Thursday, March 10, 2011

My Fitness Pal and being Vegetarian or Vegan for dieting purposes

I am not getting any compensation to promote this product, but I use the My Fitness Pal iPhone application religiously.  Essentially, this application is a calorie counter.  They also make a version for the Android phone as well.  But for those stuck without either options, they also have a website.

The thing that makes this application easy to use and useful is you don't have to estimate how many calories you intake throughout the day.  The application, and website, has a large database of various food items and their nutritional value.  This includes items from Trader Joes, various restaurants, Kirkland products, as well as even Bouchon.  The ability to just look something up takes away a lot of the hassle of having to log what you eat, the cell phone application (if you're fortunate enough to have a compatible phone) helps the user be diligent about using it daily.  Best of all, the application is free.

I think the most important service the My Fitness Pal application provides is education.  It is amazing how little calories we really need in our modern, sedentary lifestyle.  In addition, it is amazing how many calories many of the foods have, especially prepared, restaurant foods!  Part of this education helps me smartly select what I would like to eat, and what foods I should avoid.  In addition, when I feel like cheating a meal, it helps me plan around it so I can be good for the remainder of the week.  I also have learned to use my judgement to decide how to best use the daily calorie allocation I have.

The application allows you to input and track your workouts as well.  Because of the wide database of various workouts the software has on file, it allows the user to easily search and see how many calories various exercises burn.  Since the calorie counter software works off "net" calories, you can potentially have a Michael Phelps workout regimen and pretty much eat whatever you want. For example, a 2-mile walk burns about 200 calories, but three hours of moderate downhill skiing burns over 1,500 calories!  So if you decide to have a heavy meal, you can also just work out more to compensate for the additional calorie intake.

The application also helps me understand one other issue: why there are so many overweight Vegetarian and Vegans out there.  Although a Vegetarian or Vegan diet is many times a lifestyle choice, there are a lot of dieters out there that believe becoming Vegetarian or Vegan will automatically help them lose weight.  Any restrictive dieting has the potential for weight loss cause you consciously remove a lot of food you otherwise would eat out of your diet.  Although they may eat healthier as a Vegetarian or Vegan, the surprising thing is that it is very likely you would consume the same, if not more calories.  In other words, being Vegetarian or Vegan doesn't mean less calories for the same amount of food.  Many times, it means more.  This is because on a Vegetarian or Vegan diet, the individual would not feel as satisfied.  My reason for this is by being Vegan or Vegetarian, you bias your diet to have more carbohydrates.  Remember, it's the lean protein and fiber that keeps you from constantly getting hungry.  On the bright side, you will likely consume a lot more fiber.

Armed with this knowledge, I rather spend my precious calorie allocation on foods I like, for example, beef.

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