I’ve been using the MyPlate app by Livestrong to log my daily meals and exercise for two months now, and not only have I lost weight (almost 13 pounds to be exact) and fit into my high school jeans, but I’ve hardly increased my exercise habits because of what I’ve remedied regarding my daily food intake.
I wrote a piece called “10 ways to enjoy losing weight” when I was just starting to use the MyPlate app, and the folks at Livestrong were kind enough to grant me access to the “locked” exercises that come with a paid membership. I haven’t used any of them yet and still managed to cut an inch off my waist and lose 13 pounds. This only affirms my hypothesis that nutrition is more important than exercise when it comes to losing weight, and most of us aren’t consuming what we should and would be surprised by what’s in the foods we eat.
There are plenty of ways the MyPlate app can help you lose weight, but here are the five things that helped me and opened my eyes the widest.
1. Having a Specific Goal Really Works
Having a specific weight and timeline in mind is the only way you’ll achieve your weight loss goal. You can’t reach a goal without having one. Simply wanting to lose weight isn’t enough. You have to want to lose a certain amount of weight by a certain date and then want to keep it off.
The first thing MyPlate does when you begin to use the app is ask you your height, weight, age, gender and weight loss goal. That’s how MyPlate determines the number of calories you should consume each day.
I’m a 31-year-old, five-foot, 11-inch male that weighed 185 pounds, and I wanted to lose 1.5 pounds per week and get back down to my college weight of 170 pounds. MyPlate recommended a diet of 1,645 calories per day, and while that’s less than the 1,800-calorie-diet recommended for a man, I assure you it’s plenty, especially if you eat the right foods. I managed to average just 1,469 calories per day and never felt hungry once in the last two months. I would guess my actual intake was higher because I think we subconsciously think are portions are smaller because we want them to be. I wouldn’t be surprised if my daily average is actually more than to the lowest recommended diet for men of 1,500 calories per day.
How active you are during the day also plays a big role in your daily calorie recommendation. Since I sit in front of a computer for a living, I don’t burn a lot of calories naturally throughout the day, which is why my calorie recommendation is low. I do, however, bicycle often and do a lot of walking when I take public transit downtown for a ballgame, so more often than not I met my goal of 250 calories burned per day. And when I didn’t, I still generally burned 100 calories. I averaged 272 calories burned per day over the first two months of using MyPlate.
I managed to do a pretty good job of meeting my net calorie goals, so, naturally, I lost weight. To maintain my weight, I can start consuming the 1,800 calories recommended for a man per day as long as I continue my exercise habits, which shouldn’t be too difficult since I hardly changed any of my exercise habits.
2. Carbs are Killers
As I stated in my previous piece about nutrition, I knew cutting carbohydrates would be the key to reaching my weight loss goal. I’ve been known to enjoy an IPA or two and have a childlike love for Stauffer’s Animal Crackers. I love sourdough and garlic bread. I’m a snacker, too, so a lot of the crap I was putting in my body came between meals. MyPlate helped me manage my snacking by logging my carbohydrates and scaring the hell out of me.
While I’m still struggling to cut carbs due to a limited budget and the affordability of breads, I wouldn’t have come in under my goal as often as I did had I not known what my problem was. I managed to nearly cut microbrews out of my diet entirely. I think I’ve had six in the last two months, and two of them I drank yesterday, which accounted for almost 500 calories and 36 grams of carbs.
2. It’s Okay to Cheat Once a Week
The debate over “cheat days” has not been settled and likely won’t, but I can tell you that I feel best when I go slightly over my daily calorie limit once per week. You can see those days pretty easily on my calorie intake graph, and it’s something that happened naturally. My body wanted to consume more, so I abided.
Restricting calories limits the body’s leptin production, which is the hormone responsible for maintaining our energy levels and weight loss. So while cheat days only raise your metabolism slightly the following day, the way I feel the next day makes it worth the extra calories regardless of the limited effect on my metabolism.
Yesterday was a cheat day for me, and today I woke up rejuvenated and ready to work. I’ll probably go work on my scooter engine after this, which wouldn’t have been the case yesterday, when I wanted to do as little as possible and fell asleep watching baseball at eight o’clock.
Cheating doesn’t mean you get to eat whatever you want for a day, though. It generally means you can splurge during one meal, but you still shouldn’t eat more than your body needs at any time. I made that mistake yesterday at lunch despite finishing just half of a Red Cow blended burger and barely touching some fries covered in gravy. I felt pretty terrible the rest of the day. So while you can eat foods with a bit more fat and sugar on cheat days, it’s not a reason to eat until you feel sick.
