Myfitnesspal has been a revelation in the fitness world. Before Myfitnesspal was around, the thought of being able to track your calorie intake would have been borderline impossible. Nowadays, with just a few touches of your finger, you can have your lunch tracked to the nearest calorie. However, for some, using Myfitnesspal can be a minefield of struggle. This leads to the question. Is Myfitnesspal accurate?
The short answer is yes. The long answer is, it’s as accurate as you make it to be.
You’ll hear women claiming they only eat 1200 calories per day and can not lose an ounce. You get men saying they only eat 1700 calories a day and also claiming not to be able to lose an ounce.
As humans, we like to blame anyone or anything but ourselves, when things don’t go our way. This post isn’t here to lay the blame, however, I as well as many others, have made plenty of mistakes, when using Myfitnesspal. Therefore I will go through the biggest mistakes, you’re probably making and how you can fix them.
The biggest mistakes people make when using Myfitnesspal are:
- Not planning what they eat
- Tracking generic foods, not specific foods
- Tracking combined foods instead of single-ingredient foods
- Tracking with cups and spoons instead of grams
- Not taking into account little extras
- Thinking the weekends don’t count
- Using the Myfitnesspal calorie calculator
- Eating back calories
Not planning what to eat
You may wonder, what has this has to do with Myfitnesspal being accurate. But I think of it like this.
‘If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail‘Benjamin Franklin
When you plan what you eat, you make better decisions. There is really no way around this. Think about it, after a long day of work, you come home tired and hungry. Are you more likely to attack the fruit bowl or biscuit tin?
There are studies that demonstrate when people plan their meals, their diet quality is better and they are better able to manage their weight. (1)
“Meal planning was associated with a healthier diet and less obesity”(Ducrot et al, 2017)
So how does this translate into using Myfitnesspal?
What I do and recommend people to do is pre log their food. Either the night before or in the morning log what you plan to eat for the day. This does a couple of things:
- Prevents you scrambling last minute trying to make meals fit your calories and hit your protein goal
- Stops you from eating sporadically, when hungry, because you didn’t plan
Tracking generic foods
The Myfitnesspal database is huge. This means there will be a lot of inaccurate foods. One thing people do is type in a food item such as ‘pizza’ or ‘chocolate cake’. However, there is such a great variation of the size and calories of what could be in those foods. Do this over a long period of time, and your estimate of calorie intake could be wrong by hundreds of calories every day.
Instead you need to be very specific with the food you’re tracking.
You dont just eat pizza. But you might have eaten 2 slices of Dominoes Large-Ham and pineapple pizza. See how much more different that is.
You haven’t just eaten oats, but you may heave eaten Quakers rolled oats or Tesco value oats.
You see, by being a bit more specific, you get a more accurate representation of what you are eating.
If you’re not sure which brand of food you have, any brand will be close. For instance if you bought cheddar cheese from Tesco but input cheddar cheese from Sainsbury’s that will be fine. When inputting food, make sure it is branded, that way, you’ll know the calories are somewhat accurate.
As you can see they are both the same. This because they’ve been verified by their supermarket. But this isn’t always the case when inputting a generic value.
Tracking combined foods
This is something, which will make your total daily count inaccurate. Despite me telling clients not to do so, this is something which I see, when analysing a new clients food diary.
For instance, somebody may make a chicken sandwich for lunch. Therefore there lunch on Myfitnesspal will look like this:
- Chicken sandwich
However, that could be completely inaccurate. The reason I say this is because the database is huge. How someone makes something is very different to how you might make it. Especially if that sandwich is made by someone in a different country. The types of ingredients used and how it’s done could be completely different.
As you can see here, the variation in “chicken sandwich” is very different.
What sort of bread was used? Was mayonnaise added? Do they use butter? These are questions which cant be answered, unless you input it yourself.
Therefore instead of adding “chicken sandwhich” to Myfitnesspal, do this instead:
- 100g Cooked chicken breast
- 2 slices Hovis wholemeal medium sliced bread
- 5g Butter Tesco
- 15g Light Mayonnaise Hellmans
- Lettuce (1 serving)
- 1/2 Tomato
Or however, you make a chicken sandwich. But log the specific ingredients.
So please, when tracking food, make sure it’s tracked as the ingredients and not the whole thing. Once you’ve made something like a chicken sandwich like this, you can then save it as a recipe or meal. That way you can then input it as a chicken sandwich, but it’s specific to how you make it.
The only exception to this rule is where you’d purchase something made in a restaurant or chain. Then just search that specific restaurant or chain. For example, a double cheeseburger from Mcdonald’s will be in the database and that’s perfectly fine to use.
Tracking with cups and spoons instead of grams
The reason I say this is because if you’re asking is Myfitnesspal accurate, it’s only accurate if you choose to make it accurate.
Tracking in grams will always be more accurate than tracking in cups and spoons. Cups and spoons are not accurate at all. Especially when measuring calorie-dense foods, such as peanut butter or oil.
