Time to read: 10 minutes
Things you’ll need to have:
– A kitchen scale (I use this one by Ektecity. Amazon, $20)
– A basic bathroom scale (This Zerla scale is popular. Amazon, $23)
– MyFitnessPal (Free. The $50/yr premium upgrade is expensive but worth it for diet nerds)
– A 100% commitment to losing weight
Losing weight is hard.
How difficult is it to shed unwanted fat? To give you some idea, Americans spend $64 billion dollars a year on weight loss. By comparison, they spend roughly $31 billion a year on all professional sports – combined.
Losing weight is really hard.
Thankfully, technology is helping us lose weight easier than ever before. In the last ten years devices like heart rate monitors, GPS run trackers, Nintendo’s Wii-Fit, fitness video games and wearables like the FitBit or Samsung Gear have all improved the speed and efficiency of body transformation.
Today I want to talk about the latest breakthrough in weightloss. This one tool is more useful than all of the rest of those devices combined. It’s a simple smartphone app called MyFitnessPal. MFP incorporates a portable diary, a BMI calculator, a calorie calculator, an exercise calculator, a detailed progress tracker, a huge database of foods and a health coach into a single, easy-to-use, free program that anyone can use.
This little app is so valuable to the industry that MyFitnessPal was recently purchased by Under Armour for almost $500 million dollars. Let me tell you, there’s a good reason they shelled out the cash. MyFitnessPal works!
Today I’m going to show you a step-by-step breakdown of how MyFitnessPal will help you lose weight easier and more efficiently than ever. So let’s get to it.
In order to lose weight you need five basic things: A concrete goal, a deadline, a way to measure your progress, a system to follow and the work itself. (To learn an excellent system of goal-setting, get SMART here)
Step 1. You need a concrete goal, measurable goal
In this case, you need a weight-loss goal. Do you want to lose five pounds? Twenty? Is your goal to fit into your old pants? Have a six-pack for the first time? Maybe you finally want to leave your house without a crane and a team of engineers? Whatever you’re shooting for, it needs to be something specific. “I want to be thinner” sounds good but it’s too vague; If you lose one pound you technically achieved your goal but probably won’t be satisfied with the result.
Some people use a bodyfat % chart to help them plan their future self
Step 2: You need a deadline
Goals are dreams with a deadline. Let’s say you’ve made a concrete, measurable goal of losing ten pounds. Good job. The next question is how quickly you want to lose it.
Answering this question is a very important part of your goal-setting because it determines how hard you will have to work. If your deadline is to lose ten pounds in a year, you will only need to lose one pound every month or so. One pound is 3500 calories so that’s eliminating 117 calories every day – either doing a little extra walking or removing one serving of any item on this list from your daily diet. Very doable.
However, if your deadline is to lose ten pounds in a month, you’re going to have to work your ass off. Ten pounds is 35,000 calories which means you’ll need to cut 1170 calories a day. It’s definitely not impossible – people like Christian Bale and Tom Hanks are famous for their intense weight loss programs – but it’s not gonna be fun either.
If you’re going to commit 100% to your goal (and you must) then it’s vital to choose a deadline that works for you. Only you know your schedule, your money, your relationships and your other commitments. Only you know what things in your life can be rearranged – and what can’t. So make sure when you set your deadline that it’s reasonable, practical and works for you.
Step 3. Measurements
Alright so you’ve done the math, looked at your lifestyle, analyzed what you’re willing to sacrifice and you’ve decided a reasonable goal is to lose 10 pounds in three months. Now it’s time to do a little math. (Don’t worry – I hate math so this section will be real simple.)
First things first. How much do you weigh? This question is a bit more complicated than it sounds because our body is always gaining and losing food and water weight. The average body weight can fluctuate from 2-4 pounds in a single day. This is why some dieters get discouraged early on. They look at their scales after three days of eating almost nothing and hard exercise and they’re shocked to find they’ve lost no weight. So just remember your starting weight may be off by several pounds.
Next you need to figure out how many calories you’re burning in an average day. This cool calculator estimates Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). Simply take your age, weight and height and activity level and plug it into the calculator.
In this example, you’re 37 years old, 200lbs, 6’0 tall and you sit all day. According to the calculator, you’re going to burn roughly 2300 calories a day just by existing.
You know that your goal is losing 10 pounds (35,000cal) in three months (90 days). If you break that down, you’ll have to eliminate 389 calories every day (35,000 / 90 = 389) to achieve your goal.
