About a couple weeks ago I decided I needed to go on a diet. I’m 5’5″ and weighed 180.5 pounds, which, while quite alright for other folks, is too much for my own comfort. Plus I don’t eat very healthily, most of my meals fitting into the Geek Food Pyramid, and I also eat as much as one of the guys. My cholesterol level is thus rather concerning, and in any case, none of this helps when I get anxiety nausea near PTSD trigger dates, so yeah, a change in diet is all around a good idea for me.
I’ve only dieted once on purpose before; and it wasn’t a good way to diet. I tried to only eat 1000 calories a day, which is bad for your health and your body’s sanity. I understand that there are some diets out there which attempt to do this: do not do this.
So the thing about proper dieting is that apparently you only do this for a little while before you go back to a more roomy calorie “budget”, although “a while” could mean “months.” And you can only lose a certain amount of calories per day from your weight maintenance calorie budget; losing over 1000 calories a day is apparently very bad for you. And getting close to losing 1000 calories a day is still difficult. It’s why losing 2lbs a week is a stretch, and trying for more is insane and dangerous, and something more like 1lb a week is probably a good idea.
I decided on losing 2lbs a week until I reach 150lbs, and then gradually walk back to losing 1lb a week, and sometime next year I should be at my target weight, 130lbs.
This is going to take… some time.
But in the meanwhile, I’m going to treat this like a video game. A really, really long campaign video game.
In that vein, I got myself two calorie counter apps. I was recommended one by two guys on my own team, which amused me. Half of us have iPhones, and we’re working on converting the rest.
Anyways… I got a pretty calorie app and a smart calorie app, and I use them both. I go on about them quite a bit under the fold.
This is the pretty app. It’s also free. They have a ton of screenshots at their website, and I think as a base calorie counter, even if you’re not planning to lose weight, it’s a very nice thing. The interface is easy to use, and there are pretty icons.
The basic features of a decent calorie counter are all there:
- Allows recording weight every day, and shows a graph. Visualization is surprisingly important in diets, because easily glimpsed feedback is always nice.
- Exercise and calorie burn tracking.
- Database of foods and exercises already available. It’s small, but good on the basic ingredients and exercises. ((Including sexual activity, which burns a disappointing amount of calories.))
- Allows creating new foods with calorie counts, and even the ability to edit foods already in the database.
- Ditto for exercises.
- Lets you look at your calorie spending budget’s history.
- You can resize portions and it’ll recalculate calories appropriately. This is pretty much required for any calorie counter app, and is one of the important ways such apps simplify your life, rather than adding excess complexity.
- Some nutrient information other than calories as well. Not as detailed as some other apps, and not on by default, but this is a good thing for simplicity’s sake.
Extra nice features:
- Prettiness. A pretty app encourages you to come back and enter data in it. There are a lot of icons to select foods from, both for foods and for exercises.
- Great interface. It’s easier to do many things in this app than it is in similar apps.
- Ability to create “recipes”, allowing you to combine other basic foods together. For instance, if you make strawberry oatmeal shakes, you can enter the ingredients and amounts, and it’ll calculate the calories, etc., the next time you need to make a couple servings.
- Ability to browse custom foods and recipes without having to enter it into a log. This feature is surprisingly left out of a lot of other calorie apps.
- Syncing to an online account if you really want to. I don’t mind, but people who want privacy probably do mind. If you never, ever want to touch their server in any way, not even for searches, this is the app for you.
- If you really want to, you can friend other people participating in Lose It! and who have accounts.
Some things it’s lacking:
- Online account sync doesn’t sync your database of custom foods and recipes. That’s… all kinds of bad. You can sync your calorie budget history and weight history, but that’s pretty much it. Obviously you can back up your database via your usual backing-up-the-iPhone, which you should be doing anyways, but still.
- Every food entry only has one kind of measurement. So, for instance, you can’t specify a serving amount in cups and the equivalent in grams/ounces and another equivalent in, say, tablespoons. This is frustrating sometimes, especially in recipes.
- Doesn’t calculate or track additional nutritional budgets. For instance, knowing you need to stay under X grams of saturated fat or X milligrams of sodium depends on how many calories you’re eating.
- Doesn’t track calcium. For a woman, this is a real concern, especially the older one gets.
- You can’t do much on their website.
- It won’t let you enter data for future days, which is useful for meal-planning.
Otherwise I really like this app. But I also really like this other app…
This is as comprehensive a calorie counter app as you can get. It goes rather beyond that, actually.
First, it has the basics that Lose It! has. Unfortunately, its interface is not as good as Lose It!’s, but it’s also not bad, being pretty usable even by a perpetual GUI n00b like myself. And then it adds this other stuff on top:
- Available on the web, and also for iPhone, iPad, and the Blackberry. There are free versions, but of course you need to get a paid version to get access to more features. I bought this from the get-go, so I don’t know what the free version doesn’t include.
- Huge database of foods to search from. This is on their server, but it’s pretty snappy, and is more of a search-as-you-type interface, which can retrieve results faster than LoseIt! despite needing a network connection. There are both official and contributed entries, although the database is still smaller than, say, LiveStrong’s Daily Plate.
- Tracks other nutritional budgets, including calcium (yay!), fiber, carbs, fat, cholesterol, etc. Boy, do I ever need cholesterol.
- Can track the various kinds of fats, including, very importantly, trans fats. (LoseIt! only tracks total fat and saturated fat.)
- If you really want to, you can get a free account and sync everything to the website, including custom foods and such like.
- Facebook and twitter sharing in addition to My Net Diary’s community sharing. If you really want to. I don’t really.
- Tracking glasses of water. This is pretty cool, surprisingly; I find that I feel best when I drink 6 servings of 8oz of water per day.
- Tracking other measurements than weight optionally. I really want my thigh size to go down, and I also track my hours of sleep. And not only can you get a weight chart, you can (with some finagling) get a chart for the other measurements, including its automatically calculated BMI, although BMI can be pretty inaccurate…
- Analysis each day. I love this feature. It tells me things I wouldn’t otherwise know about, like 5g of fiber is very good to eat at breakfast time (and why a lot of cereals try to reach 5g of fiber on their nutrition labels), or what level of trans or saturated fat is bad for me. You get green thumbs-up for good things, red thumbs-down for actually bad things (as opposed to neutral things, like not eating more than the suggested amount of dietary fiber for your gender and age). It’s not a replacement for a real nutritionist, but the visual feedback is awesome.
- Another thing about their weight chart: it will also show you the ideal trending line, kind of like a scrum chart, so you know whether you’re mostly on target or not. Much more helpful than only having a chart of weights.
- You can enter data for future days, nice for meal-planning.
Quite a lot of other things there. I don’t know how its completeness compares to LiveStrong‘s, but I do know that I don’t like LiveStrong’s search results page.
- Doesn’t have as good or intuitive a UI as LoseIt!, although it does have a form of context-sensitive help.
- You’ll always touch their server, because searches pretty much need their database on their server even if you don’t get an account. If you’re paranoid about such things, this is not the app for you.
- You can’t specify the icon for custom foods.
- You can’t browse recipes or custom foods easily without adding them to a log. In fact, dealing with your own food catalog is pretty difficult in terms of what should be easy operations, like listing or removing them.
- Recipe creation and storage is far less complete than LoseIt!.
- Not free. Although your mileage will vary on whether this is a deal breaker or not.
Well, Does Counting Calories Work?
Probably. If you do it in a healthy way. Currently on track and am at 175.5 lbs.