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Do Calorie Tracking Apps Actually Work? Discover The Pro’s and Cons To Three Of The Best Apps On The Market

The dawn of technology is well and truly upon us. Over the last three years, apps for almost everything has been created to help streamline our lives making things seem a lot more efficient and practical.

Fast forward to today, apps are everywhere and every smartphone user out there has them on their phone.

One area we’re seeing an increase in apps is the health and fitness industry. There are apps for home and gym workouts, meditation apps, nutrition, and calorie tracking apps, step counter apps you name it, anything health and fitness and you will find an app for it.

But with all these apps, is it making life easier or are they becoming a distraction. And do apps that help you track and manage your calories help or do they add to the confusion?

To help answer those questions, we’ve decided to dig deep into the app archive and pull out three of the best nutrition apps to see if they’re as good as they say they are.

But before we get into what apps we’ve tried and tested and what we found by using them. We want to give you a little bit of a back story as to why we would even look at apps in the first place. This might be a slight tangent and rant, but ask any nutrition expert that’s worth their sale and they will agree when I say.

“We need to empower people with knowledge and help them implement the fundamentals on how to manage their weight without having to resort to drastic measures or buy into bullshit products that help people shed the wrong kind of pounds.

With social media being so popular, it seems it’s more than just seeing what others are doing. People use it to promote their business as well as some of their questionable nutrition methods.

A lot of so-called nutrition “guroo’s” and experts post on social media that the only reason you’re not losing weight is because of inflammation, or that your metabolism is broken and that you need to cut out carbs, sugars and start eating clean and to detoxify your body in order to help shift those excess pounds.

Dieting is never easy, but if you have systems in place it can make it more bearable

Unfortunately, you hear more of these absurd claims, than you do about the truth behind weight gain and weight loss.

And let me tell you, it has nothing to do with inflammation, cutting out carbs or sugar and detoxifying your body. It’s all to do with calories in calories out (CICO) Basically energy balance. How much energy you put into the body and how much energy you burn. This is an ongoing balance which you have to consider daily and as well as weekly.

In principle, it seems pretty straight forward and simple, right? But, when it comes to losing weight, what people tend to struggle with is understanding calories and where they come from and what foods contain the most and how to adopt a flexible approach so that they don’t need cut out their favourite foods.

What we call that that in the nutrition industry is “Food Literacy” it’s knowing what food belongs in which group, how much energy is in those foods and understanding where they have a place in your diet. For example.

Protein contains 4kcal per gram

Carbohydrates including fruits and veg contain 4kcal per gram

Fats contain 9kcal per gram

Alcohol contains 7kcal per gram

When you have some level of food literacy you start to understand the importance of these foods and where you want to place them. Protein would always be at the top of the pyramid because it’s an essential macronutrient.

Now. You will have a collective of nutrition guru’s, who will try to tell you that carbs are inherently bad and that fats are much healthier. Then you’ll also have a group of nutrition guru’s who will say the exact opposite and that fats are bad and carbs are healthier

Confusing right…

Dieting or calorie tracking doesn’t need to be complex. Keep it simple and flexible, for it to be effective

Well, Spoiler alert. Neither are bad and neither is more important than the other. What it boils down to and what the literature has been supporting, is that between fats and carbs, it’s entirely a personal preference. Think, sweet or savory. What is your preference?

Now before we end up down the rabbit warren that is nutrition, let’s pull it back quickly to energy balance. Regardless of what your macronutrient split looks like, what’s essential and paramount is CALORIES.

How much are you consuming and how are you tracking it? This is where apps can become really useful, but not necessarily essential. There are lots of different methods and strategies to help to track your calories. Something we’re not going to get into today.

Personally, we like apps because they’re easy to use and in some way, they keep you accountable. However, they also have some pitfalls which make them less efficient, more time consuming and less attractive to use in the long term. When you stumble across an app that starts to become a chore and it starts to eat away at your precious time, you will inadvertently use it less and less.

