May 2014 Issue  Volume 15  Number 5

Product Evaluations and Guides

My Fitness Pal: A Guide to an Accessible Fitness Tool

Although it's been a long, cold winter for many of us, summer will be here very soon. If you want to get in shape for shorts, tank tops, and bathing suits, My Fitness Pal may be just what you need. My Fitness Pal is a website that works in tandem with apps for iOS, Android, and Windows Mobile. There is no charge for using the website or apps.

For this review I used an iPhone 5. As part of the research I asked a colleague who is very skilled with the Android operating system to check out the app. He reported that it was not accessible.

Creating an Account

Although you can create your account via the app, you may prefer the website, since a lot of information must be entered.

When the home page loads, you'll find many links such as calorie counts for foods offered at many chain restaurants. Once you create an account these restaurant links will no longer be on the home page, but you will be able to search for them using the food search form. Use your screen reader's form controls to find edit boxes for signing up by e-mail or through your Facebook account. The website promises that it will only share information which you approve.

If you choose to sign up via e-mail, enter your address in the e-mail edit box and activate the "Sign Up" button. When the new page loads, if you're using Internet Explorer, there will be a labeled edit box for a user name. The next edit box will contain your e-mail address and the final edit box will be for entering a password. If you are using Safari, the user name and password edit boxes will not be labeled. There will then be a checkbox to choose whether to receive the My Fitness Pal newsletter. In Internet Explorer the box is labeled, but it isn't in Safari. Once the information is filled in, activate the button to create an account.

When the next page loads, you will be asked your current weight, your goal weight, how many times per week you plan to work out, and the duration of your workouts. There will also be radio buttons to choose your activity level. By default, the unit of measure is calories, but this can be changed to kilojoules. Internet explorer did a better job of reading this page, but Safari did relatively well with it. Once you're done filling in all the information, activate the button to go on to the next part of the form.

The new page will present edit boxes to enter the e-mail addresses of your friends so they can follow your progress. It is not a requirement to complete this part of the form, so if you don't want to add friends, activate the "Skip" button.

Your Program

The next page contains two tables. The first details your nutritional goals, including how many calories and how many grams of carbs, fat, and protein you should have per day. The second table details your fitness goals, including how many times a week to work out and the duration of the workout. The website then gives an estimate of how many pounds you are predicted to lose if you follow the designated nutrition and exercise plans. There is also a "Get Started Now" button.

Although I filled in the information correctly to lose 1.5 pounds per week, my profile said that I only wanted to lose .3 pounds per week. I filled in the information using both Internet Explorer and Safari just in case there was a problem with the browser. I knew that if I followed the website's recommendations that I'd lose more than .3 pound per week. There was a Contact Us link so I activated it. A phone number was not provided, but there was an easy-to-use e-mail form that I filled out and submitted. I could have directly e-mailed using support@myfitnesspal.com.

I received the following answer within a half hour:

"The program is designed to recalculate your goals based on your profile information, but the program also has a limit to the minimum number of calories we recommend per day. We have designed a program to help with healthy and sustainable weight loss. We do not recommend for any member to consume under 1200 net calories a day. Eating too little can also have a negative effect and put one's body into starvation mode.

Since we have this limitation, depending on your profile information, your calculations may not be able to recalculate when you change your information. However, these are calculations, and weight loss varies for each individual. We have had members report more of a weight loss than the calculations originally estimated. We recommend staying within your daily recommendations, and see what happens."

I created a profile for someone else. That person's weight was greater than mine and they needed to lose more weight. The website created a program which made more sense and the weight loss per week was appropriate.

Once the "Get Started" button is activated a new page loads with many links, most of which are clearly labeled. Your browser's navigation hotkeys can make the page easier to read. Safari and Internet Explorer both did well.

Among the many links were "Food," "Exercise," "Add Food," "Add Exercise," and "Settings." There were also social media and forum links.

Activating the "Settings" link brings up a list of things that you can change including Password, Update your Diet/Fitness Profile, Change Diary Settings, and Change Social Media settings (including Facebook and Twitter). You can delete your account from here as well. Once your profile is created, it's a good idea to review the options in Settings.

Adding Foods

When the "Food" link is activated, a table is presented where you can enter what you ate during the day. Under each category, such as Breakfast or Snack, there's a link to add a food. This link brings up a search form, consisting of an edit box and search button. The results list is called "Matching Foods" and it can be found with the headings hotkey. Each result is presented as a link. The more specific the search, the fewer results will be displayed. I searched for "Special K Red Berries Cereal" and still got many hits with some of the results not containing any of my words.

One important thing to note is that if a result has an * (asterisk) in front of it, then another user put the information into the database. When I activated the results link for the cereal, I didn't receive any feedback about the new page being loaded, but with my headings hotkey, I was able to find the result. There was an edit box to enter the number of servings and a button for choosing the unit of measure. Next there was a button to add the food to the diary. When the new page loaded, the item was in the diary and all of the cereal's nutrition information was in a table. On this screen, there is also a link to add another food and a link labeled "Quick Links." Activating this link brings up several options including Remember Meal. If the link is activated, a form will load where you can enter a name for the entire meal. This is convenient for foods and meals you eat regularly, since they will be added to the My Meals section when the "Food" link is activated and you won't have to search for them again.

