We break away from our regularly scheduled software comparison for breaking news:

Losing weight doesn’t have to be a mystery.

I mentioned in a previous post that I’ve been losing weight, my body having finally reached a critical mass that my self-esteem could no longer tolerate.

Shortly after the New Year, a coworker introduced me to a handy little iPhone app called MyFitnessPal. It allows you to not only count calories, but keep track of daily exercise, overall nutrition of the food you’re eating, progress you’re making, and more.

The best part is, MyFitnessPal is free.

At that price, even I couldn’t stand not to try it.

So on January 8, I started using the app to track my calorie intake. I entered my weight, height, age and gender, and MyFitnessPal calculated how many calories per day I would need to consume in order to either maintain that weight, or decrease it by up to two pounds per week.

I set it for two pounds per week, but I’ve been losing twice that. Today was day 28, and I’m down 16 pounds and two pant sizes.

And as I mentioned above, it didn’t require unlocking the mysteries of the universe to do it.

Basically, all the fad diets and exercise programs out there have varying degrees of validity, but weight loss eventually boils down to one simple equation:

If you burn more calories than you take in, you will lose weight. MyFitnessPal gives you a simple platform for tracking where your eating habits are in that equation – and if they don’t add up, all you have to do is change your calorie intake.

I have not exercised at all since I started using MyFitnessPal, and I’ve lost almost as much weight in 28 days as I did a couple years ago after 90 days of P90X. That program was effective, but I didn’t couple it with a strict eating plan – so it didn’t work as well as it might have otherwise. Pretty obvious, when counting calories alone delivers three times the results as a strict workout regimen.

Don’t get me wrong – you can’t just download this app and watch the pounds fall off. You have to do the work of actually paying attention to and controlling everything you put in your pie-hole. I’ve allowed myself a couple of cheat days in the past month, but nothing drastic – I just wanted my body to realize it wasn’t quite the end of the world. Giving myself cheat days gives my body a break, and gives me something to look forward to now and then.

As far as what I’ve been eating; my salad repertoire has expanded, but I have NOT gone vegan. I’m a committed carnivore, so my salads almost always include some sort of tasty animal flesh. What I have cut out is a lot of carbohydrates. Grains, sugars, starches – you’d be amazed how many calories a few tortilla chips cost you – and when you’re on a strict calorie budget, you’re less likely to blow any on expensive luxuries. I eat a lot of lean protein mixed with vegetables and some fruit, and I just take care to watch my portion size. My meals average between 250 to 350 calories, and I eat five meals a day (snacks add together to count for one meal). That puts me at around 1550 total calories allowed each day.

MyFitnessPal makes tracking all this simple, since it has thousands of individual food items, meals and recipes in its database; all of them with their nutrition and calorie data included. If you can’t find something, it comes with a bar code scanner for your smart phone which allows you to scan a label and instantly have the data available to you. You can even enter your own recipes one ingredient at a time, and the program will tell you exactly how many calories are in that chocolate chip cookie (It’s 160. I checked.)

Like any life habit, weight loss requires effort, planning and consistency. MyFitnessPal is an excellent tool that helps make all three easier for me.

It might make them easier for you, too.

Note: My plan from the start was to lose 40 pounds from my initial weight of 225. 185 pounds is a totally random, unscientific number based only on the weight I’ve felt the best at as an adult. My plan is to start working out again once I get to the halfway point, which is now only four pounds away. Again, totally unscientific, but I figured if I lost twenty pounds first, exercise would be much easier as a lighter person. It also gives me the opportunity to measure the first half of my weight loss against the second half – one using only meal planning and the other incorporating exercise as well.