Learning to use (and love) MyFitnessPal
One of the most integral parts of starting the Keto diet is ensuring that you’re hitting the correct macros (grams of carbohydrates, protein, and fat) daily. And really, if you just want to focus on one, it’s grams of carbohydrates that makes or breaks this diet. If you eat too many carbs, you’re not in Ketosis, because you’re giving your body enough sugar to burn for fuel instead of fat. This is why a calorie and macro-tracking app is so important, and why I want to introduce you to my favorite: MyFitnessPal
If you mentally track your carbs and add some fat to your diet, you’ll most likely experience weight loss and other benefits. At least in the beginning. But to truly experience all the benefits of Keto and avoid frustrating plateaus, you need to be tracking all of your macros and your calorie intake.
If this sounds terrible to you, don’t worry, I was there! One of my biggest hesitations about starting Keto was the idea of tracking everything in MyFitnessPal. And I didn’t get really serious about it until a few weeks into the diet. But just like anything else, once you get in the habit and the groove, you’ll realize you had nothing to be worried about. It’s actually kind of fun! I get silly-competitive with myself about seeing the macro pie-chart each day and trying to get it as close to the ideal ratios as possible.
So how can you learn to use MyFitnessPal effectively, move past any hesitations about tracking your macros, and even learn to love the app?
Disclaimer: Don’t let the length of this guide scare you!! An action that only takes a second in the app may take me a paragraph or two to fully explain. Give this guide your attention and I guarantee you’ll be a MyFitnessPal pro in no time!
BAD MYFITNESSPAL MEMORIES
So why did I resist using MyFitnessPal so much in the beginning? Well, I’d used the app before… and it wasn’t tied to great memories. But that wasn’t the app’s fault. I used it intently to track my macros in the 6 months right after I graduated from college and started my first (and worst) adult job.
As a young twenty-something unsure of how to cope with hating her first "real world" job, I stopped working out and went home every day to eat and watch hours of How I Met Your Mother and wallow. At some point, I realized that if I started gaining weight, I’d get even sadder, so I used MyFitnessPal to track my calories and macros to ensure that I could be a self-pitying slug every night and not worry about too much weight gain. Stellar priorities right there.
Five years later, when my husband first pitched the idea of us trying Keto and told me it involved tracking calories and macros in MyFitnessPal, I thought Eh… I’ll just eat what he eats. I downloaded the app and logged a few foods or meals here and there, but didn’t really stick to it. My past experience with it had left a bad taste in my mouth, and if we’re being completely honest, I was also being lazy about it.
Finally, after a few weeks, my husband asked me why I wasn’t really using the app. I shrugged and told him that if he was tracking and we were eating the same things, I figured I’d be okay. To which he responded, “Yeah… well, you know, when I read some of the success stories online, a lot of them say the biggest thing that causes people to fail is not being serious about their tracking.”
One of the things I love about my husband is that he is exceptional at holding people accountable. And in that moment, I realized that this was important to him, and he was going to hold me accountable. So I decided to give it a shot.
And now I’m hooked.
WHY IS MYFITNESSPAL AND TRACKING MACROS IMPORTANT?
As I mentioned earlier, if you keep your carbs under 20 net grams (grams of total carbs minus grams of fiber), you’re going to start losing weight and feeling some of the other benefits. But eventually, you will probably hit a stall, and you won’t achieve so many of the benefits besides weight-loss that make Keto such a great way to live. You need the right balance of protein and fat to fuel your body, and you need to make sure you’re not eating too many or too few calories.
So why not get yourself into great habits right from the start?
Once you start logging, the app can also serve as a great source for inspiration! In a rush to make a grocery list and get your shopping done? Your past days or weeks of logging serve as a ready-made meal plan for you!
Tracking your macros and calories is the most important part, which is completely possible with the free version of MyFitnessPal.
But I would strongly encourage upgrading to a Premium account. It’s only $10 a month, and it allows you to:
- Set Macronutrient goals
- View your macronutrient breakdown by meal
- Export your data to excel (so great for meal-planning!)
- Customize your home screen to see the information most important to you
- Set different calorie/macronutrient goals by day (useful for some more advanced Keto strategies)
- And, of course, you don’t have to deal with ads
There’s a 30-day free trial, so give it a shot and see if it’s worth the extra $10 for you. But in my opinion, that’s $10 you’re investing in yourself… and guess what? You’re worth it!
Once you set up your account, the very first thing you want to do is set your goals. From the menu at the bottom of the screen, tap the More menu under the three dots on the far right. Then, select Goals (4th down if you have Premium).
