What's the better weight-loss strategy, Weight Watchers or MyFitnessPal?
October 19, 2013 12:02 PM   Subscribe

I'm currently on a campaign against the 20 pounds I've put on over the last 2 years (stress eating, sedentary lifestyle, post-30 metabolism drop, you name it). I hear great things about Weight Watchers, but my buddy also introduced me to the MyFitnessPal app, which is free. Weight watchers is all about "points" (carbs, fat, fiber, protein), while the app focuses exclusively on calories in, calories out. Which is better, for weight loss?

Anyone who's had experience with one or both, I want to hear from YOU!!

The fact that the app is free is a nice bonus, but not crucial.
posted by airguitar2 to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I've used apps like MyFitnessPal. For me, the very act of tracking what I ate made a huge difference. Even with pretty restricted calories, I found myself eating extra at the end of the day to meet a calorie goal. I'm not sure how you are, but I tend to "graze" during the day, forgetting what I've eaten for breakfast by dinnertime. When I'm entering every bite into something and keeping track, I'm nowhere near as hungry. My unconscious eating is almost instantly curbed once I see a long list of everything that's passed my teeth in a day.
posted by nevercalm at 12:18 PM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

There's no reason you can't do both! The MyFitnessPal app does not focus exclusively on calories in, calories out.

You can set goals in MyFitnessPal for carbs, fat, fiber, and protein, and as you enter foods, it not only gives you calories left for the day, but the amount of calories from carbs, fat, protein, etc that you have left to eat for the day. Some people have even figured out how to directly use Weight Watchers with MyFitnessPal. MyFitnessPal also lets you track exercise along with your food, which can be very helpful in meeting your goals.
posted by erst at 12:19 PM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I used DailyPlate rather than MyFitnessPal, but it's the same concept. Personally I think counting calories makes way more sense, because 1. you aren't asked to stop eating any one thing, so you can keep your precious cheese or beer or cake if you like, and 2. it will make you realize how bad for you specific foods are (I used to eat pastries for breakfast, then I checked the calorie counts... no more!) I actually barely changed my diet when counting calories, except I ate smaller portions and less bread, and I lost 10 pounds without really even thinking about it.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:20 PM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I recently started using cronometer.com to track my food intake. It has a nice breakdown of nutrients as well as macronutrients.

It's stunning how poorly I eat.

Perhaps you could use a bunch of different tracking tools for a week, evaluate over the weekend, and pick one going forward.
posted by jsturgill at 12:32 PM on October 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've used Weight Watchers a few times, and I love it. I actually think that, for me, paying helps me stay on track.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 12:42 PM on October 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've had success with both, although since Weight Watchers changed their plan this most recent time it did not work for me at all.

I'd try My Fitness Pal for a few weeks first, since it's free, and if you feel like you need more structure or accountability than that, go to Weight Watchers.
posted by something something at 12:42 PM on October 19, 2013

Weight Watchers works best for me, but I couldn't say why. I think maybe because the point system is a bit more abstract? Or because I'm paying? Whatever, it just works better for me.
posted by pyjammy at 12:45 PM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've used both. I lost weight with the older Weight Watchers points program. However, now that I have a little less than 20 pounds to lose, I notice that number of calories I eat needs to be a LOT less than when I was heavier. MyFitnessPal daily calorie tracking has resulted in speedier weight loss for me (not crazy speedy, but 2 lb per week instead of the 0.5 lb per week I was seeing with WW). Part of it I think is that WW now encourages unlimited intake of fruits and if you (like me) use a mango and an apple and a banana and oh, why not a bowl of grapes as snacks, those fruit calories are not insignificant. Yes, WW "officially" encourages more non starchy vegetables than fruits per day, but I think this is a subtle "recommendation" that is buried in their literature/FAQs. For me, eating an extra 200-300 calories' worth of fruit per day and pretending it is not making a difference in my weight loss just doesn't work. I have to count every calorie. MyFitnessPal makes this pretty easy to do, saves favorites, and has a recipe builder. I would pay to use it if I had to. YMMV.
posted by little mouth at 12:56 PM on October 19, 2013

Either would work; they're both simply ways for you to strictly follow a regimen which would result in weight loss. So choose whichever you think would be easier for you to follow without cheating.
posted by Justinian at 1:05 PM on October 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

"Calories in, calories out" is a fallacy. You can Google "calories in, calories out" and get a bunch of different explanations as to why. One simple way to view it is this: you can get a day's worth of calories entirely by eating the requisite number of Milky Way bars in one sitting. You might even lose weight if you did it. But your life would be hell if you did: sugar rushes and crashes, arteries clogged from all the fat, muscles wasting away because you'd get little protein, and who knows what would happen to your bowel health because you'd get no fiber. The resulting crankiness and discomfort would make it hard to stick with the Milky Way diet.

