A beginner's guide to MyFitnessPal

Set goals, sync up your wearable and start tracking your, well, everything
A beginner's guide to MyFitnessPal

There are plenty of apps designed to make calorie counting and nutritional tracking easier. But MyFitnessPal always tends to top the charts.

With its huge community of more than 80 million users, exhaustive food database and easy-to-use tracking features, it's no surprise that it's one of the top-performing apps, not just in the health and fitness category.

These impressive stats explain why the app was snapped up for $475 million by Under Armour earlier this year.

Read on to learn how to get started — we've used an iPhone for the walkthrough, but using an Android phone or signing up via the web is a very similar process.

1. Sign up and define your goals

When you first sign up, the app asks you whether you want to lose, maintain or gain weight. Get your goals defined and stats filled in now as it's likely to make you feel more committed. And be realistic.

More people use MyFitnessPal to lose weight than gain it so we're assuming that's what you're doing.

Next up the app wants to know your Activity Level. For days when you're not using an activity tracking wearable it's good for MyFitnessPal to know how active you usually are. Over or underestimating at this stage might mean your calorie allowances are slightly skewed.

Next up you need to fill in some basic details about your gender, birthday and current height and weight, all worthwhile info for the app.

MyFitnessPal will now serve up your Weekly Goals and you can choose how much weight you want to aim for each week. In the example below the app is recommending a 1lb deficit each week, generally considered to be the healthiest option. For most people MyFitnessPal will label it as recommended. This doesn't mean you can't choose an easier or tougher goal though.

Next, add in your email address and pick a username (for forums so nothing too silly).

2. Log everything

MyFitnessPal is created around the idea that to lose or gain weight you need to account for everything you do.

When you first sign in, the app will run you through the basics of how to upload a food. Hit the plus sign, select the meal, add a food and hit search. You'll then be served up a lot of different options. If it's something generic, like strawberries, you should be fine.

Read this: What I learned from using MyFitnessPal

If it's branded, like cereal, it's a good idea to spend some time scrolling through to find the right brand as there can be pretty huge differences between cornflakes from one brand and another. Yes, really.

Once you've found the food, enter in the right quantity. Maybe invest in a small pair of scales to always get weights spot on. Once you're done, hit the little tick in the top right and the food will be added to your daily calorie intake, which you can monitor from the main screen.

At the end of each day, click the little tick in the top right hand corner of the diary screen. Hitting that will figure out how long it'll take to get to your goal based on the day. This is really useful as it can give you a kick in the right direction if you had a day of over-indulgence.

3. Set reminders

There are all kinds of things you can do to make tracking the food you eat a bit easier. So do yourself a few favours from the start.

For instance, you can set yourself reminders that arrive as push notifications on your phone to remind you to log meals. Just head to the three little dots in the bottom right hand corner of the screen and hit More. Then go to Reminders.

Tap the plus sign in the top right and then define a reminder, which can be a weigh-in, at particular times of the day (at breakfast or lunch, say) or simply a daily reminder to give MyFitnessPal some love.

4. Add favourite recipes, foods and meals

MyFitnessPal knows how annoying it is to enter everything little thing you eat, so to make the whole process easier you can create special lists of your favourite recipes, foods and meals.

Read this: The best food tracking apps and wearables

This means if you enjoy a particular dish with 38, 597, 486 different ingredients in it, you only have to enter them all in once and then you can just select that meal each time you eat it. Otherwise you'd be doing nothing other than adding in each ingredient night after night. Boring.

Head to the three little dots in the bottom right hand corner of the screen and hit More and then go to My Recipes & Foods to start adding in your favourite - hopefully healthy - meals.

5. Set nutrient goals

MyFitnessPal, and many other services in this space, are built around the importance of the calorie.

The truth is calorie tracking isn't the be-all-and-end-all of healthy living or even weight loss. That means it's well worth redefining your nutrient and macronutrient goals to suit your goals. Head to the three little dots and hit More, then go to Goals and Nutrition Goals.

