Pretty much everyone knows what MyFitnessPal is. It’s a food/calorie/weight tracking application for computers and mobile devices that was created in 2005 and really took off in popularity towards 2011.
Interestingly enough, its popularity seems to be on the decline, at least in terms of people searching for it…
So what’s up with MyFitnessPal? Is it a good tool for weight loss? Is it a good tool for getting a body and life you love? In order to answer this question, we must understand some underlying principles.
MyFitnessPal focuses on weight, not health.
Sustainable success requires focusing on health factors and not just weight loss. Nutrition is more important than calories. Movement must also be nutritious (there is a difference between nutritious movement and destructive movement). Sleep, gut health, hormone regulation, etc. are all relevant factors as well.
Your health and your weight are mostly determined by the environment you create for your body. An unhealthy environment (in terms of nutrition, movement, low stress, and other factors) leads to poor health and excess weight. On the contrary, a healthy weight and a healthy body (and a healthy mind) are the result of placing yourself in a healthy environment.
When you focus on health, it’s very easy to create a sustainable, healthy environment. When you focus on weight, it’s very easy to create an unhealthy environment.
For example, if you follow the classic calories model of weight loss, you can easily deprive yourself of nutrition because you’re reducing quantity without improving quality. You can also deprive yourself of the needed energy (calories) to maintain healthy metabolic function. This is a common occurrence in individuals who cut calories too drastically or for too long.
Following the classic calories model can also lead you to choosing fitness practices that are destructive, such as training for half-marathons, marathons, or other long-endurance events. It’s very common for people to choose somewhat extreme and mostly unsustainable fitness practices. In fact, the industry often encourages this through no-pain-no-gain programming.
Following the classic calories model can lead you to believe that calories-in, calories-out is all that matters. When individuals buy into this model, they rarely focus on the other relevant factors. They don’t alter their sleep patterns, they don’t heal their gut, they don’t get their hormones in alignment, they don’t reduce their stress, they don’t address their dysfunctional relationship with food, body, and Self, and so on.
These things are the ingredients to sustainability. If calories were all that mattered, everyone would be successful.
What is MyFitnessPal almost solely focused on? The calories model.
MyFitnessPal focuses on calories, but calories should be irrelevant*.
There are a few principles at play here. First, the human body has a built-in calorie tracking system that is far more sophisticated than anything created by humans. This system not only monitors caloric intake, but it also dynamically monitors caloric need, has the ability to regulate appetite through hormone manipulation, has the ability to regulate movement patterns by manipulating human motivation, and can dynamically change metabolic function in relation to all of these factors.
What MyFitnessPal, and others who promote the calories model of weight loss are saying, is that we should override this finely tuned system that has served us for hundreds of thousands of years, choosing instead to use a calorie tracking app launched in 2005.
What they’re also suggesting is that we’re the only animal on planet earth that needs a spreadsheet and a calculator to have a body and life we love.
The calories model is also problematic because it’s difficult, if not impossible, to accurately determine the number of calories you need on an individual level based on all the relevant factors, especially since your caloric need fluctuates day-to-day and week-to-week.
On top that, it’s difficult to accurately track how many calories you’re eating and how many calories your body is actually extracting from the foods you eat. I wrote about this in more detail in The Truth About Calories.
*Note that I’m saying they should be irrelevant, not that they are irrelevant.
MyFitnessPal overrides the body’s natural capacity to manage calories-in, calories-out.
Let’s flesh out some of the concepts I talked about in the previous section a little more:
“…[your body] dynamically monitors caloric need…” As your activity levels increase and decrease, so does your caloric need. This is never relevantly calculated in the calories model of weight loss. People who use MyFitnessPal tend to follow the same caloric goal day in and day out even though their activity levels and other relevant factors may fluctuate greatly.
“…[your body] has the ability to regulate appetite through hormone manipulation…” When you’re hungry, the body signals this with the hormone ghrelin. When you’re full, the body signals this with the hormone leptin. The main problem people have is that they miss this signaling because…
- They live in a state of body/mind disconnect, or
- They ignore the signaling because they have a dysfunctional relationship with food/body/self that drives them to use food as something other than simple nutrition and enjoyment, or
- The signaling is haywire due to unhealthy environmental factors (again, speaking of environment in terms of nutrition/fitness/self-care).
