I heart My Fitness Pal

Apologies for the lame post title, but I thought it fit with the lameness of the name of my new favorite app: My Fitness Pal. Why Mike and Albert Lee, the brothers-developers who created this wildly handy app, thought the word ‘pal’ was a good idea I’ll probably never know. But in the end I don’t care – because this app is awesome.

Though I will admit to the need of dropping a few post-holiday pounds, I was not in the market for an exercise or food tracking tool. I like love technology, sure, but the thought of tapping into my iPhone every single morsel of food that passed my lips sounded…let’s just say less than fun.

What made me try My Fitness Pal was this cholesterol-compelling NYT article. The opening paragraph made me both LOL (literally) AND groan with recognition (cross outs are mine):

“When I received the results of a routine cholesterol test this summer, I was certain there had been some kind of mistake.  I’m young, unstressed and healthy, or so I imagined. I work out, too, and most impartial observers — and some partial ones — would describe me as lean. Plus, I eat a nutritious diet, I swear. So why did my LDL levels surpass my I.Q. — or, for that matter, Einstein’s?

The facts were stark: My genes predisposed me…”

Read the whole article here.  It was page 2 that sold me on the (sadly-named) app where the author describes My Fitness Pal’s enormous food database. And I concur – it is EASY AS PIE (sorry) to find and enter meals and snacks.  Truly.

In the ten days I’ve used this app I’ve lost 2 pounds (!) but best of all, I’ve made different (better, more low cholesterol) food choices – and felt good great about it.

Like, I went to Wendy’s and ordered a (gasp) salad.

This has NEVER happened before. Two years of blogging about adopting a more lo-co lifestyle and every time I lunched at Wendy’s I still ordered my traditional single hamburger, small fries and small chocolate Frostee (and I don’t finish the fries or Frostee). Yes, they have salads and baked potatoes, but NO I never once ordered one. Instead I just tried to limit how often I went. Rather unsuccessfully. Then felt the guilt.

But MyFitnessPal caused me to alter my order.

What happened was this. There was a long line at Wendy’s so to pass the time, I used MyFitnessPal to type in what I considered my pretty-low-fat-for-fast-food typical order. I was horrified to find it had over 1,000 calories (my goal for the day was 1,500 calories!) and 128 grams of cholesterol.

YIKES!

If that’s what’s in my teeny tiny order, how many calories and cholesterol are in the double bacon and other burgers? No wonder America has an obesity problem.

So, still in line, I studied the ‘Healthy Choices’ posters and typed Apple Pecan Chicken Salad into iPhone’s MyFitnessPal app. This healthy choice has just 340 calories and 55 grams of cholesterol: much more appropriate to lunch (meaning, only 1/3 of my goal calories for the day). Not to mention, it was a far more lo-co choice than my usual.

So I ordered the salad, which is topped with WARM CHICKEN (the only way I’ll eat a salad – something  has to be hot!) and some blue cheese, and was shocked to find it was delicious pretty tasty.

And that smug feeling as I looked around at the overweight diners eating enormous burgers?  Priceless.

My MyFitnessPal victory (see, it’s just a bad name, all around) was not limited to this solo outing.  At dinner last night at our local diner, I tried Multigrain Pancakes instead of my usual 2 eggs-over-easy on whole wheat toast (no butter) with sausage links and home fries.  Didn’t love it, but loved that I’d made a  healthier dining out food choice twice in one week.

Astonishing.  I guess knowledge really is, um, power.

Another great thing about MyFitnessPal is that it helped me exercise every day. Yes, I know I’m supposed to exercise daily – and I do, a lot, but, well, never DAILY.  But I have for 10 days in a row. Why, you ask? Well, when you put in your desired weight loss you get a calorie goal for the day and you get more calories when you exercise. I wanted needed those calories for wine. And it worked. Daily exercise meant I got to have wine, guilt-free, every night and still be at my calorie (and cholesterol) limit. Frankly, I can’t remember the last time I exercised for 10 days in a row.

One last great thing about My Fitness Pal: this easy-to-use app helped me see just how lo-co my daily diet is – and the answer was surprisingly low cholesterol except for the eggs and sausage diner order.  That felt great.

For weight loss AND cholesterol counting, I can’t think of a single thing I’ve done in the past two years that I had more fun using & was more motivating than My Fitness Pal.

Oh, wait – I forgot.  The really great one last thing about My Fitness Pal — IT’S FREE.

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Statin, statin, do you really need a statin?

At my family’s annual holiday party, I was again stunned at the fact that all of my blood relatives my age or older take statins to lower cholesterol.

All. Of. Them.

Even though none are overweight and we do not have a family history of cardiac disease. Yes, we do have a family history of high cholesterol; all of us have cholesterol levels that top out at well over 200. But our family history is rife with high cholesterol, not heart disease.

So why? Why has every single one of my relatives heeded their internist or GP’s advice and gone on a statin to lower cholesterol when they don’t have other cardiac risk factors?

Am I the crazy one?

Sometimes I think so (and others might agree) but I spent a few hours researching this topic – again – and found two compelling articles supporting my fight to stay off Lipitor. Two articles that suggest that managing my cholesterol to a level my doctor is unhappy with – but not so unhappy she insists on Lipitor – is the non-crazy route.

Because there are side effects, people. Some serious.

It turns out that my family is not alone in their ‘don’t question the doctor, just take the pill’ stance. I was startled to find that 30 million American adults are on statins.  That’s roughly TWENTY-FIVE PERCENT of Americans aged 45 and older taking statins!

That many people must be right, right?

Or not.

Here’s why I think my family – and maybe a lot of these 30 million American adults on statins — should reconsider their statin use, or at least discuss it with their doctor.

In the May/June 2012 issue of The Saturday Evening Post, Sharon Begley explains in ‘The Cholesterol Conundrum‘ that widely respected cardiologist Eric Topol feels that

“…only one or two out of 100 patients “without prior heart disease but at risk for developing such a condition will actually benefit” from a statin.”

And further, Topol has long believed that, “medicine must become personalized with treatments tailored to a patient’s DNA and other characteristics. Yet statins are the poster child of taking a drug that benefits some people and then prescribing it to many more.”

This compelling, easy to understand article explains why statins, which have proven very effective for patients WITH heart disease already, should NOT be prescribed for those without pre-existing heart disease.

Um.  Like me.  And my family.

Please read Ms. Begley’s article.  The entire thing.  It’s eye-opening.

Further evidence: in an August 2011 Huffington Post article, “Are Cholesterol Medications Just a Scam?” Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum lays out a similar argument:

“…if you already have Cardiovascular disease (CVD), an LDL-lowering statin might save your life through what medical experts call ‘secondary prevention.’

But most people who take statins haven’t been diagnosed with CVD. A blood test simply showed they had high cholesterol, and their doctor prescribed a statin to prevent a heart attack or stroke — a use medical experts call primary prevention. Shockingly, a new scientific review of 14 studies shows that statins are virtually useless for primary prevention.”

He goes on to explain that some had issues with analysis of these 14 studies: “the meta-analysis was published by The Cochrane Collaboration, one of the most respected scientific reviews in the world… it’s important to note that the UK researchers faulted the studies in several areas.”  But to me, upon reading the issues, it seems clear that this analysis — along with the one cited earlier — indicate a real need to at least DISCUSS the benefits of statins for those without known cardiac disease with a doctor.

I’ll be sending this to all my relatives, urging them to talk to their doctor about their personal situation.  And hoping at least some will get a ‘hey, maybe you don’t need a statin,’ answer.

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