These days, with the proliferation of smartphones, tracking your calories in (what you eat) and calories out (exercise) has never been easier. It’s the first thing I recommend most of my clients do, even if they aren’t looking to lose weight; because tracking your nutrition and exercise isn’t only about weight loss or gain; it’s also about macronutrients, vitamins, and making sure you’re putting back what you’re spending.
The trick these days can be figuring out which tracker is the right fit for you. I’ve tried almost all of them, and here are a few of my favorites, including what I do and don’t like about each one. Any of these would be a good choice, in my opinion, but it depends on what fits best for you.
A note: To make this list, each one must have both an Android and iPhone app, as well as a web interface, to make logging and looking up your nutrition easy and convenient no matter where you are in the world and how you’re logging on.
The most popular tracker, at least by my totally non-scientific poll of my friends. MyFitnessPal is simple and easy to use; it walks you through figuring out your daily goal, and like most apps it allows you to look up foods by typing the name, or by scanning a bar code. It’s simple enough to create custom foods and recipes (handy especially if you like to cook at home, or you’re signed up for Blue Apron or a similar home meal service) and it syncs with a lot of other popular health apps, including Apple Health, Garmin Connect, and Trainerize–which is why a lot of my clients use it. It’s nice when your exercise automatically shows up, and saves you the trouble of entering it. That said, it’s a bit simple for my taste, and I find that of all the trackers, it is the most restrictive about your calorie allowance. MyFitnessPal only counts calories you burn through actual workouts, and doesn’t have an option to include activities like standing, cleaning your apartment, or sex as a calorie burn.
5. FatSecret Calorie Counter
This was my go-to tracker for years, and I had real weight loss success with it. What sold me on FatSecret (certainly not its terrible name!) was the way it tracks activity; you can set a “default day,” which is nice since most of us have office jobs and routines, and it gets tiresome entering the same thing day after day. FatSecret therefore has lots of activities available as exercise, including desk work, standing in line, cleaning the house, and sleeping. When you complete a workout, you don’t just say “I did this,” you say “I did this instead of [x] thing I would normally do with that time.” As a result you get a very accurate picture of your calorie burn. FatSecret also has one of the most expansive food databases I’ve seen, although oddly its search algorithm often fails to bring up foods that are definitely in the database–you have to use a Google search as a workaround.
4. Lose It
Another former favorite, LoseIt has an intuitive interface that makes tracking quick and easy–easier, arguably, than even MyFitnessPal. I also like a lot of their premium features a lot, including the “Food Insights” option you can see above, which shows you where your calories and various nutrients have tended to come from (I was eating a lot of kettle corn and burritos for a while, as you can see). Their “Patterns” feature can also identify bad habits–for example, if there are certain trigger foods that tend to appear on days when you overeat, Lose It will tell you. The one thing I missed was tracking of micronutrients, although Lose It does a nice job with macronutrients and is handy for people who are doing “If It Fits Your Macros” or otherwise watching their ratios.
3. Honorary Mention: FitDay
FitDay was the very first diet and exercise tracker I ever used, way back in the days before smartphones, and one thing I still like about it is how thorough it is, tracking almost every nutrient and every exercise. Unfortunately, their interface has not improved much (or at all, really) over the years. Until recently they didn’t even have a smartphone app, and the one they released (for iOS only) isn’t anything to get excited about. That said, if you want a tracker that records virtually every minor detail, FitDay is the choice for you–provided you don’t mind interacting mostly through a clunky browser interface.