Sunday, June 26, 2011

Weight Watchers vs. MyFitnessPal

I've been doing Weight Watchers lately. I haven't told most (hardly any, actually) of my local friends about this, because I always feel private about trying to lose weight. It's also ridiculously boring for other people to hear about, I think, and sort of tedious and typical.

I told one local friend other than Ed - the one I'm closest to. I told her I wasn't going to tell anyone else, not because it was a secret (I didn't want her to feel obligated to keep it as a secret, because that's always a burden and this isn't very important), but just because I didn't want to talk about it with anyone else. But it's good to have a couple of friends for support.

Anyway, where was I? Oh, yeah. Websites.

Weight Watchers is pretty cool these days. I just do it online. They still have a program based on "points" which are calculated for a food based on its protein, fiber, carb, and fat content. In reality, it works out to about 1 point per 40 calories, though WW doesn't want you to think that way. Non-starchy vegetables cost no points and, even more astonishingly, neither do any fruits (except avocados).

You get a daily points allowance, and then you also get this weekly pool of points that you can use for extras. You can have a few of these every day or you can have them all at once if you want to.

I really like the program. They reduced the points totals to allow for what they think will be typical fruit/veg consumption, and the free fruits really encourage you to snack on fruit, vs. forcing you to choose between a banana and a 100-calorie snack pack of mini-oreos, where most people will choose the oreos, which is clearly not the way to go for overall health and well-being (or, most likely, satiety). And I like the pool of weekly points - it really helps me manage social occasions and things like that.

Recently, the site myfitnesspal was recommended to me. It is a dieting site based purely on calorie-counting (or you can track whatever nutrients you want). Unlike Weight Watchers, it's free (ad-supported). For about the past week I have been logging my food intake in both places.

The calorie budget that myfitnesspal gives me based on my various statistics and desire to lose 1 lb per week basically comes out to be the same as what WW gives me if you include the weekly points. (WW "requires" you to eat all of your daily points, but you can forgo the weekly ones if you wish.) Of course, WW lets me eat fruit on top of that allowance, and myfitnesspal does not. Myfitnesspal doesn't have any software-supported way for me to bank calories to eat on other days, either, or anything like that.

However, myfitnesspal does have a truly excellent food database, the easiest one to use that I've encountered since the tragic demise of BalanceLog. In addition to their database, users can enter foods for anyone to use, and other members can verify that the nutrition is correct. If 43 people agree that this entry for McDonald's fries is right, you can pretty much trust it.

In addition to these aspects, myfitnesspal has a community aspect. There are message boards, but, more importantly, it has the whole "friends" thing from Facebook. That part of the site is almost a direct clone of Facebook - you get a news feed of your friends' updates, which (depending on their preferences) will include posts when they log their food for the day, update their weight, etc. So if you have friends on the site, you can get a ton of social support. Also, if your friends' food diaries aren't set to private, you can go see what they ate every day, which is fun if you like that sort of thing.

I'm considering abandoning WW (esp. since it costs money) and just using myfitnesspal. I want to continue enjoying the social aspects of myfitnesspal in any case, and it would be nicer to only be using one site rather than two.

What's a little sad for me is that I really do like and prefer the WW program itself. I like the points and the weekly extra points and the free fruit and all of that. It sort of turns the whole thing into a game rather than being more of a dreary regime. It takes things slightly out of the realm of reality.
But I feel like I can only really enter into the playful fantasy world of WW if I don't at the same time do actual calories. They don't layer well for me.

To be clear, I think these systems are pretty much equivalent in terms of the bottom line of encouraging the energy deficit that leads to weight loss - it's just a matter of what works better psychologically. And of course, one doesn't need to decide once for all time. But those are the issues I'm pondering right now.


Sally said...

Since BalanceLog died, I've been keeping track of calories in a simple Excel spreadsheet. (I only track the calories, though it would be nice to have the other data as well.) Because I almost exclusively eat stuff I have made and calculated calories for, things that I know the calorie values of due to repeated use, and things that have calories on the packaging, this has been OK. For me, it's critical that I can add foods like I did in BL - e.g., "Chicken and broccoli casserole, 1 serving, 380 calories." I'll need to check and see whether Myfitnesspal allows this.

Tam said...

You can quick-add just calories (with no description) or you can add your own foods to the database and then find them later. When you add food to the database, you have a choice of either making them publicly available, or not doing so, so that for instance other people needn't be confused by finding "Sally's chicken casserole" when they search.

Tam said...

You can also save collections of foods as a "meal" that can be recalled yesterday, or you can copy meals from day to day, I think.