One tablespoon of peanut butter could be either 100 or 200 calories depending on how high you pile that spoon. Same with using cups, you could have half a cup of oats either being 200 or 300 calories. When people use cups they tend to pile or pack the food in, trying to get as much as possible out of it. The thing is you’re not cheating the system, you’re only cheating yourself.
When you measure with scales and measure in grams, there’s nothing you can do to cheat. 50g of peanut butter is 50g, no matter how hard you pack it on the spoon.
The only exception to this rule, is when tracking green leafy vegetables. They contain so few calories, you’d be wasting your time weighing them out. That’s the only time, id track ‘1 serving’ lettuce for example.
Not taking into account little extras
If your body eats it, it means your body has tracked it. You can lie to Myfitnesspal, but you can’t lie to your body.
If you’ve read my stuff, you know I’m big on the idea of people being awful at estimating their intake. The evidence is there we are awful, that’s including Dietitians too. (2)
Those added extra’s which we don’t take into account can be the difference of over 500 calories a day.
The biggest culprits people dont take into account tend to be:
- Cooking oils
- Nuts and dried fruits
- Peanut butter and Nutella from the jar
- Picking at crips
- Milk in teas and coffees
- Sugar in teas and coffees
- Coffees and drinks purchased when out
- Oat milk
- Healthy fats, such as avocados and nuts in a salad
For instance, this Starbucks coffee has a quarter of a women’s daily calories. If on a diet, this would leave you super hungry as liquids have been shown to be less filling than solid food. (3)
I’m not saying any of these foods are bad or to be avoided. It’s just that they are calorie-dense and can ruin your diet, if not taken into account. So have them, but just be aware.
Thinking weekends don’t count
This seems to be big with the ‘I only eat 1200 calories’ people. Even if you track somewhat well during the week, it could all go to waste if you blow out on the weekend.
As I said earlier, even if you don’t log it in Myfitnesspal, your body is logging it.
So if you’re in it for the long haul, you’ll be best of tracking on the weekends.
It’s been shwn peoples diet quality, tends to faulter during the weekend. (4)
Americans’ weekend consumption was associated with increased calorie intake and poorer diet quality.Ruopeng An, 2016
If I was to guess, I’d say it’s because your schedule completely changes, so your eating schedule falls out of sync.
There is one alternative which I do. If I’m dieting, I don’t track on weekends. But the difference is I’m eating mindfully, I’m eating low energy-dense foods, with lots of protein and I’m skipping breakfast. These little methods, ensure I keep my calories low, without having to track on weekends.
This is what works for me. So long as you’re not blowing out on the weekends and undoing your work. You’ll be fine.
Not being consistent
This is most peoples downfall. This takes time. You didn’t gain all your weight in 2 weeks, so you shouldn’t expect to lose it all in 2 weeks.
Making change is hard work and takes a long time. You’re not going to see any noticeable changes for at least a month or 2. You won’t see a significant change for at least 6 months. So if you want to commit, make sure to be in it for the long haul.
The biggest problem is, most people quit after a week or 2, because they didn’t get overnight results. Then go blame Myfitnesspal or something else.
Using the Myfitnesspal calculator
What most people do, is enter their details. Then Myfitnesspal will ask how much you want to lose. You being in a rush will enter 2lbs per week. Then you end up on poverty calories, usually 1200. You then end up feeling super hungry and irate. You hate your life so much you end up bingeing and end back at square one.
Don’t get me wrong you can diet on super low calories and will lose weight fast. But it needs to be done with a game plan in mind. Maybe you do it for a couple of weeks when motivation is higher, then taper up into higher calories, when that motivation wanes. Or you’ve had lots of experience already and know how to transition to maintenance.
Otherwise, I recommend you start somewhere where you can get good weight loss, but you don’t hate your life and still can manage a few treats every day, so you have something to look forward to and keep you on track.
So instead, I recommend you use my calorie calculator, read the instructions and use those numbers instead. After that read about flexible dieting, so you can make better decisions when it comes to food.
Eating back calories
Myfitnesspal, has this feature, where it tells you how many calories you burned. Turn it off.
Otherwise, you’ll end up with a load of calories it estimated you burned. What then happens is you think you “earned” those calories, but it has done, is destroyed your maintenance. Any extra calories you burned treat them as a bonus and don’t eat them back. Otherwise, you end up undoing all your work.
It’s something I see time and time again. Therefore I have an article, ‘Stop eating back on your exercise calories‘.
Is Myfitnesspal accurate? Yes it is.
It’s only as accurate as you make it out to be. If you track properly, take a little time and effort to learn it, you’ll be far ahead. The only thing is, most people don’t like the idea of having to suck at something for a little while to become great. Well, I’m afraid that’s life’s entry fee.
As Jake the Dog once said:
“Dude, sucking at sumthin’ is the first step towards being sorta good at something.”Jake the Dog
Josh is a Registered Associate Nutritionist, with the Association for Nutrition (AFN). He completed his degree in Nutrition at the University of Roehampton in 2021. He passed with a First Class with Honours.
Josh is also a tutor for up-and-coming Personal Trainers, where he teaches a Level 4 Advanced Nutrition course. This is for Personal Trainers looking to upskill their nutrition knowledge. This is done at Norfolk Health & Fitness.