Adding Exercises

You can add exercises in a similar manner to adding foods. Activate the "Exercise" link and you can search the database or add in your own exercise. Once you choose the exercise you want to use, there will be edit boxes for filling in the specific information for each exercise. For example, I chose Stationary Rowing with Moderate Effort. There was an edit box to fill in duration. Once that was entered, the website listed the number of calories burned. Exercises are broken up into two categories, cardiovascular and strength training. For strength training exercises you'll be asked to enter the number of sets, how many repetitions in each set and the amount of weight.

Even if you don't want to fill in the food and exercise diaries, this website is a good place to get information about nutrition and exercise.

My Fitness Pal iOS App

Once the iOS app is installed and opened, you'll need to enter your user name and password. Once logged in, there's a "main menu" button at the top left corner. By flicking right there are other buttons such as "Previous Day," "Current Date," and "Next Day." After these buttons is the number of calories remaining for the current day. Next is an "Add to Diary" button followed by a "Diary" button and then your goal, calories per day, how many food calories you've had, how many calories you've used during exercise that day and the net amount of calories. Next are social media buttons.

Activating the "Main Menu" button brings up a list of options including Nutrition, Progress, Goals, Reminders, Settings, Help and Sync. Pressing the "Sync" button did not give any auditory feedback.

The Settings option allows for the control of many important features. The first item is your profile. When this is activated you can view and make changes to your profile and preferences. For example, you can change from pounds to kilograms on the screen. For each measurement you are presented with at least two options. As you flick to each option, VoiceOver will say that option is selected. Double tap on the one you want. Once all choices have been made, activate the "Save" button.

The Diary settings option presents ways to customize what is displayed. The first three controls have switch buttons. To change the switch, double tap on it. As you go through each item VoiceOver will say "selected." The first control is whether to show all meals in diary tabs. By default this is turned off. If it's turned on, everything you've eaten that day will be displayed. The next choice is to use Multi-Add by Default. This lets you add more than one food item at a time. The next option is whether to show your newsfeed on the home tab. This is only important if you've set up social networking.

The first item in the Diary settings menu option is Default Search Tab. There are five choices. As you review the tabs, they will say "Selected." Double-tap on the one you want. The first choice is Recent. Selecting this tab will display all the items you've recently added to your food diary. The next option is Frequent. If this tab is selected, the app will search its database for foods that you eat frequently. Chances are that you'll receive many results. You can search by brand name, type of food or specific food. The My Foods tab searches foods that you have added to the app database. The fourth choice is Meals. This tab displays any meals that you have created and saved. The final option is Recipes, for recipes you have created and saved.

The final option in the Diary Settings menu is Diary Sharing. This is for choosing who, if anyone, can see your diary. Each option will say "Selected" as you flick to it. Double tap on the option you want to use. Then activate the "Save" button in the upper right corner. In the main menu, the next section is Sharing and Privacy. This is where push notifications, newsfeed, Facebook and e-mail preferences can be set.

On the home screen, activating the Goals option will display your current weight, goal weight, calories per day, and other information regarding your nutrition plan.

Using the Diary

The Diary opens from the home screen. You use it to log food, exercise, and water. There's an "Add" button at the top right of the Diary screen. When the button is activated, a new screen comes up with two headings: Meals and Exercises. The Meals heading has options for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. The Exercises heading has two subcategories, Cardiovascular and Strength. After the exercise section there's a heading for Water and a heading for Food and Exercise notes.

Adding Foods

After the "Add" button is pressed, choose which meal you want to enter by double tapping on it. For example, if you want to add what you ate for breakfast, double tap the breakfast option. Several choices are displayed including Add a New Food and Add Calories Only. There is also a "display options" setting within the diary, but it isn't clearly pronounced. If the frequently search option is chosen, an edit box will appear where you can enter the name of a food. This is similar to the website. When you find the result you want to add, double tap on it. Nutrition information will be displayed and it will be entered into the diary. Tap the "Save" button in the upper right corner. Once the food is added, there are options for saving it as a meal or copying the meal for another day.

Adding Exercises

The first step in adding an exercise is selecting Cardiovascular or Strength. You can search Frequently, Your Exercises (which you already entered into the database), or both. Once an exercise is selected, a new screen will appear and you'll need to enter the amount of time you engaged in the activity. The app will compute the calories burned. Activate the "Save" button in the upper right to add it. For a strength training exercise you'll need to enter the number of sets, how many repetitions per set, and how much weight you used.

Conclusion

My Fitness Pal is a good option for someone wanting to get in shape. There's a lot of information on the website, but it's manageable. The iOS app is mostly accessible. Flicking around the screen is a good way to determine what's available. Even if you use the app, you might find it easier to create your account on the website. Another advantage of My Fitness Pal is that it's completely free.

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