Sunday, 18 October 2015

Long Term Review: My Fitness Pal and comparison to "Low-Fat" Diet.

A different sort of review this time - for an online "service" rather than a physical product.
The "tester" is Anna, Mrs Pedal Pusher, rather than me.
So lets see how she gets on!

Service: My Fitness Pal (website and Android App - also available on "other platforms")
Price: "Free" version is being tested
Test Period: Depends on how long Anna keeps using it!
Results: 6.5 kg (about 14 lbs) weight loss in 9 weeks. Diet still continuing.

Anna has started using My Fitness Pal.
She was drawn to My Fitness Pal because one of her friends has used it and has lost quite a bit of weight (about 25% of her bodyweight!). Indeed her friend dropped from a BMI of about 35 (notably obese, and halfway towards morbidly obese) to about 25 (the border of "correct weight" and overweight"). Dropping that amount of weight, and moving from "obese" to "healthy/correct/normal" has quite large beneficial health implications, especially as it was achieved with a mixture of diet AND exercise, so her friend is both fitter and feels more energetic as well as being quite a bit lighter!

Anna's first reactions were that it was fairly easy to set up, but that the calorie allowance seemed unrealistically low!
I said not to worry too much, as we have a set of fancy weighing scales that (after you put in some user settings) estimate daily calorie usage, and suggested a figure based on that.

It is often said that a good place to start with a diet is to aim to lose about a pound (half-a-kilo) of weight a week, and that this amount of weight loss means you have to "undereat" by about 500 calories a day. 500 calories is about a Big Mac (slight variations by country!), or a bit less than 4 ounces (100g) of chocolate.

So our scales came up with the figure of 2200 calories a day for Anna, from which we need to take of the 500 a day she is hoping to lose, which gives 1700 calories a day.
Yet My Fitness Pal only "allowed" Anna 1460 calories!
(as we subsequently found out, this number is a "basal metabolism" target, and if you exercise, the target goes up to a more realistic level!)
Anna set it up on the computer first, then downloaded the app for her tablet.
Mysteriously, the app only "allowed" Anna 1200 calories, despite having logged in with the identity she had already set up!
A bit of tinkering, and unselecting, then reselecting, a few of the options, and the app just jumped back up to the same 1460 "basic target" as the website.
But, hey, it seems to work now.

Day One:
Anna weighed in in the morning, like I do.
Weighing-in regularly, and recording the results (either in a notebook or with an app) is an important aspect of weight-loss.
I said that Anna should use the higher figure of 1700, and see how she got on.
That evening, we went for a little run - just a couple of miles on one of those easy walk/run programs.
Logged that into My Fitness Pal, and it added some extra calories to the allowance!
So it was now back up in the 1700 calories region I suggested (and the scales implied).
Anna was very pleased that, as long as she does the sort of exercise she normally does, that 1460 calories figure doesn't apply.
Anna overshot her calorie "target" for the day by 21 or so calories - a meaninglessly small variation given the number of assumptions used in calculating everything! Btw, 21 calories is about 5 grammes (a fifth of an ounce) of protein or carbohydrate, or just 2 1/2 grammes (about a 10th of an ounce) of fat. Just how accurately do YOU weigh you food? (Shop bought food can easily vary by this much either way from the amount stated on the label, sue to natural variation and production tolerances!)
There is a breakdown by food types etc. as well, and Anna was marginally over the carbs target, and WELL UNDER for sodium (salt).
So, for day one, things were pretty much on target.

Day Two:
The next day, Anna weighed in again, and was pleased to see she was lighter (of course, as we know, that is probably just "water" variation!).
Anna then made her regular grocery trip to town, on her bike as usual. That evening we went for the 2 mile walk/jog again.
Two sets of exercises (the bike ride and the evening run) mean that My Fitness Pal added quite a bit to the 1460 calorie "basic target", and increased it to 1830 calories!
Anna easily came in under that (about 550 calories under, in addition to the 500 calorie "shortfall" assumption of the diet in the first place.

Day Three:
As Day Two!

Day Four:
Just a touch heavier on the scales this morning (no doubt just natural daily variation).
If all our assumpions about food and exercise were spot on, and there have been no metabolic changes, or stuff like that, Anna would have lost about 1550 calories by now.
But remember that is just half-a-pound of fat (about a quarter of a kilo!).
If you weigh yourself every day for a week, not on a diet, then you will find you weight varies by more than this!
Anna reports that she is feeling just a bit hungry at the moment. Not starving hungry - just not full.
We've had breakfast (I, of course, had more than her, because I'm not watching the calories as much as I am trying to push up the exercise!), and it is a good while until lunch.
But looked at in another way, if Anna was 500+ calories UNDER her My Fitness Pal "target" yesterday, then it is surely OK today to eat some of that "extra" saving - after all, the target is to save 500 calories a day over a sustained period, not try to save as much per day as you can (which can lead to the "starve" and "binge" problems that so many dieters are familiar with.
After a light lunch, we went out again - more of a fast walk than a slow run!
But we were walking for about 50 minutes, so it all adds up to more calories used, even though it was pretty low intensity stuff.
My Fitness Pal allowed Anna a couple of hundred extra calories for the walk.
During the walk, Anna started feeling rather tired, but that was as likely to be left over from not sleeping too well the night before, rather than "weakness" due to the diet.
Back home again, and a banana and a cup of strong tea, and Anna was feeling better.
The banana came in at about 100 calories, while the tea is "free" (black tea without sugar has effectively no calories at all!).
Anna now has about 750 calories left for the evening meal and any other snacks before bed.
That ought to be plenty.
Lets see how tomorrow goes!