The other pitfall of using apps is that you can become too reliant on them. Without really knowing it can strip you of self-efficacy, meaning you’re less likely to do it alone without an app. So just be mindful of that and don’t become too fixated or reliant on an app. Remember, you’re a human and the app is simply a bit of technology which has been designed to help you stick to some guidelines and parameters. Don’t let it take over.

We’ve used apps for a while now and whilst some of them have been helpful, we’ve also recognised the tedious nature behind having to use them every time you eat, especially, when it comes to having to scan barcodes, which leaves you feeling more like you’re working at a supermarket check out, than sitting at the dinner table.

Each of the apps we’ve reviewed all have merits and they can be useful to use in the short term. They’re definitely not something we would recommend in the long term. So our advice would be, start to learn more about your habits and what data you’re putting into the app to see what traps you could fall into when not using the app.

Identifying these habits and trends allows you to analyse your routine and habits better. See it as a journal. Noticing trends and habits help you understand areas where you do well and areas you don’t do so well and those areas need some work.

APP REVIEW #1

MY FITNESS PAL

Probably one of the most heard and used app out there. It’s been around the longest and it seems to be the most popular, especially amongst trainers and gym goers. Here are our three pro’s, three cons and some other information like price and where you can download it from.

THE PRO’S TO USING MYFITNESSPAL

#1
Spoilt for choice: There are a plethora of foods you can add, giving you a huge selection to choose from (however this does have its drawbacks and I will explain more on that later)

#2
Faster Input: You have the ability to scan food labels and packaging. This can help cut down time inputting in your food. It also gives you an idea of how that food would sit within your daily calories

#3
Save your favourites: You can save your favourite foods and plan ahead whilst being able to check back on previous progress allowing you to see the types of foods you’ve been eating and analysing your food history so you can make tweaks and adjustments to help nudge you closer to your objective.

THE CON’S TO USING MYFITNESSPAL

#1
Time-Consuming: Even with the barcode feature, it can be very time consuming to log all the food that’s on your plate. By the time you have done it all, you’ve either lost interest in the food you’re eating or it’s gone stone cold. Our top tip is to plan ahead and get the meals logged in prior to eating.

#2
Inaccurate nutrition information: MFP has dropped the ball on this one. Giving users the opportunity to add in their own food and adding it to the global library is, in my opinion, a bad move. You could type in a food and be given anywhere between 10 and 100 different variations, making it very difficult and time-consuming. They seem to be trying to be giving more access to users on things they shouldn’t necessarily have access to, especially if it’s not being regulated.  They’re some foods which have been checked and you can tell which ones have by the tick next to the food description. For us, this is a big no, no. We’re all for users having some degree of input but only on their own profile and not globally.

#3
You’ll get bored: Because of the simple and easy functions, it makes sense to use something like MFP at the start of your calorie tracking journey. However. Over time you’ll start to get bored with the functions and not really see the benefits a few months in. We also believe that using MFP over a prolonged period will just give you app fatigue and create a void between user and app. It’s not recommended to use an app extensively because it will just create a disjointed relationship with the user and their food and soon you will become disconnected to the benefits of food and just see food as a number, which on so many levels is bad news.

WHO WOULD THIS APP BENEFIT?

If you’ve just started to use a calorie tracker then MFP would be a good shout. You could learn a lot from your habits and the foods you eat whilst gaining some knowledge of calorie content in foods.

RATE 6-10

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PRICE and WHERE TO DOWNLOAD

Cost free, premium $9.99 available on iTunes and Google Play

APP REVIEW #2

MYMACROS

A simple and easy app to use. It gives you the barebones on what to track, making it relatively user-friendly. It’s not as well known as MFP but still a good app for starting out.

THE PRO’S TO USING MY MACROS+

#1
Individualised: Specific and helpful to identify macronutrients. This is useful to help improve your knowledge base around food, helping you increase awareness and improve your understanding of food literacy.

