MyFitnessPal and me: Diary of an obsessive electronic relationship

(Jodi Kilgore/Illustration…)
May 16, 2013|By Catherine Mallette | The Baltimore Sun

Right from the start, I knew we would have problems in our relationship. We were too much alike, he and I. Type A. Achievers. The kind who love lists and checking things off. The kind who love control.

And yet, as the new year rolled in with all its resolutions and promises of change, I made a commitment to him. I downloaded the app to my phone and linked myself for the foreseeable future to MyFitnessPal.

He made promises, and I did, too. But could we keep them? After all, we both wanted the same thing: We were determined to get rid of the eight pounds that had crept onto my frame in the last year. But he was the taskmaster, and I had to do all the work.

And so it began.

Day 1: MyFitnessPal makes recommendations on how many calories I should be eating each day based on my goal of losing eight pounds. His numbers seem reasonable enough. I can watch the "Today" show" on the elliptical trainer for an hour in the morning, burning calories and learning how Martha makes the perfect meatloaf. This morning, I just tapped "Add to Diary" and a handy screen came up. I hit "cardiovascular," typed in "elliptical" and "60 minutes," and MyFitnessPal told me I'd burned 393 calories. What a great start! Even better, he retains that information during the day and then balances it against the calories I consume. Adding food is super-simple, too, and MyFitnessPal tells me exactly how many calories more I can consume that day to stay on track. He is a genius.

Day 4: Uh-oh. He may be a genius, but already I am perhaps too obsessed with him and his calorie counts. For example, my most recent thought was "Well, maybe I'll just have a few Ritz crackers for dinner so I can get in a couple glasses of wine, too." Is this a healthy choice? I think not. On the other hand, MyFitnessPal forced me to go with the baked Lays today rather than the regular delicious chips. They tasted just like cardboard, or what I imagine cardboard would taste like. But so what? The choice gave me an extra 100 calories to use somewhere else. Like that glass of wine.

Day 6: My health club has upped the ante. It has come up with a 10-week contest. Whichever team of two people loses the most calories and body fat in that time will take home two 32-inch TVs. My husband and I sign up. I love TVs.

Day 10: MyFitnessPal is a tyrant. He knows the calorie count of pretty much everything in the world. Thinking of having the peach salad with chicken at California Pizza Kitchen? 1,187 calories. There are recipes from cookbooks and from other app-users in his database. You can even scan a package with a bar code. I like working out, but now every morning, I go to the gym simply because I want to be able to eat for the rest of the day. I decide he is not my pal so much as a little dictator. I start calling him the Generalissimo.

Day 11: Someone has brought Ravens doughnuts into the office on a Purple Friday. This kind gesture feels like an act of aggression. I am becoming as harsh as my Generalissimo master.

Day 20: At the end of every day, I punch the "complete this entry" button on the app and get a message. Tonight, the Generalissimo chides me: You are not eating enough, he says, which catches me by surprise. I mean, wasn't this whole "eat less/work out more thing" HIS idea?

Day 23: First weigh-in day at the gym. I am down 3 percentage points in body fat. I give my phone a little hug and whisper, "Thank you," in the Generalissimo's ear. I think I love him.

Day 30: This has become our routine. My husband and I sit down to eat and spend the first three or four minutes with our heads bowed and our hands together. We are not praying. We are consulting our Pals. How much of this pizza can I eat? Just one slice? What!? I hate you, Domino's.

Day 40: Valentine's Day. In BodyPump class, our cheerful, ridiculously fit instructor urges us all to have a glass of wine tonight. Work it off now, she suggests, but enjoy it later. But no, the Generalissimo will not let me. My husband and I have recently made another new resolution: no wine on weekdays. I call it "going off the sauce" because that phrase makes me laugh. But seriously. Two glasses of wine? I'd have to go get on the elliptical for another hour to make up for it.

Day 46: I once had a personal trainer who said "Never say diet. It's a lifestyle change." My lifestyle change means I am hungry all the time.

Day 53: Second weigh-in. I am down almost 6 percentage points in body fat. My husband is doing equally well. I can practically smell those TVs, I think to myself. I wonder if I am actually contemplating eating the TVs. Is this what the guy in "Life of Pi" felt like?

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