Fiber helps fill you up and moves things along inside; protein is necessary for your muscles, and some fat is necessary for health too, not to mention that it makes some healthy foods more palatable. You need carbs for energy. But you need to balance all these nutrients.

So if Weight Watchers promotes proper nutrient balance and MyFitnessPal doesn't and pushes the "calories in, calories out" mantra, I'd take Weight Watchers.
posted by massysett at 2:30 PM on October 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

I prefer MFP. I think it is easier to use. Both plans require tracking but MFP doesn't make you convert items into points. I also LOVE the fact that it seems like EVERY SINGLE FOOD KNOWN TO MAN is already in their database. I think I have only had to add an item once or twice.
posted by michellenoel at 4:41 PM on October 19, 2013

In my experience, myfitnesspal's daily calorie suggestions were WAY too low (like lower than my basal metabolic rate) so keep that in mind when setting targets. I've had better luck calculating my Total Daily Energy Expenditure and subtracting 20%.
posted by lizifer at 5:08 PM on October 19, 2013

Anecdata: I've used Myfitnesspal, stuck with my plans (more or less) and maintained a healthy weight for years while gaining muscle. I would caution that you do need to adjust the settings to match your goal: the calories will be tracked, but I also added goals of getting 30% of my calories from protein. Don't use the defaults from MyFitnessPal, but think about your level of activity and goals and set nutritional goals that support that. Also, with MFP, I spent no money at all. (Which was fine, as I was already spending money on Crossfit and dance classes.)

My only complaint about MFP is that it does make it easier to eat packaged food rather than home-cooked but using the recipes tools for recipes you make frequently takes a fair amount of the work out of tracking homemade meals.

My co-workers got on a Weight Watchers kick, have spent a lot of money and very few of them have progressed at all towards their goals.

However, the main reason I found Weight Watchers distasteful is that I didn't have weight loss as a goal, but weight maintenance and body composition and WW didn't seem very well designed for that.
posted by Kurichina at 5:17 PM on October 19, 2013

I've been using both since January - and I've lost just over 55 pounds. For me they serve different purposes. MFP helps me to pay attention to calories, carbs, sodium, sugar, fat, or whatever I choose (for a while I chose to track calcium to make sure I was getting enough). I really don't "get" the points plus measures used by WW but I've found that attending meetings and being weighed by the same person each week on a precise scale helps to hold me accountable - and since I've lost steadily, WW has been very reinforcing. When I reach my goal (4 more pounds!), I may stop attending WW meetings, but I'll probably continue to track my diet on MFP.
posted by kbar1 at 6:14 PM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Myfitnesspal is great, you can add friends to motivate yourself to track. I find that they have more items and their directory is easier to search. Also, the idea of measuring each calorie is more precise than WW's points. However, I've actually found that I prefer WW. I like the level of abstraction, and I like the way it encourages you to "game" the system. For example, fruits and vegetables are free foods, so you are encouraged to eat them. Also, foods that have more "healthy" characteristics are less points than unhealthy foods (ie, 1 point would get you more calories of chicken breast than it would of cheese doodles). This encourages me to make better eating decisions, where MFP puts me in a mindset of avoiding all calories until I mess up and overeat on like 20 100-calorie snack packs. You are encouraged to eat all of your points on WW, while calorie counting often feels to me like the goal is 0. WW also has the benefit of in person meetings at an additional cost, but I can't comment on that because I have never done it.