“…[your body] has the ability to regulate movement patterns by manipulating human motivation…” This is critical to understand. If you chronically under-eat, your body will turn off your motivation to move. It has to. It cannot allow you to continue to move in quantities that burn up precious calories when there is already a severe caloric deficit. Chronic calorie reduction, which happens most often because people are following arbitrary calorie counts, makes people lazier and less likely to be consistent with fitness practices. Eating more calories can restore movement motivation.
“…[your body] can dynamically change metabolic function in relation to all of these things….” Just as your body does with movement, it will alter your resting metabolic rate based on caloric availability. The result of chronic calorie reduction, especially severe calorie reduction as is common in the calorie model of dieting, is a slower metabolism. This creates a death spiral where people feel like their body is becoming ultra-sensitive to calories, leading them to further reduce calories and do further damage to their metabolism. Eating more calories can heal the metabolic rate, making weight loss and maintenance more effortless.
The most sustainable approach, and the path to avoiding the shit show I just talked about, is to let the body determine these things.
As humans, we simply have to facilitate this and connect with it by:
- Ending all strategies that ask us to stop listening to our body. MyFitnessPal, and most of the classic dieting strategies, ask you to stop listening to your body. While the short-term effectiveness of this model can be alluring, it only creates long-term dysfunction.
- Regaining the ability to listen to our body. Thanks to our modern environment, we tend to be in a constant state of distraction and disorder. This is compounded by 82% of men and women, give or take, having a dysfunctional relationship with food, body, and Self. All of this must be addressed so we can get back to listening to what our body is trying to tell us (understanding that our body is sending accurate signals).
- Providing our body with food it was biologically programmed to eat. The quality of the food you eat ensures proper signaling. If your diet includes lots of processed, hyper-palatable foods, it becomes difficult to trust your body’s signaling. This is not food your body was biologically programmed to eat. This is food that manipulates neurotransmitters and other biological processes such as optimal foraging programming. Eating real food is critical to proper signaling.
- Providing our body with a healthy environment. Environmental factors are critical to proper signaling as well. For example, multiple days of poor sleep can lead to disordered leptin and ghrelin signaling. If you’re 30% hungrier due to increased ghrelin production and 20% less able to feel full due to decreased leptin production, you lose the ability to manage food intake according to needs. That’s just one example.
- Healing our relationship with food, body, and Self. Proper signaling doesn’t matter if that signaling is overridden by a desire to use food as medication, distraction, control, or as a symbolic substitute for unmet needs. Again, 82% of people find that even if they get all the other factors right, they still can’t be consistently successful because of this dysfunctional relationship with food/body/Self. This is the #1 challenge that men and women all around the world are facing and that we solve with our flagship Decode Your Cravings program.
MyFitnessPal appeals to a common (but wrong) explanation of weight loss and health.
The dieting model MyFitnessPal relies on currently offers a 90%+ long-term failure rate for those who attempt it. People keep attempting it, though, for a few primary reasons:
- It works short-term, leading people to believe it should also work long-term. That, of course, is a reasoning fallacy. And this reasoning fallacy causes people to continue subjecting themselves to the same revolving door that will never grant them access to the other side.
- Because it seems like common sense and the science seems to back it up (which is why people always talk about “the first law of thermodynamics.”). If it’s “common sense” it must be correct.
- Because they believe they can do “something so simple” on their own and without addressing any of the root factors driving their failure. Of course, the continuous failure cycle and the long-term negative health effects come at an astronomical physical, monetary, and emotional cost.
- Because they still believe the myth that health is caused by weight loss. Of course, the reality is that sustainable weight loss is caused by health (if the individual is overweight).
- They’re so programmed by the dieting industry and by culture that they carry around the toxic belief that “This should work. This should be all I have to do.” It sucks to live under tyranny of the shoulds.
The question is, can you let the dieting programming go? Can you shun the “common sense” approach? Can you abandon your MyFitnessPal account? Can you learn to live in the grey pond rather than the sea of black and white? Can you restore trust in your body and your Self? The true path to success exists within you, not within the lines of code of some internet developer’s fancy calorie database.
What’s next? If you’re looking for guidance on what to do to create a healthy environment and produce lifelong results, you’ll want to check out Total Body Reboot. We’ve been helping thousands of people in over 35 countries around the world get a body and life they love in an authentic, sustainable way through that program.
Kevin Geary is the founder of RebootedBody.com and a respected expert on cravings, eating psychology, and long-term habit change. He’s worked with thousands of men and women in over 35 countries around the world through his online academy and programs like Shut Down Your Sugar Cravings.