Day Five:
More of the same, blah, blah. Not much to see on the scales.
Anna ran a couple of miles in the morning.
Got to the end of the day with a few calories spare (vs. the target).
Anna is finding the My Fitness Pal calorie target to be quite manageable, providing she "earns" an extra 300 to 400 calories a day through exercise.
I spoke to one of the ladies I work with, and she said the same thing. My colleague also said you get into the mentality of going for an extra run just so you can "earn" enough extra calories for a chocolate biscuit (or whatever your fancy is)
Extra bonus: The local medical centre sent me a letter saying my cholesterol is too high, and I need to switch to a low-fat diet for three months (to see if that will sort out the problem).
So now Anna is "calorie-counting" on My Fitness Pal, but can eat anything, and I am NOT calorie-counting, but I am trying to eat both "sensibly" and with a "low-fat" focus. I'd like to lose a bit more weight, but the main thing I need to focus on for the next three months is getting my saturated fat intake RIGHT down. But if I can lose weight at the same time, then hey, it is win, win :-)
My weight (before I got the letter, and started the diet) this morning was 90.5kg (199 lbs)

Day Six:
See Day Five.
Anna's weight down a touch.
Anna did another couple of miles of running in the morning.
I mostly rested up as I have a heavy cold, but I had two separate medical appointments at the medical centre, so I slowly jogged there and back for both.
My weight this morning, after just one day on the low-fat diet is down 600g (21 oz - more than a pound already!). To be fair, I am still a bit ill, so the illness may have supressed my hunger yesterday evening (when I ate a lot less than usual!), rather than anything to do with the low-fat diet!

Day Seven:
Breakthrough for Anna.
Anna's weight is down just over a kilo (about 2.5 lbs) at the "morning weigh-in" compared to the pre-diet weigh-in at the start of day one.
No running for Anna today, but a BIG (and heavy) grocery shop on the bike. Lugging groceries up the hill sure burns up the calories!
For me, a "regular" day doing a fairly active job.
My morning weigh-in was down ANOTHER 600g (21 ounces again!), so that is 1.2 kg (a bit more than 2 1/2 pounds!) in just two days.
But, again, I suspect my heavy cold, and the various medications I am taking for it, may be supressing my appetite, as I wasn't that hungry yesterday.

Day Eight:
That's 6 days of calorie-counting dieting for Anna, and 3 days of low-fat dieting for me.
We both weighed in "lighter" this morning.
Anna is down 1.6kg (3.5 lbs) in those 6 days. A good start.
I lost another 100 grammes (about 4 ounces) today, to give me a weight loss of 1.3kg (2.9 lbs) from 3 days of dieting. I'm very pleased, obviously!
Anna reports that in general she isn't hungry, but she doesn't feel full either. She reports mild hunger in the evenings. As for me, I guess it is about the same, except that I tend to be "not full" rather than "hungry" when I go to bed.. Anna is now actually getting to the end of each day with typically 300 calories left in her allowance, as well as the "original" 500 calorie "shortfall" taht it built into the plan.
Mind you, Anna is pretty active, and so am I.
As I came home from work this evening, I saw a woman out running in a coat that looked a bit like Anna's - as I got closer I could see it WAS Anna! She'd also done another large (20kg, 44 lb) grocery shop on her bike earlier in the day.
Me - I "guestimated" my calorie usage on a day like today (when I do a shift and a half of semi-manual work), using the Harvard tables, and have previously come up with the figure of about 3800 calories - including cycling to work and back. Told you I was active :-)
I have a few ideas about our weight loss, and I suspect not all of it is fat ...
I'll probably write up a summary of "week 1" over the weekend, and include various "confounding factors" (as they are scientifically known) for why we seem to be losing a bit more weight than we should given our calorie shortfall ... (even though I am not counting mine, I know roughly how much I eat!)
I'm sure lots of you folks have been on diets that went really well in the first few weeks, then it all started to go wrong after a month or two (sometimes as long as six months!), and I'll explore some of those issues, too.
Anna made pumpkin soup today (delicious!), and quite a bit of that. Pumpkins are pretty low in calories (just look up how low!), and thus her calories intake was pretty low. So low in fact that she ate less than 1000 calories today ... and My Fitness pal came up with a warning telling her to eat more. Good to see that, although I suspect it had as much to do with the lawyers as a desire to keep folks healthy.
Let's see what that "1000 calorie day" does on tomorrow's weigh-in, given that Anna also "earned" another 400 bonus calories from exercise.
BTW, Anna did a "full" weigh-in on our scales today, to compare with the "start" figure she got.
Weight down 1.6 kg (about 3.5 lbs), body fat % unchanged. Total Body Water is actually UP 0.1% (Anna tries to drink her 8 glasses a day of water!), muscle is unchanged, and bone mass is also unchanged.