#2
Be Your Own Chef: You can create your own recipes and add in your own favourite foods. Unlike MFP this will stay within your profile so it’s less confusing to do and making it more individualised to you.

#3
Lightning Fast: They have also added in a new scan feature similar to MFP which can help speed up things when logging your food.

THE CON’S TO USING MY MACROS+

#1
Hard To Find Familiar Brands: If you live in the UK or Europe then you will struggle to find a lot of the brands you’re familiar with. The library of foods in the app are predominantly in the US and not available in the UK and Europe, which makes is frustrating because you have to try and find the equivalent.

#2
Decision Fatigue: I can’t knock them for having so many categories and food types, but in reality, this makes it a lot harder and more time consuming for the user. Research has told us that humans suffer from decision fatigue when presented too many options. This often leads to hasty decisions or not following through. Unfortunately, this app will cause decision fatigue because they have widened their search, trying to get in as much as possible. This could be one of their selling points to make it look better than other apps. Personally, for us, that isn’t always positive. Less is sometimes more.

#3
Lacking Functionality For an app that will cost you £2.89 it has very basic functions. I think they have got the balance between app functions and food types wrong. If you’re going to be paying £2.89 versus free like MFP, then you would expect it to have a little more about it by adding more personal functions to help the user track their progress. If they did this, then it has the potential to become a better app. Especially when you look at MFP having more functions and it’s free.

ADDED FEATURE
My Macros+ has the function to use a macro coach who will help guide you through creating your own meal templates and guides through automated coaching. In a nutshell, they will put together a plan based on your goals and your current composition. This is a paid feature at $9.99 a month, similarly to the MFP. How does it compare with MFP premium? We don’t actually know, as we have never needed to use the feature. However. You do get a 14 day trial with My Macros+ so it might be worth a punt.

WHO WOULD THIS APP BENEFIT?
If you’ve just started to use a calorie tracker and have the time and knowledge around food and fancy something a little more individualised than MFP then My Macros+ might be a good shout. Although I will say, with it having an initial cost I would expect better functions from them, especially if they want you to use an added feature like Macro Coach.

RATE 5 – 10

*****

PRICE and WHERE TO DOWNLOAD

Cost £2.89 Itunes and Google Play

APP REVIEW #3

MY FAT SECRET

This is probably one of the best-kept secrets when it comes to calorie tracking apps. They have done a great job on the interface and the functions, making it very simple to use and being very user-friendly.

THE PRO’S TO MY FAT SECRET

#1
Getting to know you: They have a great startup where they ask you about your goals and body composition making it very individualised with some really good key functions to help you keep on track

#2
Community based: These guys have done a great job of building a community within an app. Using a Facebook-style approach you can check out other users profiles, who they are, what their goals are and best of all, their recipes giving you more ideas to play around with which help improve interaction with the app.

#3
Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy: Inputting your foods on this app is really simple, instead of scrolling through lots and lots of foods, you simply type it in and it will give you the best search results making it easy and time efficient. The other thing about this app is that you can track your progress with their reports giving you an indication of weight changes and how much you ate at each meal.

THE CON’S TO FAT SECRET

To be honest, we struggled to find three cons to this app. They have really covered the essentials and kept it simple. If we were to really nit pick, it would have to be for something that really isn’t that much of a big deal. They have a premium at $6.99 which is less than MFP and MyMacros+ the only thing is they don’t offer a trial. But being totally honest, with how easy it is to use the app, you would already be swayed to use premium.

WHO WOULD THIS APP BENEFIT?

If you’ve just started to use a calorie tracker then My Fat Secret would be a great shout. Even if you’re a tech biff you would have to try really hard to screw this up. It also caters for the slightly more advanced user as well.

RATE 7-10

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Cost: Free  iTunes Google Play

Premium feature $9.99 per month

We hope this quick breakdown of the top three apps we reviewed has helped you. If you’re interested. We’ve actually reviewed three more apps. If you would like the full PDF with all six apps, then enter your details below.