For most of us, life is already a delicate balancing act. There is our family, friends, work, working out, and with any luck a little downtime somewhere in between. Well then, when I add keeping track of every food that I eat and logging all of my exercises into a journal to that equation, and it may seem impossible. I am tired already just thinking about it! But within the past few years there have been a ton of new smart phone apps popping up in an effort to help people manage their weight loss efforts, making it easier to track these efforts and being able to take all of it on the go.

One of the most popular of these apps, MyFitnessPal is also a website where you can count your calories by entering it into an online diary, as well as keep track of your exercise. It’s great for anyone with a hectic life and is looking to lose some weight or at the minimum just trying to maintain a healthy weight. The free app is available for Blackberry, Android, Windows, and the iPhone. The program also integrates with a bunch of FitBit type devices. If you’ve got one of these you can check the MyFitnessPal app gallery to see if it’s compatible.

Research suggests that for many people, keeping a food journal or other method of tracking your daily consumption will aid significantly with overall weight loss. And I can tell you that I am one of those people! Food and activity tracking seem to work well for me. Over time my portion sizes and snack frequency tend to increase. I then have to make the choice between getting back on track or shopping for a whole new wardrobe of larger clothes.

The down and dirty….

MyFitnessPal

Features

Calorie Counter: MyFitnessPal’s  calorie counter is the “meat and potatoes”. It is an online diary of your intake each day. It allows you to set daily goals, and it can add multiple foods at once. It also automatically stores food and meals that you eat often, which makes them easy to find when they eat them again and need to log them. The web version is more detailed, and the app is perfect for adding on the go.

Exercise Tracker: MyFitnessPal has over 350 exercise stored in its exercise database, and it shows you how much you are burning during each activity (based on your height, weight, and gender). It includes cardio and strength training workouts, as well as yoga and Pilates.

Community: MyFitnessPal’s community aspect basically consists of a forum, where other fellow users of the app are free to exchange tips and advice, as well as to create relationships through sharing personal experiences or struggles. Not my kinda thing but it’s there if you want it.

The Pros

Convenience: Top pro for me is that the app allows me to log food from anywhere and has a food database of over 5 million different kinds of foods to choose from (as well you can customize recipes to add to the database). All changes made on your mobile device are updated instantly on the website.

Instant Feedback: A digital calorie diary is so effective (over traditional self-reporting), because it gives us direct feedback. It provides us with information about what is healthy so that we can make your choices along the way.

Flexibility: MyFitnessPal is not a one-size-fits-all app. Diet profiles can be changed to fit a person’s precise needs, whether they may be on a strict diet or have particular advice from a doctor or dietitian. Plus the program calculates caloric need based on height, weight, gender, and lifestyle, and how quickly you are looking to shed a few pounds.

The Cons

Mobile Dependability: Yes, MyFitnessPal is perfect for on the go, but if there is no wireless signal, it’s impossible to log on to even record anything. In certain situations, I am not always in areas with a wireless signal, and so I would not be able to record in the diary when I needed to.

Food Database: While the database is incredibly large there are still some drawbacks to the food tracking database. Sometimes the scanner function does not work properly and can’t find the product. Additionally, the program doesn’t let you edit the amount of certain consumed foods. As an example, if you happened to drink less than 8 oz. of wine, the program will not let you edit that.

In the end – having so much more information and a sense of accountability really does make me more strategic and thoughtful about what I eat, when I eat it (and when I eventually stop!).