Little Mouth brings up a good point, though I think in the last year or so WW has lowered the minimum daily point number because smaller people were having trouble losing weight. WW might not be the plan for you if you have gained weight while eating all healthy whole foods and not junk food. I eat a ton of fruit, and have not noticed any negative effect - in fact, it makes it easier for me to make good food decisions overall.
posted by fermezporte at 6:15 PM on October 19, 2013

I love WW! I found that going to meetings was key for me as well as tracking on my phone. I felt accountable weighing in at meetings, plus I had real-life people to get tips from and to talk to. I lost 50 lbs and really liked the program. There is something great about counting points instead of calories. Also they teach you how to pick foods that are satisfying. Each meeting has a different topic and you learn tips as well as discuss strategies.
posted by radioamy at 8:20 PM on October 19, 2013

They are not that different, really- mfp leaves more of the work and decision-making to you and thus ww is a bit easier in that regard. However, I found following anything like a recommended eating plan irritating (for example, I don't like tinned tuna which seems to heavily feature in these things) so mfp would be my preference. You can change the eating plans in ww though, and just do points- but then you are essentially doing a simplified version of counting calories. Which is easier but I prefer to be malign decisions based on clear(-ish) science e.g how much protein or calories a food has (googleable) and not based on ww-created number systems. I prefer to understand the pr
posted by jojobobo at 8:39 PM on October 19, 2013

The WW system is based on the fat, protein, carbs and fiber of each item. They are basically doing the math and you can eat absolutely anything you like. I am on WW and nobody has ever told me to eat tinned tuna. I eat totally normal food and I've lost 25 lbs. WW really encourages exercise and you can earn points based on how active you are. I find I really need to go to the meetings to get the most out of it.
Try a month and see how you like it. But really try it, whole hog. You really do need to count every point.
Good luck!
posted by Biblio at 8:50 PM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I really liked that the new version of WW makes fresh fruits and veggies zero points. When you've used up your budget for the day and you're still hungry, instead of falling off the wagon, you can have an apple or some broccoli. Also, does My Fitness Pal do the thing where in addition to a daily allowance, you also get a weekly allowance, so that if you splurge, you can make it up by being good the rest of the week? And does it let you earn more "allowed" food by exercising? Because I liked those features of WW online.
posted by OnceUponATime at 8:56 PM on October 19, 2013

I have not used Weight Watchers, mostly because I cannot bring myself to pay anyone to help me lose weight (I do not have health-altering excess weight).

MyFitnessPal tracks other measurements--fat, fiber, sugar, etc--not just calories. I also like that you can log your exercise along with your food, and integrates automatically with RunKeeper, which tracks the length/speed of my daily walks.

The main challenge I have is estimating portion sizes, but using MFP and RunKeeper, I've lost about 15 lbs. pretty steadily, if slowly (I took a lower-deprivation, longer-term approach, giving myself a year to lose the 20 lbs I hope to shed).

posted by elizeh at 8:06 AM on October 20, 2013

Best answer: The best weight loss method is the one you can stick to, and that's different for everybody. Keep trying things out until you find what works for you.

It does pay to be aware that what you're most likely trying to get rid of is not any old weight, but adipose tissue specifically; that insulin inhibits the release of fatty acids from adipose cells; and that dietary carbohydrate (especially high-glycemic-index carbohydrate) and to a lesser extent dietary protein trigger the release of insulin.

So your fastest way forward is likely to involve a high-micronutrient diet (i.e. lots of plant foods) that's low in carbohydrate, moderate in protein, and contains enough fat to keep the hunger pangs down to a tolerable level while remaining low-calorie enough to maintain a healthy loss rate (this last part needs careful management as fat is by far the most energy-dense macronutrient).

If you're dropping weight and you find yourself thinking "actually, I could eat like this for the rest of my life" then you're Doing It Right.
posted by flabdablet at 8:39 AM on October 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Afterthought (anecdata but possibly worth considering): my go-to fill-me-up food is a salad consisting of four or five stalks of chopped parsley, a chopped tomato, juice of one small lemon or half a big one, a splash of soy sauce, a goodly glop of a nice olive oil, and a soft boiled egg. Plenty of fibre, plenty of good fats, and a reasonable amount of good protein seems to offer me the best satiety bang for the calorific buck. Plus, parsley takes a lot of chewing so it's hard to bolt the thing. Sometimes I'll throw in a handful of toasted slivered almonds for luxury value.
posted by flabdablet at 1:55 AM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree with those upthread who have said to just give them both a try and see what you like the most. I don't specifically count calories on my plan, but I have the loseit.com app and love it the most. I haven't tried WW (so this is probably a pointless post) but I was not pleased with My Fitness Pal's app or website.

I use a combo of loseit.com (or app) and Lift to stay on track. Figure out what works for you and go for it!
posted by getawaysticks at 7:37 AM on October 21, 2013

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