Alright, now you have your numbers. You know you’ll burn about 2300cal every day just by being you. And you know you need to cut about 400 calories a day to achieve your goal. That means if you want to lose 10 pounds in 90 days, based on your numbers, you’ll need to be at 1900 total calories at the end of every day (2300-400=1900).
Great, so we have our 3-month goal and we have our daily goal. So how do we cut 400 calories every day?
There are two ways to remove calories: Eat less or exercise more. There are at least 45 good reasons why I advocate exercising more AND eating right – but if you have to choose only one the fastest way to lose weight is by eating less. To show you what I mean, here’s a quick breakdown of the difference.
According to this calculator, to cut 400cal, a 200lb man would need to do one of these:
Jog (15-min mile): 40 minutes
Walk (dog-walking speed): 74 minutes
Weight-lift (moderate pace): 84 minutes
Practice Yoga: 65 minutes
Ice-skate (competitive): 18 minutes
And he would have to do that every day single day for 90 days. The other option would be to cut one of these items from his diet every day:
32 Cool Ranch Dorito chips (400cal)
1 32oz Coke (400cal)
1 Medium order of fries (390cal)
1 Taco Bell bean+cheese burrito (1 burrito=386cal)
Just the bread from a 12’ Subway Sandwich (400cal)
1 Krispy Kreme Apple Fritter (390cal)
It’s obviously going to be a lot easier to just skip the Doritos or fries rather than spend the time exercising – unless maybe you’re an ice skater.
No matter whether you choose diet, exercise or both, you need a way to track how many calories you’re eating and how many you’re burning. This brings us to MyFitnessPal.
Step 4. The MyFitnessPal System
After you’ve downloaded and installed MFP, you’ll start the program. The splash page will give you an option to Log In or Sign Up. Click “Sign Up” and then either use your email or Facebook to begin.
From there you’ll go through the setup process. You will select your goal (Lose Weight, Maintain, Gain Weight), your activity level (Not Very Active, Lightly Active, Active, Very Active), and then your Gender, Age, Height and Weight. You’ll enter your Goal Weight and how many pounds you want to lose (or in some cases, gain) per week (0.5lb, 1lb, 1.5lb or 2lb). Finally you’ll enter a username, email and password.
For the purposes of this tutorial we’ll be following a guy who is 37 years old, Not Very Active, 6’0, 200 pounds and he wants to lose 1 pound per week (roughly 12 pounds in 90 days).
After you create your account, you’ll see a “Congratulations” page with your daily goal. Go ahead and click on “Start Tracking Now.” MFP will give you a quick overview of how the program works. When you’re finished, click the upper left arrow until you get back to the main home screen.
Now click on the three bars in the upper left corner. You will see a menu that looks like this:
There are several different features here. The ones you will use most are “Diary” and “Progress” but before that you’ll need to quickly configure your Profile. So first choose “Settings” and then “Profile.” You’ll see see this:
Under “Units” make sure you adjust everything to what you’re comfortable with. For me, I needed to switch the measurements from “Kilometers” to “Miles.”
Once you’ve adjusted your units, head back to your menu and click on “Progress.” This will bring up a screen that will show your weight loss on a graph. It will start flat but will soon end up having a very cool downward angle. (Yup, that is my progress over the last month!)
Choose the “+” symbol in the upper right corner and then enter your weight and the date. You should also take a photo and add it here. You may not be too excited about what you look like now but your body will change and trust me there’s nothing more satisfying than seeing actual photographic proof that you can change your body.
You also have the option to choose different measurements (neck, waist, hips) and different timelines (1 week, 1 month, 3 month, 6 month and year-to-date) depending on what you want to track.
Once you’ve entered your starting data, go back to the main menu and then choose “Diary.”
This is your new home base. Get comfortable with this page because you’re going to be seeing a lot of it. The diary is what is going to actually do all the calorie tracking for you. The only thing you need to do is make sure to write down everything you eat. So, how does the MFP diary work? It’s so easy it almost makes dieting fun.
So let’s say you’re eating breakfast. First you’ll click on “+ Add Food.” From there a search menu pops up that looks like this:
So what did you have for breakfast? Let’s say today you had a slice of whole wheat toast with butter and a bowl of Lucky Charms with 2% milk.
Now comes the hardest part of your entire dieting process. Weighing.
Yup. You’re going to have to weigh your food. Why? Because it’s almost impossible to accurately guess how much something weighs and consequently how many calories it has. This is one of the reasons why many people stop dieting. It’s simply too inconvenient to weigh their food and write it down.
The good news is that once you’ve purchased a portable kitchen scale like this neat one from Ektecity you can now weigh things with the touch of a button and calculate calories quickly and easily.