At the top, you can enter your starting weight, current weight, and goal weight. Then you can also set how much weight you want to lose per week and your activity level -- MyFitnessPal will use these two to set calorie goals for you, which you will probably end up overriding, so they aren’t terribly important.
The next section is labeled Nutrition Goals. This is the important part! Click into the first section, Calorie and Macronutrient goals.
For the first few weeks of Keto, you’ll probably want to set a goal between 1,500 and 2,000 calories. For example, I’m a 5’5 woman, so I set my starting goal at 1,500. My husband, a 5’9 man, started at 1,800. If you happen to be much taller than us, or 2,000 is a drastic drop from your current calorie intake, do some research to find a healthy starting calorie goal.
A fantastic resource to find your caloric intake (as well as macro intake) is the Keto Calculator from Keto Adapted.
Next, we’ll set your Macro goals. A lot of Keto-ers say to aim for 5% carbs, 25% protein, and 70% fat -- however, I highly encourage you to set your Macro goals by grams, not percentages. This gives you the most control and is the best way to make sure you’re getting the right amount of protein!
If you click on any of the Macros, it will open up a menu to choose the breakdown for all three that adds up to your calorie goal. It will default you to %, so switch over to Grams.
Carbs is easy -- set that to 20 grams. Next, you’ll set your protein goal. With protein, you want to make sure that you are eating enough to maintain your lean body mass, but not so much that your body starts to burn protein instead of fat for fuel. For me, that number is around 75 grams of protein. For my husband, it’s a little over 100 grams. Again, the Keto Calculator is a great resource to calculate your ideal protein intake.
And finally, your grams of fat. This one is easy - as you move the ticker, it will show you an “Updated Calorie Goal” at the bottom. Just increase or decrease the goal for grams of Fat until it matches the calorie goal you set for yourself (which is listed right below the “Updated Calorie Goal” for reference).
That’s it! Click the check-mark on the right and your goals will be set!
(sidenote: In a few weeks, once your body starts to adjust, you’ll be able to drop your daily calorie intake. Your body will be better at burning fat, so it won’t need quite as much, and dropping your daily calorie intake will ensure you keep losing weight. Your Carb macro goal and Protein macro goal will stay the same, you’ll just decrease your Fat macro goal to your new calorie goal. Then, once you reach your goal weight and want to maintain, you’ll increase your calorie goal by increasing your grams of fat again.
This is why we sometimes describe fat as a “lever,” because you adjust your fat intake based on whether you’re trying to gain, lose, or maintain your weight. Carbs and Protein will stay the same, and Fat is what makes the difference.)
All right, you’ve set your goals and you’re ready to start logging! What to do next?
There are two options:
Pre-plan your day. Log your breakfast, lunch, and dinner ahead of time so you can adjust all the ingredients and plan the perfect day.
Log your meals as you eat, and plan your later meals based on what you have “left” in your calorie and macro goals.
I personally use both methods, just depending on the day. Some people prefer one over the other. It’s entirely up to you!
To start logging your food, select Diary from the menu at the bottom of the screen. The Diary view will show at the top how many calories you’ve eaten and how many you have left (we have to go to a different screen to get the Macro breakdown, we’ll cover that in a bit). Then, you’ll see a section for Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and Snacks. Free to use these however you see fit!
Under any of the meal headings, you see an option that reads “+ Add Food.” If you click this, you’ll arrive at the Search feature. There’s a search bar, categories for Recent, Frequent, My Foods, Meals, and Recipes, and then a blank page. Once you start adding foods, they will populate in that blank space for easy future-logging. It’s only blank right now because you haven’t logged anything yet.
Let’s talk about my favorite MyFitnessPal feature: the barcode scanner. This makes life so easy. On the far right of the search bar, tap the barcode. It will ask if the app is allowed to access your camera -- click Allow. Now you can scan the barcode of any food you’re about to eat!
So let’s say you’re logging your breakfast. You get out the carton of eggs, the heavy whipping cream, and the cheese for your scramble; the butter for your pan; the bacon; and an avocado.
You’d go to your diary, tap “+ Add Food” under breakfast, click the barcode scanner, and scan the barcode on your carton of eggs.
MyFitnessPal pulls up the nutrition info for you. It shows you the calories as well as the macro breakdown right at the top. Below that, it lists the Serving Size and Number of Servings. Leave Serving Size at 1 Egg, then adjust the Number of Servings to however many eggs you want in your scramble.
Click the checkmark at the top right, and presto! Your eggs are logged.
