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Does MyFitnessPal Underestimate Calories – Targeting A Pound a Week Weight Loss

Tracking Calorie Deficit – The Common Trait of Diets

There are hundred of various diet trends, but they all are the same in one aspect. They create a calorie deficit. If you burn more calories than you take in, your body will need extra energy, and it gets that by burning stores or fat or muscle. This is why tracking calorie accuracy is so important. Each successful diet story, Keto, Paleo, Vegan, Low Carb, Atkins, they all can succeed in losing weight if they wind up successfully creating a calorie deficit.

Logging food accurately then becomes the easiest way to “stick to a diet”. It helps to also have an accurate understanding of how much energy you are burning, and although this varies it is much more common to under or over estimate how much you are taking in. That’s because it is so easy to add in a handful of calorie dense and seemingly harmless sides. So, is MyFitnessPal accurate? It depends!

Weighing foods helps to be more accurate. Volume or weight measurements are more accurate than “one serving”. Preparing things yourself avoids issues where you don’t see all the extra calories added to a dish. Even something as simple as choosing a thick slice of rich bread vs a thin slice of a known bread can swing a sandwich from a 300 calorie lunch to a 1000 calorie meal. 

Packaged foods are easier to track than restaurant meals, but if it is from a popular chain there is a chance the restaurant makes it in a uniform manner. Using the MyFitnessPal app for tracking is a good way to stay honest about intake, and it has a fairly robust library of foods. The app itself doesn’t overestimate or underestimate, but if you are not careful about checking the accuracy of the dishes logged it’s possible to entirely counteract good intentions. Setting a calorie deficit target over a week, to lose a pound or so, seems to work best. To adhere that though you still need to track serving sizes, weigh out portions, and pick the right food from the MyFitnessPal App library to have success.

Weekly calorie deficit accuracy with MyFitnessPal

How many calories are in a pound of body weight?

The commonly accepted measurement is that 3500 calories equates to a pound of body weight.  This works out to be a round number, and equates to 500 calories per day to total 3500 in a week. Everyone will have variations of how true this is for their body, since the bodies metabolism is personalized and the amount of calories burned from fat (compared to lean tissue) will also vary. 

Annoyingly this calculation doesn’t match intake rules of thumb. Typically a gram of fat eaten is said to contain 9 calories. With ~450 grams in a pound, that means that a pound of fat eaten comes out to just over 4000 calories. Using these rough numbers, if you burn a pound of fat for every pound of fat eaten, you will supposedly gain weight. 

All of this is important when finding out, does MyFitnessPal underestimate calories. If the answer is yes (and it sometimes is), it still can be useful so long as it consistently underestimates them. 

What is a good calorie deficit for a runner or athlete in training?

Depending on the type of training many people advise not to be on a diet or in a calorie deficit while the peak of training. This is an incomplete view though, since there are two sides to the calorie in/calorie out equation. Even if you are not a high end athlete, simple activity like walking can have an impact that helps avoid inaccuracies in food tracking. 

For anyone there is typical a lower limit of calories below which you should not drop. That’s because it’s impossible to get the needed nutrition at a certain level. Many will find that a 250-500 calorie daily deficit is the goal. This equates to 0.5-1 pound of body mass loss a week.

Shooting for a weekly deficit of 1700-3500 calories is easier since it allows for variations day to day. Daily variations  are important to ensure muscle mass is not being lost. On the day of training, have a higher intake of protein around the time of a workout is known to stimulate muscle development. 

Are all the MyFitnessPal calorie counts accurate?

The goal with tracking food intake is to ensure that the body is getting the right amount of everything it needs. That includes not only calories, but also the major macronutrients (Proteins, Fats, Carbohydrates).

MyFitnessPal app has a library of different foods. The library is built from user generated content, which includes direct scans of various food product labels but also has some less reliable random inputs. For most food that come in standard packages and are sold through large grocery retailers it is easy enough to just scan the UPC and know that the stats in My Fitness Pal will match those of the product label.

MyFitnessPal calorie estimates for popular dishes

If using the search feature though to find a popular dish, say spaghetti bolognese, there are dozens of results that vary in their food counts. Often a simple scan of the top few results will provide a ballpark of the typical dish preparation, but it is not uncommon for lower lever nutritional information to be missing. That is an issue if you want to ensure that you also get a summary of potassium intake, or monitor sodium content.

Fundamental ingredients like salt or butter are the commonly culprits for drastically altering the nutritional value of a dish. Through in a few extra tablespoons of butter to a simmering sauce and it can go from a solid choice for vegetable based pasta topping to a fat filled (but delicious) calorie packed gravy.

How to link workouts and burned calories with a food journal.

One important aspect of counting calories is knowing how many you burn. This is based on two separate things, how much your body naturally burns and how much effort you exert. 

For the first, there are numerous calculators for finding your resting metabolic rate. MyFitnessPal has one built in. That said, the app may underestimate your rate since everyone is different. If you believe you are in a deficit over the long term and are not seeing results it may be worth checking your rate with a metabolic rate lab test

The second component of calories out is finding how many you burn. MyFitnessPal does not have a native activity tracker, or any fitness tracker device of its own. To get workouts in you must link them from some other activity tracker or manually input them. 

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