3. Cutting out Fat is Easy
I managed to cut my fat intake after the first few weeks of using the MyPlate app thanks to a Ninja 900-watt blender. I realized the fatty foods I was eating were generally snacks and fatty meats. Replacing the fatty hamburger and pork with turkey, chicken and fish was easy, and while I still eat both pork and hamburger, I do so in much smaller portions.
The one thing I knew I had to do was eat more fruits and vegetables. Even when I tried to eat more fruits and vegetables during those first few weeks, I’d generally only do it for one meal per day (generally breakfast). Then I invested in a blender, and now I consume more than the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables.
I’m also replacing less-healthy snacks with healthy ones. I have up to two blended smoothies per day, usually containing three servings of fruits and vegetables each. Plus, I add two tablespoons of hemp protein powder in an attempt to reach my seemingly unattainable goal of 123 grams of protein per day.
4. There’s Sugar and Salt in Everything
I managed to cut into my sodium intake substantially, and I never put salt on anything! I was against salt more so than sugar going into this little experiment. I know where that salt has gone, too. It’s been replaced by sugar.
My substitution of fruit smoothies for crackers and other snacks has been a key to cutting my daily sodium intake. I’m a sucker for Dot’s pretzels (360 mg, 17% sodium daily value), Frito’s Honey BBQ Flavor Twists (180 mg, 7% sodium daily value), and Roasted Garlic Triscuits (135 mg, 6% sodium daily value). Those numbers are all per serving -- not per box -- and I can eat half a box, and in the case of Dot’s pretzels, half a bag. I used to be able to eat a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos -- and not one of those small bags. I don’t do that anymore thanks to my blender.
I have not been able to cut my sugar intake substantially, though. I’ve managed to come in under my recommended daily sugar intake of 33 grams a dozen times in roughly 60 days. I gave up ketchup and mostly cut out barbecue sauce in an attempt to cut down on sugar consumption, and nothing’s changed. I still go over my recommended sugar intake almost everyday.
The foods highest in sugar that I’ve eaten the last two months are sodas and juices I’ve used to mix with my smoothies and the fruits also in those smoothies. And if I cut out the three or four ounces of soda or juice I use in my smoothies, I’m still going over the daily recommendation for sugars. The only way I see a way around sugars is to eat nothing but vegetables and nuts and drink nothing but water, which I’m not ready to do. I focused on salt.
5. Logging Your Meals and Exercise is Too Easy Not to Do
Just because I can fit into my high school jeans doesn’t mean I’m done with the MyPlate app. I’ll probably never stop using it. It’s a part of my life now, and that doesn’t bother me. People use their phones for worse things than logging meals and exercise.
I’m still only using the free workouts, of which I’ve done five or so times over two months, and they really work. I did the 7-minute Cardio Sculpting Workout yesterday because it was my “cheat day” to eat, and my butt and legs are sore. I’m looking forward to really getting into the locked “Gold” exercises, which I’ll review in another two months. The 10-minute Abs Workout doesn’t require any gym equipment, so I’ll start with that one.
MyPlate even counts my steps, so if I walk or run a few miles or climb steps, the app automatically subtracts those calories burned from my net intake for the day. The amount of time you’ll spend logging your meals everyday amounts to a few minutes per day. If you can’t take a few minutes out of your day to learn about what you’re putting in your body, you’re not dedicated enough to your weight loss goals.
You can’t just get down to your weight and stop logging your meals and exercise, but the beauty of MyPlate is that it’s too easy not to use. Regardless of where I am I can log my meals and exercise. It might be harder to do when eating out, but that’s because restaurants that don’t have more than 20 locations aren’t required to post nutrition facts on their menus, or anywhere. You can still find a similar recipe for a restaurant menu item and add the ingredients one by one, though. Since using the MyPlate app I’ve been less inclined to eat out because I know those foods are less healthy by design. The foods from fast food chains and restaurants are designed to be addictive, and that’s just more sugars and salt I don’t need.
Livestrong’s MyPlate app is a perfectly reasonable way to start losing weight. It’s doesn’t cost anything but the few minutes per day before or after each meal (I recommend before). I also recommend subscribing to the Livestrong blog. You’ll notice they have valuable information. Try MyPlate for two weeks without changing a thing like I did, and you’ll see what’s going into your body and want to change for your body’s sake.
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