In our last edition, we reviewed the health and nutrition app Lose It. This time we are going to take a look at MyFitnessPal, a competitor to Lose It. It’s an app that we recommend to our patients if they have not already begun using fitness tracking software.
But before we get into the specifics of how the product works, we’d like to take a moment to talk about why Houstonians need to pay attention to their health at work and at play.
Earlier today we attended the Houston and Harris County 2015 State of Health Conference, hosted by the Harris County Healthcare Alliance. The Alliance brings together around 60 different key area healthcare organizations who come together to produce a comprehensive annual State of Health report which measures health trends among Houstonians and identifies areas that need improvement.
You can check out the report at www.houstonstateofhealth.org.
Key Findings in the Houston 2015 State of Health Report:
- We are facing an epidemic of diabetes in Houston. 10.8% of adults reported a diabetes diagnosis.
- 64.6% of adults in the Houston area are overweight or obese.
- Since 2010, new HIV diagnoses have decreased to 1,242 per year, as of 2013. 42% of all HIV/AIDS cases in Harris County are among men who have sex with men.
- Syphilis spiked to 11.6 cases per 100,000 people in Harris County during 2012.
- Houston’s air quality is improving.
- The top five causes of death in Harris County in 2012 were (in descending order) cancer, heart disease, accidents, stroke and chronic lower respiratory disease.
- Mental health remains a major concern in Harris County.
- Tobacco use has dropped from 21.7% to 13.9% in the 10 year period from 2002 – 2012.
MyFitnessPal is Officially Big Business: Under Armour Acquisition
As we pivot to talk about the features of MyFitnessPal, we should first take a moment to talk about the company’s unexpected recent sale to Under Armour.
As you can imagine, health and fitness trackers have become big business. So it’s not hard to imagine that MyFitnessPal, which has more than 80 million users, was snapped up by Under Armour, the upstart sports clothing and lifestyle company. The price they paid for the company may shock you however: $475 million dollars. Somewhere someone wants to pay a lot of money for your private data.
The MyFitnessPal deal was actually one of three acquisitions in a row by Under Armour; they also acquired the Danish startup Endomondo — a virtual fitness coach app with 20 million registered users — for $85 million and MapMyFitness, an industry-leading GPS-based fitness tracker.
What’s Next for the MyFitnessPal App?
We can’t be sure will happen with MyFitnessPal. Mike Lee, the Co-Founder and CEO, sent out a vaguely reassuring message saying that MyFitnessPal will still be free to use and that you will continue to own your own data. He emphasized that Under Armour will never sell your data to third parties.
However, given past history, change is likely to come one way or another as Under Armour pursues its aggressive growth strategy. One possibility is that it will roll everything into its 24×7 fitness dashboard, called Under Armour RECORD.
If you’re thinking to yourself, ‘Well, what I really want is an Apple Watch with its health tracking features, so I’ll just wait for that to come out,” then we have a heads up for those of you who haven’t been paying close attention to geek websites (like MacRumors) which predict the new Apple Watch probably won’t have the health tracking capabilities that were touted when it made its public debut last Fall.
The tech rumor websites claim that the upcoming first generation Apple Watch won’t come with either the blood pressure nor the blood oxygen level sensors, due to problems with inconsistent measurements. The reason? Problems due to natural variations in skin dryness and arm hairiness (!), arose during product testing, resulting in inconsistent measurements. Too bad.
How MyFitnessPal Works
With all the caveats out of the way, let’s dig into how MyFitnessPal works.
First, download MyFitnessPal for your iPhone or iOS device from the Apple Store or for your Android device from the Google Play website. Once you’ve downloaded and installed the software on your smartphone, start by creating your new account.
Next you’ll be asked to set up some fitness goals.
At this point, we actually recommend you make a visit to Dr. Brewton to discuss appropriate exercise and nutrition goals appropriate for you. For most people, a gentle weight of loss of pound a week is a reasonable goal. Based on the results of your visit with Dr. Brewton, you can set up your personal weight loss and fitness goals inside the MyFitnessPal software.
In a nutshell, what MyFitnessPal does for you is count calories. While this is something you could do by hand (or by using things like ‘point-based’ systems, which is how WeightWatchers works), the main advantage of using a software program is it’s a faster, easier way to count your calories. And it It even gets even faster and easier as the software learns your favorite food items.
For example, if you eat packaged food from the grocery store, you can use your smart phone to photograph the UPC symbol (aka ‘bar code’) and MyFitnessPal will access its online database to retrieve the food’s calorie count, nutrition and serving information.
If you eat out at popular chain restaurants, many of the menu items are likely to be accessible directly through MyFitnessPal. What’s you’ll soon learn is that most restaurant meals and prepared foods tend to have very high calorie counts as well as high sodium levels. You’ll soon realize that even one restaurant meal a day can use up most of your available calorie budget, leaving you hungry the rest of the day.
Of course MyFitnessPal is not a magic bullet. It just serves as a convenient guide that helps you keep your daily calories intake just slightly below a threshold of the calories that you burn through the day.
To get the optimum health and fitness benefits, you’ll also need to do more than just limit your calories. You’ll need to eat better, more nutritious food with a high-fiber content. In time, you’ll see the benefit of cooking more and more of your meals at home using raw ingredients like high-fiber fruits and vegetables, rather than eating out at lunch or dinner.
Fortunately, you can enter your individual recipe ingredients into the software and it will calculate the total calories for you based on the sum of the individual recipe ingredients — as well as the relative percentage of fats, proteins and carbohydrates .
In general, you’ll want to make sure that each meal has at least 20% protein. Adding nuts like raw almonds, unsalted pistachios or Chia seeds to your meal can help raise the protein level — without adding a lot of fat.
As you get with the program, you’ll start to do a better job planning your day food-wise. If you’ve never counted calories before, you’ll be in for a real shock that some foods — particularly pasta — are very calorie intensive, while most fruits and vegetables are not.
You’ll also come to appreciate how exercise, like a fast-paced walk for 45 minutes, burns up calories — allowing you to eat a little bit more; this feels great on day when you are close to going over your daily calorie budget.
We encourage you to make an appointment with Dr. Brewton and discuss your fitness and nutrition goals, then give MyFitnessPal a try. Many of our patients really like using it and have gotten good results, and we hope you will too.