So how about your cheese? You scan the bag and it tells you a serving size is 28 g. This is where your food scale comes into play! We use this one from Amazon Basics and keep it on the counter with a little tupperware dedicated to measuring foods. Set your measuring tupperware on your food scale, turn it on/zero it out, make sure the Unit is set to grams, and then start adding cheese until it reads 28 g.
Log the 28 g in MyFitnessPal, then set the tupperware of cheese near your stove so you can add it to your scramble when you’re ready!
Note -- this is also helpful if you’re building a dish as you go, like a salad. Want to add a 28 gram serving of cheese on top? Set the whole salad on your food scale, zero it out, and start adding cheese until it reads 28 grams. Want to add 15 grams of almonds after that? Zero it out again, then start adding almonds until the food scale reads 15 grams. Seriously, food scales are awesome.
But anyway, back to the breakfast we were logging. What about your avocado? There’s no barcode on a piece of produce… but that’s okay! We’ll just find it in the MyFitnessPal database. Click “+ Add Food,” then type “Avocado” into the search bar. It will say “No results found in ‘Recent’” and below that “Search all foods for: “Avocado””.
Click that second line of text, and it will immediately pull up all entries in the MyFitnessPal database. Click the top one, adjust your Servings, then hit the check mark to log it.
What if you need to edit or delete something? No problem. If you want to edit an ingredient (ex: you originally logged half an avocado, but now you only want a quarter of an avocado), just tap the ingredient to edit the Serving Size or Number of Servings.
Want to get rid of something all-together? Maybe you logged an avocado, then cut into it and discovered it had gone bad (the worst!) Just tap the ingredient and pull it to the left of the screen (swipe left). Then tap the red Delete button.
Okay, at this point, I know you might be thinking to yourself You’re telling me I have to go through ALL of those steps every time I eat?!
I hear you. And I’m going to ask you to trust me here, because I few things will happen:
- You’ll get used to the app, and you’ll get really fast. Logging a meal like the one above takes me a minute or less. I usually do it while I’m cooking and I have downtime (eggs are in the pan, bacon is in the oven, avocado is chopped, and I have a free minute).
- When you’re logging a food, MyFitnessPal will suggest other foods that you usually log with it. So on Day 2, if you search for eggs, MyFitnessPal will ask if you’d like to log any of the other ingredients you made with eggs on Day 1. This makes it very easy if you eat similar meals day-to-day.
- You can copy an entire meal from one day to another one. Let’s say you made burgers last Thursday and you want to make the same thing today. Just tap where it says “Today” at the top of your Diary to choose a different date, go to that meal, and click the three dots below the entry. Choose “Copy To Date” and select your meal and date.
*Note that it will pull all of the ingredients listed under that meal entry, you won’t have the option to copy them one-by-one. So what if you wanted to change up an ingredient or two? That’s fine! It’s easiest to copy the whole thing over, then go to today’s entry and tap to edit or swipe to delete any ingredients.
I promise, this process becomes second nature and will only take minutes of your day. Even if you’re skeptical, commit to trying it for a few weeks and see how you feel.
Bonus: Making yourself track everything you eat is a great deterrent for mindless snacking. When you find yourself reaching for a handful of something (almonds, pork rinds, a slice of turkey), stop and think to yourself Do I really want this enough to get out my phone, open MyFitnessPal, and log it? If the answer is yes, dive in! If the answer is no, then skip the snacking and wait for your next meal.
CHECKING YOUR MACROS
Your Diary will always show your calories, but what about your all-important Macros? To see those, click the three dots above More from the bottom-menu, then click Nutrition (6th down on the Premium menu).
At the top, you’ll see three options for Calories, Nutrients, and Macros. The second two are where you’ll spend most of your time.
First, click into Nutrients. This is where you can see your Macros, plus a ton of other nutrient breakdowns! The three columns on the right will show you your Total (how much you’ve already logged today), your Goal, and then how much you have Left.
Conveniently, Fiber is listed right under Carbohydrates. As you may recall, the goal is to keep your Net Carbs below 20 grams. Net Carbs are grams of carbs minus grams of fiber. Having them next to each other allows you to easily do the mental math. However, I would recommend still trying to keep your Total Carbs below 30 grams, regardless of Fiber.
Finally, you can click on Macros, and it will show you a fun pie chart with a breakdown of today’s Macros by percentage! This is just a fun, visual representation of the previous screen.
