Primal Month: Calorie Counting Comparison

Its no secret I use calorie counting software, but its not for calories! Ive run over quite a few pieces of software lately, and I figured now is as good a time as any to figure out what I liked and disliked about them and why.

I prefer software for tracking food. Writing it down is one thing, but apparently I like the statistics of it. How much is left for today or this week as a goal, whats my progress look like on a graph, how many carbs are in that, etc. I also like the gamification of things. I realized this when I was on weight watchers. They express food and exercise and daily goals in terms of points- there’s a formula for converting calories into points with a scaling factor for how much fat/fiber/etc makes it up. Also daily goals like number of vegetables or amount of water or exercise is expressed in a progress bar kind of way. I respond really well to video games. I lost almost 50 pounds on WW. I didn’t keep it off, though. Partially because I stopped playing the game- I left the website and tried to self regulate my intake. That didn’t work for a number of reasons but I think a major one was I saw WW as a tool to lose weight and not just a tracking website; once the tool went away, so did the weight loss because I didn’t have a plan outside of the tool.

Now the Primal Blueprint is my plan, and I’d already successfully lost weight with it (almost 15 pounds) over three months, and that was without any tracking– just following guidelines. Now, though, I have been tracking to increase the momentum and break past a plateau weight-wise, and generally be more cognizant about what I eat. The main reason for me doing this is to prioritize protein so as I’m losing weight I’m not losing muscle which I definitely was on weight watchers. More on this in a different post, but I’m almost down to the lowest I got with WW, but I feel much healthier about it.

Anyway, I initially found which seemed to be good enough for my purposes. It was free, and I mainly wanted to track carbs and protein since my requirements were to stay under a certain carb threshold (for me 100 or ideally 75 grams or less) and above a protein threshold (90-120g). I dont specifically track fat, but I look if its there. Same with calories, though I do find a bigger caloric debt is a bigger weight loss. Otherwise I might stay the same weight but the changes are more subtle: slightly looser pants, slightly lower body fat%. Fit day allowed me to track stuff reasonably well for this, and I liked the way I could get an overview of caloric balances over the last day, week, two weeks, or month. Seeing averages over a long term I think is more of an indicator than day to day since changing my diet this much took a long time. They have an iPhone app which helped on the go but I mostly just used the website. While I thought this was good enough for my purposes, I quickly found more to dislike than like. The main problem I had was stability. Every few days there would be some downtime and it seemed always around lunch. This was probably a load issue, but it was still quite annoying. The other problem was more stylistic. In WW there was a very active community of people that would submit the points conversions for foods that were not in the database. For Fitday I needed to know exactly what I was eating. That meant figuring out to some degree the recipes at fast food or restaurants to tell what goes into the dish. It is both good and bad. The good is I became a lot more cognizant of what goes into food, and thus into my body. The bad is I’m lazy. I got good at identifying the major parts of meals, but what was annoying was if I ate something the same two days in a row, I couldn’t easily save the meal components to copy to the next day, so if I ate something with a lot of components there was a lot of tedious entry every time I ate that.

Enter I got a recommend for that when was down from a complaint thread in a forum. Let that be a lesson to you, Internet businesses. Anyway, dailyburns layout is a lot nicer, prettier, and more polished. There’s some dynamic HTML in their pages for pretty updates, and they put pictures of all the food which made it a lot more fun to use rather than just boring text. They also have an iPhone app which was a bit more functional than Fitdays. Also I could mark a meal component as a favorite for easier entry of repeating data. The only bummer I saw was theirs was much more geared towards you subscribing. Fitday had the freemium model so prevalent in the Internet nowadays and I understand that, but the website was more than adequate for me without the premium features since all I was doing was tracking carbs, protein, calories, and counting the number of veggies I ate which I still just do manually. Dailyburn has a similar freemium model but I found the “hey upgrade to premium” stuff more annoying – you have to pay to have more than 25 favorites – and whats worse is it only shows 10 at a time, so its almost a blessing you’re limited to just a small number. Just like Fitday there is a mix of USDA guideline numbers and user submitted foods, and there are more user submitted foods than on Fitday so I could look up a brand name cheese, for example, and get nutrition facts without just always choosing the generic cheddar every time I had any cheese. The problem I saw was on Fitday it loads the trusted sources first, so USDA generics come up then the user submitted ones, but on Dailyburn its all mixed up and there seemed to be more weird user submitted ones like entries for beer where all that was tracked was calories for something without entering carbs or proteins which was maddening. Also, the prettyness got in the way over time because pretty=slow page time. And there were odd workflow issues: multiple food entries per meal were common since all meals contain multiple ingredients. You could edit the quantities in Fitday very easily after the fact and even edit multiple at the same time. Often it was faster to enter the accept the default size when entering the food, then modify all the components at once after they’d been entered. In Dailyburn everything is one at a time and it’s the same (slow) speed for each one since it’s loading fancy graphs and pictures which all load serially.

Enter I got this recommend from a friend of mine, and at this point I was frankly tired of comparing these, but I gave it a shot -for one brief week I was logging in all three just to make sure the numbers were nearby to each other. The thing I noticed straight away was it kept a history of recent foods per mealtime which is great for me since I often eat similar breakfasts and lunches. Dailyburn and Fitday didnt really have any optimizations for this. In MFP I can copy a day’s entire meal set to today. EXTREMELY faster. I love it. Also, its about halfway between Fitday and Dailyburn for speed vs pretty for load time. Baby bear balance. Another thing is MFP has a better community aspect with a Facebook/twitter/socialmediawhatsit style news feed and status and even friending. I sometimes disdained weight watchers for the group aspect of it – in fact part of the reason I was ok with it was they had just rolled out the option to be 100% on the web without going to meetings which I thought were a mix of support group and peer pressure. Neither of which I wanted. I’m not sure how important that piece of MFP is for me, but I have one friend on there, and it does give us a channel to communicate more than I used to so thats a positive. There are a couple gripes about MFP – there is a similar problem with dailyburn in that there are weird user submitted entries, but there is a thumbs up/down to rate those, so that helps. Also, in Fitday and Dailyburn I just entered an arbitrary number for protein/carb goals, but I can’t do that in MFP, I specify those as percentages of calories which is not exactly right since I treat one as a minimum (protein) and one as a maximum (carbs), and fats are thrown in there too, and I don’t track those at all, so I’m stuck with these weird “goals” that I just ignore for the most part.

In short, I am on Myfitnesspal. My username is nicehat if you want to find me there. My food diary is here and public. You’ve no doubt also noticed I blog the food daily which is more a way for me to have some historical record for that and to track stuff (number of vegetables) not tracked on any site. Feel free to friend me there or otherwise stalk what I eat. I may at some point find a way to move the food posts to another page, and reclaim my blog for blogging, but don’t quote me. Content is hard to create with any regularity, and daily content is almost unheard of for a single blogger (and I don’t like the term blog!) Content is content, even if it’s just food logging.

One Comment

  1. You probably saw this. In MFP, in “home – Settings – Food and Exercise Diary Settings” you can remove fat from the cals and add others (I track fiber, just for fun) The other parts, setting mins/max, alas isn’t there.

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