Hitting Calories & Macros will allow you to tweak your Calories, Carbohydrates, Protein and Fat level goals. What you can see in there now is MyFitnessPal's standard suggestions, which on the whole are the recommend amounts. But if you want to focus your diet on something a little different, it's a good idea to start changing these.

Once you've figured out what you want your focus to be, you'll need your main MyFitnessPal dashboard to reflect these changes. After all, there's no point having calories running the show if you're on a low carb, high fat eating plan. Head back to the Home tab and then hit the three dots next to Calories Remaining.

Here you'll be able to choose what the main dashboard shows you, whether that's calories, macronutrients, low carb or your own customised summary. The problem is, these are all Premium Features.

6. Get involved in the community

Some people love to chat to others about their weight loss journeys, share tips and search for new recommendations. Others prefer to go it alone. If you're in the first camp, you'll be happy to hear that MyFitnessPal has a huge community of users who share tips, write in forums and join friend groups.

Head to More and then go to Community. This is where you can read through the MyFitnessPal forums, where you'll find discussions on everything MFP-related, from official news and announcements, through to tips and success stories. Get as involved as you like or just jump straight in and visit the Introduce Yourself thread at the top.

7. Record steps

The app is much more accurate if you tell MyFitnessPal how many steps you take and what kinds of exercises you've done. You can add all of this in manually but you can also use apps, wearables and even your phone.

Hit More and then go to Steps. Here you can turn off this functionality altogether, use Apple Health to track your steps or head to Add a Device.

Lots of different step counting wearables can sync up to MyFitnessPal (some easier than others) from Fitbit to Withings to Jawbone. I used a combination of a Jawbone UP3 and MyFitnessPal for my calorie counting challenge and they played very nicely together the whole time.

If it's steps you're keen to sync up with your wearable, then find your device in the Steps section and hit Connect. Give MFP permission to talk to your wearable and, for some, head into the wearable's app too. So if you're a fan of the Jawbone devices, go to the UP app and from there add in MyFitnessPal by heading to Apps, hunt out MyFitnessPal and click the little plus sign.

8. Sync apps and wearables

It's not just your steps that MyFitnessPal wants to know about. Rather than clicking Steps, try heading to Apps & Devices. Not only can you sync up different wearables, but apps and devices designed to track other activities, like Cyclemeter, Fitstar Yoga and even fertility apps like Glow.

It works the same as above, just find the app or device you want to hook up to MyFitnessPal, add it and make sure all the different levels of approval are ticked. Sometimes apps won't play nice with MyFitnessPal but restart them to see if that works.

9. Add exercises manually

If you don't have a wearable, or use one that tracks steps and not much else, then add in your workouts manually. Go to the plus sign at the bottom of the app dashboard, but instead of selecting food go to Exercise.

You can choose between Cardio and Strength. And, just like adding food, the more detail you can add the better. For example, if you search "Swimming" there are so many different options detailing different strokes. You then need to specify minutes performed and ideally the calories you've burned. Obviously this involves a fair bit of guesswork if you don't have a wearable at your disposable.

10. View your progress, add notes

Watching your weight drop (or rise) can be a huge source of motivation. That's why you need to make sure you add your stats to weigh in. You can do this by hitting the plus sign at the bottom of the dashboard and selecting Weight.

Over time you can see your weight plotted in the Progress tab, which is good to check in on, but also makes it clear if you need to start tweaking your goals.

You can also make notes if you want to record experiences, keep tabs on your mood or just add in something you'd like to see plotted against your progress.

What MyFitnessPal tips for beginners have we missed? Let us know in the comments.

1 Comment

  • Angela84 says:

    if I am walking do I add it as an exercise as well as it being included in my steps (synced with my iPhone)?

What do you think?

Connect with Facebook, Twitter, or just enter your email to sign in and comment.