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Get the Most Out of Your Calorie Counting Fitness App: The 2X2 Plan

I need a calorie-counting fitness app like a fly needs a pile of poop to land on.

That is, while it may be a bit unsavory, it can be darn useful (and kinda fun). Ever see someone frantically pecking away at a smartphone to log the calories in a handful of celery sticks? Chances are they are hooked on one of many computer based programs that allow you to log almost any food or meal you can imagine. Most come equipped with a bar code scanner, so getting info on your food is as easy as registering for a wedding. Punch in some personal information, a goal-weight, and start logging calories and exercise, and you’ve got a cyber pal who can help you get comfortable posting a current picture to your profile.

Maybe it sounds like a lot of work. Maybe it sounds like a cool toy with little practical long-term value. Maybe these suckers are just like a lot of useful things in life: useful when used purposefully, and with reasonable expectations. You don’t need to be a compulsive touchscreen-machine to get the benefits. After a rigorous period of logging every carrot stick, taco, and french fry, here is my advice to get the most of your fitness application. I call it the2X2 plan: Use it for about TWO weeks to get TWO powerful benefits. That’s it: TWO weeks, TWO benefits. Here they are.

Benefit #1 Education

Pay attention to what you are putting into your body, and prove it by punching in every single thing you eat for two weeks.  It’s a minor inconvenience, but so is preparing food and moving it to your mouth.  If you want to get serious about your health and diet, you need to take an honest look at what you are feeding yourself. You need to see your nutrition in concrete form, with all of its surpluses and shortcomings.

When I started tracking my food, I was WAY OFF on how many calories were in what I ate–not to mention the way packages break down servings in a single container is downright scandalous. 1.5 servings in a candy bar? Shady. For example, I was feeling pretty good about my bottle of Ranger IPA beer, until I realized I had about two and a half servings in one bottle. It’s easy to reach for another when you don’t have a screen proclaiming you just drank 500 calories in less than half and hour. Log it in, and my guess is you’ll eat and drink less of the junk.

Punch in the product, look at the numbers, and you’re ready to take action.

Benefit #2: Act Smart

You know how many calories you’re putting into your body, and you know how many of those calories are coming from fat, protein, and carbohydrates. Now you can take some informed action. I’m personally not as concerned with the amount of calories, but I’m on a mission to consume fewer carbohydrates from grain-based foods.

A quick glance over the last few days tells me that I’m consuming about 50% of my calories from fat, and splitting the other 50% down the middle with protein and carbohydrates. If that sounds like a recipe for heart attack, I’ll try to justify myself in a later post on why I’m eating like a fatty. The point is, I see what I’m doing, and I can make adjustments when the numbers aren’t looking like they should.

Notice  all the carbs? Looks like I’m balancing out, but really I just drank more beer that day.

Tracking calories leads to information, and information equips us to take sensible, informed action. This app is one reason I’m breathing down Ryan Gosling’s neck as we speak.

Why Only Two Weeks?

After a few weeks, I think it’s safe to say you have a more informed idea of what you’re consuming. Tracking all food for the rest of your life is neither sustainable nor necessary. The novelty wears off, and now you’ve got one more to-do/excuse getting in the way of your goals. Every so often, however, I think it would be a good idea to re-calibrate, especially if your fitness or diet goals change. Check in for two weeks, and sign off when you’ve got your info.

Use the Useful; Ditch the Rest

Myfitnesspal, the app I’m using, offers the chance to network with other users, the opportunity to post shoutouts and pick-me-ups to your social network, and the ability to input exercises to offset your calories consumed for the day. At the end of the day, I get a screen telling me how much I’d weigh in six weeks if “every day were like this one.” At best, this is sketchy information, because calories burned during exercise is notoriously difficult to quantify due to all the physiological differences between people. Besides that, there’s a huge human-error factor when it comes to entering your own calories from exercise. And if you thought punching in food was a pain, logging all your movements throughout the day is a nightmare. This information is dubious, and it undermines the entire point of using a fitness app (see benefit #1) I wouldn’t trust it.

Encouragement Is Overrated

When I started this post, I thought about making “encouragement” benefit #3. The more I thought about it though, I realized that this could turn in to another hangup. Here’s why: Social networking requires dependence on other people. Sure, a shoutout here and there might help, but now you have the added task of building up a social network to help you out. And if others don’t pick you up, there’s one more thing to be discouraged about. This one can go either way, but so far it’s been of little use to me. Maybe I’m just antisocial.

Should you use a fitness app like Myfitnesspal?Does a fly like landing in a large turd? The answer is an unequivocal YES! But go with the 2X2 rule: TWO weeks for TWO main benefits. Use it long enough to get some information, and then take action. It’s a means to an end, not the end itself.

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