The MyFitnessPal app has more than 5 million listed food items.

One of the perils of being a gadget reviewer is that you can become a little bit too obsessed with fancy hardware when an app can do the job. It’s easy to drool over ever improving models of wearable fitness trackers Fitbits and Jawbones – which now boast heart-rate monitors, sleep tracking and galvanic skin sensors, but it’s what else we drool over that we often forget – namely food. While fitness bands and pods encourage us to get off our office chairs and out on a run, none of them made me drop eight kilos as the MyFitnessPal app did after just a few months.

Many of us already have a general but slightly suppressed understanding that our toil at the gym burns a depressingly low amount of calories but without those facts constantly in our face, we still hope weekly boot camps and spin sessions will shrink our waistlines while our decadent Western eating habits stay unchanged.

MyFitnessPal (iOS, Android, Windows and a very slow version in Blackberry’s Amazon store) is a well thought out, enormously popular calorie counter app that blows this fantasy away with brutally specific numbers throughout your day.


MyFitnessPal celebrates your accomplishments, but it also politely reprimands you when you trip up.
MyFitnessPal celebrates your accomplishments, but it also politely reprimands you when you trip up.

It’s simple to set up: enter your current and target weights, and how quickly you want to get there. The app then gives you a daily calorie (or kilojoule) limit so you can hit the target. The accountability of hard numbers on a device that I always had on me changed my habits almost overnight. To stay below my 6700kJ daily limit required to drop four kilograms, I found myself bypassing my once-automatic, mid-afternoon “Time Out (Cadbury), 32g, 732kJ”. If I enjoyed “Eggs Benedict with Ham – Coffee Club, 3908 kJ” on a Saturday morning, I’d get a light lunch and pass on entrees at dinner that night. I had a specific numerical target and I wanted to hit it.

Adding meal or snack entries was a cinch, with more than 5 million listed food items from the crowdsourced global database. (My first contribution was Coles’ DIY kit for 12 mini burgers. Don’t judge me.) While there are some uncommon dishes that aren’t on there, you can almost always punch something in, though I’m sure Anna Polyviou would weep knowing during a special birthday dinner that I’d reduced a slice of her award-winning, 35-step, MasterChef-featured carrot cake masterpiece to “Carrot cake – Walmart Bakery”.


Like other activity trackers, MyFitnessPal regularly celebrates your accomplishments to keep you motivated, and also politely reprimands when you trip up. Each night,MyFitnessPal simply informs you: “If every day was like today … you’d weigh xx kg in five weeks.” No judgment, but hard to ignore. For individual food entries, you may be applauded by a little coloured bubble comment if it’s high in nutrients. Punch in “Double whopper, no cheese, 3766 kJ” and a cheerful bubble mentions “your fat goal for today is 72 grams, and this has 56 grams”. The app doesn’t do this for every item, realising that over nagging can be counterproductive. The developers must be either great managers or parents. Some of us, however, may wish there was an option to make the app a little harsher. Jawbone’s Up app, which you can use even if you don’t have a Jawbone device, is arguably the most vocal and judgmental, and if that’s what you need, it syncs with your MyFitnessPal entries, ruthlessly scoring each of your meals out of 10.

MyFitnessPal can also suck in data from activity tracker apps. Exercise obviously makes a difference to weight control and while you can quickly punch in workouts that give you more calories to “spend”, it’s even easier if you’ve got the right activity tracking apps. Fitbit steps gave me kilojoule kudos, as did Endomondo and Strava bike rides, and even Pilates workouts with the less common Wahoo Fitness (Wahoo heart monitors, such as the impressive Tickr X which can store data even when it’s out of range of your phone, are sold in Apple stores). A 300 metre test walk in Strava didn’t sync, but maybe I was lucky the app didn’t tell me off for such a wimpy workout. Then again, MyFitnessPal is too gentle to even consider doing that.

While weight fluctuates daily, punching it in every morning updates both a numerical and graphical running total of kilos lost, which was frankly, darn exciting. Surprised after I actually hit my first four-kilogram weight-loss target, I then started another five-week session and hit that too. Of course, as they say in the ads, your results may vary (especially if you’re not motivated by stats and quantifiable goals) and weight is not everything. For many of us who can overindulge in the foodie life, however, it can be a pretty astute health indicator.


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