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Lessons from a Philly Dietitian & MyFitnessPal on Plant-Based Diets

Lessons from a Philly Dietitian & MyFitnessPal on Plant-Based Diets

As we turn our New Year’s resolutions into habits, diet is a HUGE one to assess. Whole 30, Vegan, Paleo, Atkins, Pescetarian… deciding what to put in your mouth can be overwhelming.

To complicate things further, the old school “food pyramid” has been heavily influenced by food lobbyists, and a new study every week debuts about which food is a miracle OR will kill you.

My food journey ventures where many do: in suburbia, to an endless buffet of college dining and experimentation with vegetarianism and more. After failing as a vegetarian while eating pita and hummus for dinner 4 nights per week, I joined a CSA and purchased veg-friendly cookbooks. Choosing healthier meals and incorporating exercise lead me to feel energized and toned. (Looking back at photos of my younger self, my college sins appeared vividly on my short frame.)

Although I try not to define my diet, I now eat a mostly plant-based diet, cooking vegetarian or vegan at home and may venture pescetarian while dining out. Like many working adults, I go through phases of meal planning and healthy eating to weeks of networking happy hours and takeout.

counting calories with MyFitnessPal

Recently, I broke my morals of never counting calories and tracked them after feeling sluggish. Using MyFitnessPal, I logged my meals and drinks (for better or for worse..). When I reviewed my nutrition breakdown, I was horrified. I quickly approached my fat and sugar limits while lacking the proper amount of nutrients.

I enlisted the help of a Registered Dietitian, Rebecca Scofield, to help assess my diet. Her first assessment? Being careful about MyFitnessPal. As Scofield said, “MyFitnessPal is a lot like Wikipedia: anybody can enter or edit nutrition information for any food.” It’s important to double check those numbers with what’s on your food labels and making sure they’re in familiar units (1/2 medium avocado VS grams).

What else did I learn after OCD using MyFitnessPal?

7 lessons after tracking calories for a week

  1. I had no idea what portion sizes actually looked like. When I created salads previously, I’d throw together lettuce, CSA veggies and fistful of nuts / dried cranberries and a “small” amount of dressing. When I started measuring 1/2 cup of walnuts or a tablespoon of dressing, I realized how many servings I was adding to my plate without even noticing. My snacking halved when I started paying attention to how many PB pretzels were 140 calories (approximately 11) and only 4 dried mango pieces would set me back 120 calories.
  2. Look at your weekly nutrition numbers, not daily. As Scofield says, “on a general note, if you are under in some nutrients on some days, but are over on others, that counts if it “evens out”.
  3. Measuring helps! One tablespoon of homemade dressing (olive oil + apple cider vinegar) is plenty for your salad.
  4. Make an effort to have protein with your meals. I tend to follow recipes to a T, but many of my vegan favs are recommended to be served as a “side” instead of meal. Since chatting with Scofield, I’ve made a conscious effort to add beans and quinoa to soups and salads, which also add nutrient boosts.
  5. Drinking nutrients doesn’t have to be a calorie bomb. My homemade almond milk and berry smoothie was a nutrition punch with few calories.
  6. One day of bingeing can f*ck up your weekly count. My weekly drink count has drastically dropped from my younger years, but a day of Mummers parties can double my calories. (When you’re drinking that much, your willpower isn’t great, either.)
  7. Ask your doctor about getting your labs drawn. There’s only so much we can tell from an app, but professionals can give us a better understanding of what we’re doing correctly (and where we need improvement.) Getting a physical will show you what nutrients your body is absorbing and where it may need supplementations. (My doctor added a B12 and iron assessment, for example.)

Counting calories (at least for a week) is one way to check in with data and see where you can improve.

Curious about your eating habits? As Scofield said, “nutrition is NOT a one-size-fits-all field, and we dietitians are trained to navigate what works best for the individual.” Plus, many insurance plans now even cover 5-6 nutrition consultations at little or no cost to the individual.

Time to check off another New Year’s resolution! Readers, have you been shocked from counting calories? Tell us in the comments.


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Julie Hancher
Julie Hancher is Editor-in-Chief of Green Philly, sharing her expertise of all things sustainable in the city of brotherly love. She enjoys long walks in the park with local beer and greening her travels, cooking & cat, Sir Floofus Drake. View all posts by Julie Hancher

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