love this!)
The two negatives for me is that the app is only available as desktop version and is not compatible with iPad or iPhone. For those who like to record on the go, this is a deal breaker. I did a thorough search of the App store and could not find a compatible ios app so I assume this app was made for those who primarily interface with a Macbook or iMac. This inclines one to error in data entry as it’s not always easy to recall all intake on any given day.
The other negative for me personally is that the search of the food database starts from too wide a population. For instance, enter “bread” and the first dozen or so entries are do not contain sliced bread. Expand the search to “bread, slice” and no entries are returned. This adds for considerable time in the front end as you learn how each food product is labeled. I would likely abandon my data entry within a few days as I find this tedious, and I have 20+ years of searching food databases.
I would give this product a B for overall interface value, an A for feedback and reporting (assuming the user is accurate at data input) and a B- for practicality and usefulness. (really need to be able to use my iPhone as a recording device)
Singing Out Loud With Calorie Counter Pro
Whereas the iFood Fit app is somewhat akin to a drive in the old PQ minivan replete with a winter’s storm worth of french fries and goldfish crackers wedged between the seats, comfy yet disquietingly organic, the Calorie Counter Pro is like a souped up version of Mrs. PQ’s Scion XB with 5-spd manual transmission. It gets you where you want to go faster, more efficiently and with enough vim and vigor to make you want to sing out loud with the windows down. It crosses the plane from verboten to almost downright acceptable. (That plane would be shattered if Mrs. PQ wasn’t such a big fan of Patience and Prudence and Carole King)
Visually, this app looks like it belongs in this newer era of Apple Watch and iPad Pro, with easy to read categories, simple data entry and integration with the Apple Watch Health App. So much of my fitness and activity are recorded automatically with this app. The accompanying data is concise and incredibly useful. At a glance, I can see how many calories I have consumed, what I have left to remain within my weight loss goal and how my activity level is contributing to my overall health goals. MND also offers an essential component to lifestyle change often overlooked by well-meaning people: a connection to a community, both at a personal level, (you can link with friends), and at a professional level, (there are dietitians, personal trainers and other allied medical personnel linked on the home menu).
MyNetDiary allows for bar code scanner input of data, a handy pop-up tutorial when you first sign on, and dare I say, a down right happy font. This app has an encouraging, upbeat feel without being Julian Michels intense. I would give this app an A grade across all categories, with the exception being for those who are lap or desk top aficionados.
I plan to use both apps over the next several weeks, with further reviews, unless of course winter, which is trying to kill us Northerners this time of year, actually succeeds. Stay frosty!