When someone tells me they want to lose weight, but they don’t know where to start, I tell them to keep a food diary. Those that give my suggestion a shot are often surprised by the number of calories they’ve consumed in a day, and I can relate to their disbelief. When extra pounds start creeping onto my 5’ 2” frame, I start counting calories. Adding up the calories in that nibble of leftover cake my husband left on his plate, or the chips and salsa I devoured at my favorite Mexican restaurant (and that was before we ever ordered dinner) always amazes me.
Fifteen years ago, I lost 40 pounds following the Weight Watcher’s plan – a plan whose foundation is keeping a food diary. I won’t tell you that I haven’t gained back a single pound, or that for the past 15 years I’ve tracked every morsel of food that’s entered my mouth. I will tell you that when extra pounds start adding themselves to my backside, journaling takes them off before I need to lose another 40 pounds.
Weight Watchers isn’t the only believer in food journaling. According to the National Weight Control Registry, a research study that gathers information from people who have successfully lost a significant amount of weight and kept it off, food journaling is a part of their success stories. eDiets, another very successful weight loss website, also confirms my belief that writing down what I eat, keeps me on track.
Do you have to shell out your hard-earned money to join a weight loss service like Weight Watchers or eDiets? Not when there are free online resources that can meet the same needs, or come pretty close. You just need to identify which features are important to you.
What do I look for in an online weight loss tool? Here are my top must-haves, in order of importance:
- It has to track calories and fitness goals in a way that is motivating and fun.
- It has to be free, or at least have the features I’m looking for free of charge. I don’t mind if the website offers additional features at cost, but I don’t want to pay for the basics.
- It has to be easy to get started. I don’t want to spend hours looking at help forums just trying to set up my profile. I want to be able to quickly add items to my journal and easily find resources such as
- I want tools that help me determine how many calories I should be eating to lose or maintain weight, and help me meet the nutrition requirements my body needs to be healthy and fit.
- I require a large food database with accurate calorie calculations. I don’t have time to calculate calories. I don’t mind if calorie calculations vary to a small degree, but overall I want accuracy to ensure that I’m eating the proper number of calories each day.
- I want the ability to save favorite foods so I don’t have to search for them every time I add an item to my diary. It’s also a must to be able to calculate the calories in a recipe, since often times there isn’t a food in the database that will match. Saving entire meals as a favorite is a nice feature too. How often do you eat the same thing for breakfast? It’s nice to add an entire meal to my diary.
- If you are looking for support, a large community is very helpful. It also tells me that the website is a successful resource for dieters.
- Progress reports are another must. It’s the one way I know I’m making headway. That alone is inspiring.
- Expert advice in the form of articles isn’t a must, but it is a nice way to find additional tools for success.
- If you have a smart phone, a mobile application is very helpful for tracking calories on the go. That way I don’t forget that nibble of cake that cost me an additional 50 calories for the day!
Now that you know what I look for when I review online weight loss tools, here are my top picks.
- Modern Fit is visually appealing. It is user friendly, with an abundance of information that ranges from living a healthy lifestyle, to health information related to common diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. You can set nutrition goals for common nutrients like protein, sodium and fat. It even provides a quick way to track water intake and servings of fruits and vegetables. If you’re looking for nutritional reports, this site provides basic reporting. They have a fitness section that allows you to set fitness goals and track exercise. Just as important as which foods you eat, moving your body is critical to long-term weight loss. Overall, this is a terrific resource for dieters. If you are looking for inspiration, there is a lot here to inspire you.
- Calorie Count is my second pick. It has a large community of followers, useful tools, and is user friendly. I find this website easy to understand, and just as easy to get started. I really liked the expert advice section. I found their diet profile feature very enlightening. It runs you through a list of questions, then provides you with an analysis of your eating habits.
- MyFitnessPal is overall easy to setup and navigate. It has a clean interface, and while it’s not highly customizable, it provides everything on my list of must haves. They have a large database of foods that even includes items from large restaurant chains. If you’re looking for detailed nutrition reports, myfitnesspal has them. They also have a very active community forum.
- BuddySlim is another website with an active community. It provides the majority of the tools I’m looking for, along with fun personalization choices for your tracking experience. It lacks reporting and a mobile app, but if you aren’t looking for those features, this website is worth a look.
Before you plunge in and set up an account on the first recommendation you see in my list, take some time and setup an account on each of these websites. Look around and see what they have to offer. What motivates one person doesn’t always meet the needs of the next person.
Currently, Kristi Rimkus authors her own blog over at Mother Rimmy’s Cooking Light Done Right. Kristi is a student at ACHS, working on a nutrition certification. Any advice in this column is strictly her opinion. You should consult a licensed health professional if you have health concerns before starting any diet and fitness plan.
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