Day Nine:
Remember that 1000 calorie day yesterday?
Nothing in life is free.
This morning, Anna woke up lighter, but feeling weak and dizzy. Settled down after breakfast (her normal porridge). Too low a calorie intake has odd effects on the body!
After a proper breakfast and a modest lunch, Anna is now out jogging again (only a couple of miles!) because the weather looks a bit iffy, and it is better to get it over with.
I have to hand it to Anna - she doesn't try and wimp out with the usual 101 excuses.
But then her determination is partly why I married her in the first place!
Once she had decided that she was going to give the diet a try, she is giving it a serious try.
I'm proud of her :-)

Three weeks into the diet:
Anna is now down 2.7kg (that's about 6 lbs).
Anna seems to have settled down a bit better now, and usually comes in about 200 to 300 calories a day under her "limit" - mind you, Anna usually builds up more "extra" calorie allowance than that every day. We walk/run for about 3.5km (a bit over two miles) 4 or 5 times a week, and Anna cycles and walks quite a bit, too - averaging perhaps a couple of miles a day on the bike, and three miles a day on foot - as well as the casual walking that one does as part of life!
Me - I'm down 2.5 kg (that's about 5.5 lbs).
I was a bit concerned that I was losing weight a bit quicker than I expected, and as I have a realtively physical job, I didn't want to lose too much weight too quickly and feel exhausted all the time.
So a couple of times a week I am eating until I am "full" - not "bloated", just "full". Bread with seedy bits in it seems to feature in my diet, as do quite a few dates, but my dentist says that all the extra sugar from snacking on dates is affecting my teeth - so I'll be looking to replace some of my "date" snacks with boiled/microwaved potatoes instead! Potatoes seem to be low on both fat AND sugar, and, even better, I like them (even simple microwaved potatoes with the skin on!)

Nine weeks into the diet:
Anna has lost about 6.5kg (a bit more than 14lbs, 1 "stone") on the calorie-counting My Fitness Pal diet.
I have lost about the same on the non-calorie-counting low-saturated fat and low-ish sugar diet.
That's just in nine weeks.

Anna finds all the endless weighing and logging of what she eats a bit of a chore. She uses the ability to select a previously entered meal, to make an estimate, quite a bit.
Anna likes the flexibility to eat any food any time of day, with the only real requirement being that the total calories eaten in a day are low enough. She reminded me of this when she was eating a piece of chocolate!
Anna says she has no real trouble any more with hunger.
But then again, she is jogging a couple of miles (about 3.5 km, actually) about three times a week, and she gets our groceries on her bicycle (rather than using our the car), so she "earns" quite a lot of "extra" calories.
Anna's diet has also dropped in fat a bit, as she is obviously cooking the same meals for me and herself! 

As for me, I have been taking positive action to slow down my rate of weight loss (!) There have been quite a few evenings when I'm not really hungry, yet have forced myself to eat a bit more to keep my weight up.
Folks sometimes ask me what my target weight is. I don't know. 
I originally thought (on January 1st 2015) that it might be good to get down to 94.5kg, and keep it off right through the year (a 2kg weight loss), then maybe work on getting down to 85kg for the Summer of 2016, probably with a bit of a rose as 2016 drew to a close.
What actually happened is that I was 93.5kg for my 200km "Audax" ride, but I kept losing weight afterwards. I started this "low-whatever" diet at 90.5 kg, and after about 9 weeks I weighed in at 83.6kg this morning. That's a total weight loss of 13kg (27.6lbs, about 2" stone") since January 1st. 
I have lost more weight than any target I had :-)
And more importantly, my BMI has fallen from 27.2 to 23.7.
That has health benefits.

I've started calling my diet "The Puritan Diet", because you can eat anything you want as long as you don't enjoy it :-)
The biggest change in my diet is that I used to eat about a kilo a week of cheese, and now I don't eat any cheese (a kilo of my favourite cheese contains about 4000 calories!)
I no longer have butter in my sandwiches, either. Just bread and filling.
Yogurt is now fat-free, rather than the tastier full-fat.
Potatoes are steamed or microwaved. No more chips or fries.
Chocolate is rare. An ounce a month, maybe.
See why I call it the puritan diet!
As for saturated fat, Anna tries to get products with under 1g of saturated fat per 100g of product. Yep, the tastiest cuts of meat are out. Even quite a lot of poultry products fail the 1g per 100g test! Most " reduced fat" products do, too. But I never liked them anyway!
I have taken to eating olives. Not sure I like them, but they are good for me :-)
Like I said, I can eat anything I want as long as I don't enjoy it!
Yes, I miss the cheese. 
Yes, I really miss the cheese.
But I'm glad of the weight loss and predicted health benefits that come with giving up the cheese.
Christmas is coming, and mince pieces, stollen, Christmas cake, Christmas pudding (all of which I adore) are obviously all on the "banned" list for The Puritan Diet. 
I'll try to stay strong.
I'll let you know how I get on after Christmas!

More to follow (obviously)

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