You’ll also notice near the top, below the “Calories/Nutrients/Macros” menu, something that says “Day View.” There are arrows to the left and right of this -- if you click these, you can access the nutritional breakdown for different days. < takes you back (so you can see how you did yesterday or the day before) and > takes you forward. So let’s say you’re pre-logging your meals for tomorrow, you can use the > menu to see the Macro breakdown of what you’ve logged so far.
If you also want to be able to see your Macros by meal, go to the More menu, tap Goals, then under Nutrition Goals, click the slider to turn it on.
Now, when you go to your Diary, it will list your Macro grams under each meal heading.
IS THERE ANYTHING YOU DON’T LOG?
Yes. If I log something once and discover it has 0 calories/macros, I skip logging it in the future. This includes things like vanilla extract, baking powder, Stevia, or coffee (I don’t log the actual black coffee. I DO log any cream or milk that I put into the coffee.)
I also skip logging Erythritol or Monk Fruit sweeteners. These labels say they have several grams of carbs per serving, but because the carbs are actually sugar alcohols, they don’t cause a spike in your blood sugar and therefore don’t count towards your daily carb count. I skip logging them just because it annoys me to see the carbs in my total count under the Nutrients tab. Because I’m silly-competitive and it throws off my beautiful Macro pie chart. If you are less weird than I am and choose to log these sweeteners and just keep a mental note, that’s absolutely fine!
Recipes in MyFitnessPal are your best friend. Use them diligently.
What is a Recipe? Basically, it allows you to build all the ingredients into a singular entry that you can easily log any time in the future. For example, let’s say you want to make a batch of brownies. You build a Recipe with all the ingredients that go into the batch of brownies, you tell the app how many servings the recipe yields, and save it as “My Awesome Keto Brownies.” Any time you want one of those brownies in the future, you just log a serving of “My Awesome Keto Brownies” instead of having to log all of the individual ingredients.
Recipes are also insanely useful when you’re deciding if you want to try out a recipe you found on Pinterest or Google. Pro Tip: Always build the Recipe in MyFitnessPal first before you make it! Different brands of ingredients can have different carb counts, and recipes on the internet may not always be accurate (just because the author says “Less than 1 net carb!” doesn’t always mean they are right…)
Personally, any time I find a recipe that I want to try, I gather all the ingredients on my counter, scan all the barcodes, and build the Recipe in MyFitnessPal. That way, I know exactly what the nutritional contents are going to come to with the ingredients in my own kitchen. Once I confirm the macros, then I can start cooking (AND I already have the Recipe built for easy logging once it’s finished!)
To create a Recipe, tap the More menu and choose “Meals, Recipes & Foods” (7th down on the Premium menu), then tap Create a Recipe at the bottom of the screen. It will give you two options, to Add from the Web or to Enter Ingredients Manually. I always choose Enter Ingredients Manually.
Then you can title your Recipe (only you will see this, so call it whatever you like) and enter the number of servings. In this example, I plan to cut the brownies into 12 pieces, so I enter 12 Servings.
Then, hit the right arrow at the top of the screen to start adding your ingredients. Tap Add Ingredient, and it will pull up a search bar. However, note that your handy barcode scanner is at the bottom right of your screen. This will be the quickest way to build your recipe. As I mentioned earlier, my favorite method is to gather all the ingredients on my counter and scan them one-by-one. For Serving Size and Number of Servings, note that you are logging the WHOLE RECIPE. So if there is one cup of Almond Flour in your brownie recipe, log one cup of Almond Flour. Don’t worry about dividing the ingredients based on how many brownies the whole recipe will yield -- MyFitnessPal will do that for you!
As you build the Recipe, MyFitnessPal will keep a running tally of calories per serving that the bottom. Once you’ve added all your added all the ingredients, hit the right arrow at the top right of your screen. Here’s the summary of your Recipe!
The condensed view just shows Fat, Protein, and Carbs, but if you hit More Nutrition Facts at the bottom, it will show you Fiber as well so you can see how many Net Carbs you have per serving.
Finally, make sure to hit save! I have forgotten this step and lost a full recipe before. You have the option to Save, or Save & Log It (if you know you’re about to eat one of these).
Any time you want to log one of these brownies, just go to your Diary, hit “+ Add Food,” and choose “Recipes” on the far right of the top menu. Tap the Recipe you want and you’re all set!
And that’s it!
Obviously, there is a TON more that MyFitnessPal can do, but these are the basics to get you started tracking your calories and macros. If you want to experience as much success as possible starting a Keto diet, download the app, bookmark this guide, and commit to using the app for at least a few weeks. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be hooked in no time.
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch! Just send me a DM on Instagram (@damngoodketo). And good luck getting started!
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