When MyFitnessPal released its Meal Scan feature, I felt like it could be the game-changer I had been looking for when it came to staying on top of my food logging. Tracking and recording every meal has always been a struggle for me, but as a serious runner with high weekly mileage on top of strength training and teaching yoga, I know how important it is to make sure I’m eating enough of the right stuff. That means lots of lean protein, healthy fats, vegetables and fruit, and plenty of carbohydrates in and around my workouts to make sure I’m fueling the work I’m doing — and that can be a tall order.
Ideally, I would log food for at least a week out of every month to ensure I’m on the right track, but I’ve almost always fallen off the food-logging wagon because I’d skip inputting one meal into the app, say I’d do it later, and completely forget. The idea of logging meals with a simple snap of the camera was intriguing, and I committed to trying it out for a week to see if it would convert me.
I can safely say being able to scan my meals rather than searching for them made logging a lot easier (and honestly, more fun, trying to keep the app guessing!). I did realize I’d been unknowingly dropping my protein intake well below where I want it to be and also learned I was falling short of filling my caloric needs on days with longer runs.
If you’ve struggled to get serious about food logging, here’s what you need to know about this app update: Yes, it works — and works well.
I admit, I was skeptical an app could quickly scan my meal and parse out what I was eating in just a couple of seconds while I hovered my camera over it. But it really works: Chocolate chip cookies? Check. Steamed mixed vegetables? Check. Rice and chicken? Check, check. I didn’t believe it would be easier to use the camera function to select what I was eating (versus using the search tool), but I was shocked the first morning I used it. The Meal Scan function read my breakfast plate — vegetable omelet with breakfast potatoes — in a few seconds. And once I saved that meal, my daily meal recording got easier since my breakfast is almost always the same.
Obviously, there are some dishes it can’t parse quite yet, but I realized the best way to record a more complex dish was to take a photo of the separate elements before mixing them together: While it read — semi-correctly — my avocado, tomato, cilantro and lime dish as a ‘chunky salad,’ using the camera on the ingredients before I diced them was much more accurate.
GREAT ON THE GO
And I mean literally on the go. During long runs and rides, I alternate between using classic gels and bars, homemade treats, and the occasional coffee shop buys when I’m hitting the dreaded wall. Normally, I would use the scan function and log my mid-workout snacks after the fact. But with coffee shop stops, it’s a lot easier to log a cinnamon roll by quickly pointing the camera at it, selecting it from the pop-up and moving on. This might not seem like a big deal, but when you’re focused on making sure you’re fueling your body to do what you ask of it, logging every calorie is critical. While many people use MyFitnessPal to make sure they’re not overdoing it on carbs or calories, I’m using it to make sure I’m getting enough of the right macronutrients when I need them, in addition to ensuring I’m eating mostly clean and not overdoing the junk food. (Confession: I have a serious sweet tooth.)
It’s easy to skip logging snacks when you have to type them in and search for them, but when all you need to do is hover your phone over the food (you don’t even have to take the picture), it’s so fast it’s impossible to make the excuse of ‘I didn’t have time.’ I also noticed that after a couple of less-than-stellar meals, I felt compelled to add more veggies and cut out a couple of extra cookies. When you see all of your food through your camera lens, what you’re eating becomes brutally obvious. There’s something about holding a camera up to your food that makes you see it differently.
Most of the time, I am fine with what I eat, but occasionally, seeing a certain amount of junk food piled on my plate made me rethink my snack. There were a couple of times I even cut back the number of cookies I was sitting down to eat, swapping in some strawberries with yogurt instead, or when I put a handful of tortilla chips back and subbed in some cucumber slices and extra chicken. It wasn’t about trying to avoid extra calories, necessarily, but it did make me more aware of meals missing a key macronutrient. In a strange way, it prompted me to be the healthy eater I want to be in a way that no ‘writing down what I eat’ has been able to do.
Check out Meal Scan, now available in the app on iOS with a MyFitnessPal Premium membership. Simply point your camera at your food for real-time food suggestions.