Okay, for your breakfast you had one slice of Orowheat 12-grain bread so you type in “Orowheat 12 grain” in the search bar and voila, there’s your food.
If you want to be super high-tech, you can also enter food using the barcode scanner. Just click the icon to the right of the search bar. It’s super-nerdy and fun and I always feel like I’m Star Trek when I use it.
Once you’ve selected “12 grain bread” another page will come up showing you some basic details about your food. It will also give you an option to adjust the serving size and calories so if you only ate half of the toast, simply click on the number of servings and type in 0.5 servings. When you’ve finished entering the food, press the checkmark in the upper right corner and bam: You’ve got bread.
Weighing weight loss
From here, go ahead and get out your scale because you’ll want to measure how much butter you put on your bread. I use two buttons on my scale: The “on/off” button and the “zero” button. If you put something on your scale before it turns on (in this case your bread – or maybe your bread resting on a small plate) then when the scale starts it will show a reading of “0.0” on the readout. From there, simply add the butter that you want and see how many grams it weighs. You can also wait until the scale is turned on, add an item and then press the “zero” button. I will often make my salads like this, weighing each ingredient in turn (like, for example, chicken) and then zeroing the scale out before each new item.
Okay, yes, I realize this is slightly tedious but after a few days your weighing will only take two minutes (or less) per meal. And after a week or so, you’ll begin to memorize how many calories things have and you’ll only need to weigh a few items a day.
So let’s say you ate 10 grams of Land O’ Lakes Unsalted butter on your bread. But when you pull it up, 10 grams isn’t an option in the serving size. Instead it says ‘1.0 tbsp.’ Not a problem. If you click on the “1” next to “Number of Servings” the pop-up menu will have a little arrow on the right hand side. Click on that and you’ll see this menu pop-up:
From there you can change your measurement from tablespoon to teaspoon, cup, ounce or milliliter. Since a milliliter and a gram weigh the same, simply choose ‘milliliter’ and enter ‘10’ in the serving size. Then click the checkmark. You’re now halfway done with breakfast.
Next up is cereal with milk. You can weigh them separately but it’s easier to just use the “zero” button on your scale. Start with the bowl. Zero that out. Then add Lucky Charms until you’re happy. We’ll assume we have 56 grams of cereal, so go ahead and change your measurement until you have ‘grams’ selected and then type in ’56.’ Then hit the checkmark. Nice work. You’re almost finished weighing.
Finally, zero the scale and add your Kroger 2% milk. Choose ‘milliliter’ (again, it’s the same as grams) and enter the amount of grams you added (236g). Hit the checkmark and congratulate yourself. You’re done with calculating breakfast.
The other way to lose weight
At the top of the diary you’ll see your “Goal” in calories for the day. As you enter your calories for each meal you’ll be able to see where you are in your progress. The other important field is “Exercise.”
If you want to give yourself a calorie buffer so you can eat more food the answer you’re looking for is to get moving! Let’s say you decide to go jogging because you really want a couple of Sculpins tonight (2×240=480cal).
Scroll down until you see “Exercise,” hit “+ Add Exercise” and then choose either Cardiovascular or Strength. If you’re calculating calories make sure you choose Cardio, even if you’re doing weight training. MFP gives you the option to keep track of your workout sessions but if you use the Strength section it doesn’t include calories.
Type in “Jogging” and choose your speed.
From there you’ll see this calculator that will show you how much exercise you need to do to burn off those beers:
Turns out you’ll need to run a 12-minute mile for 40 minutes to burn off those Sculpins tonight. If you decide that’s a worthwhile exchange, go for it.
At the top of the screen you’ll see your daily calorie “Goal” (in this case 1840), the “Food” you’ve eaten (526cal), the “Exercise” you’ve done (483cal burned) and the total “Remaining” calories you can eat for the day to accomplish your goal (1797cal).
Step 5. Do the work
You’re ready! Now all you have to do is make sure every time you eat something and every time you exercise you log it in your diary. At first it’s tedious and annoying and you may hate it. After a week or so it’ll become second nature. And when you start seeing your weight dropping you may just fall in love with MyFitnessPal the way I have.
I’m down 15 pounds in 1.5 months with the help of MyFitnessPal and the guys at WASM!
Remember, what gets measured gets improved. The only way to make lasting progress is to record what you’re doing every day. If you commit to MyFitnessPal – if you commit to tracking your calories every day and keeping then in line with your goals – success is guaranteed. You will lose weight. You will have the body you’ve always wanted. And you will feel amazing.
Thanks for reading this. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below. I would love to hear your thoughts – and so would the rest of the community!
Dream big, work hard, kick ass.