The weights and measures of a man


There isn’t a diet app out there that doesn’t want some of your money. The problem for UK (weight) losers is doubly compounded by the dominance of US-centric dieting apps, with their weird quantities and 16th century weights and measures. 

Why Americans insist on talking about “sticks” of butter or even “cups” of ingredients you could never get into (or more importantly, out of) a cup is beyond me. It’s bad enough that – literally 50 years after decimalisation in the UK – people still weigh themselves in stones.

I was thinking the other day about all the weights and measures I don’t understand. It was in connection with explaining to some of my students that a league (as in ‘half a league, half a league’) was ‘about’ three miles. Meaning that ‘half a league’ was ‘about’ a mile and a half. Or, in fact, two kilometres.

And it occurred to me that although I live in a country that measures distances in miles, I don’t really have a clear pattern in my head as to what a mile is. Whereas, on a clear day and a straight road, you can see a kilometre.

All you need to know about both leagues and miles is that Wikipedia (not even sheepishly) admits that ‘the length of a mile could vary from place to place and depending on the era.’

So I hope that’s perfectly clear. Then there are the rods and the furlongs and the hands and the guineas. Some measurements (guineas, furlongs) definitely belong to the horsy set, and are used as markers of class – U and non-U, as it were.

But I also have problems with units of area like acres and hectares. According to Britannica, a Californian square league is equivalent to 4,439 acres or 1796 hectares. In British weights and measures, an acre is 160 square rods. You’d laugh if you weren’t in a permanent state of confusion as to what laughter is. A laugh is equivalent to 4.82 chuckles or ¾ of a guffaw.

Back to the apps. The app that gets the most mileage and the most recommendations is My Fitness Pal. Which I think I’ve now had – and deleted – three times now. The fact that so many web sites recommend this app is enough to inform you that all web sites recommending health and fitness apps are shite and not to be trusted.

Apps like this live and die by their databases. And the problem with MFP is that it does not discriminate as to which country you are searching it in. All it would have to do is use location services to remove all search results from other countries, but it doesn’t. So you search for, say, unsalted butter, and get 650 results, in various units of measurements from 100g to 1 stick to 1 cup to 1 tablespoon ad nauseam, with no consistency or accuracy. 10g of butter might be recorded as 100 calories or 100g of butter might be recorded as 100 calories, depending on which one your finger strays to. It’s rubbish, is what it is, and worse than useless. It’s a waste of time.

I can only assume that a lot of people are either not bothering to use the app for this purpose, or blithely recording inaccurate information.

According to another (oft-recommended) app, Noom, only 1/5 Noom users ever get around to recording the calories for a meal. I can only assume this is because most users of this app quickly delete it when they see how much it costs after the free trial. Because it is the kind of app that might be prescribed by your doctor (like the Sleepio sleep tracking programme I did), it is priced accordingly. Around £45 per month, which makes My Fitness Pal’s £6.99, also too much, seem like chickenshit.

One app that is free and UK-based is the NHS Weight Loss app, which is fine, although it doesn’t have its own database of food and calories. It actually bounces you to a web site to search for your foods; that web site is Nutra Check, which is also a separate app with a paid subscription (after a free trial).

NutraCheck Calorie Counter is where I’ve currently landed. I like the cut of its jib. It has a UK-centric database, and its illustrated with actual pack shots, too, which is useful in determining the difference, say, between Flahavan’s Irish Oats and Flahavan’s Irish Quick Oats. It’s £3.99 a month after the free trial, but I like it so far. When you build a recipe, it offers quick suggestions as to ingredients, which is a real time-saver in terms of searching. So tell it you recipe is for “celery soup” for example, and it brings up a list of standard ingredients, making it easy to create your specific recipe. And no fucking cups or sticks, which is a bonus.

Mention of oats above may give you the clue that I have given up on keto. I kind of have. I don’t think it was working for me, although I am sold on the idea that I need to eat a lot fewer carbs. So I am avoiding rice and pasta for the nonce, and forcing porridge down for breakfast instead of succumbing to bread. I’m deliberately not buying or baking even wholemeal bread, because it is my fatal flaw. On the other hand, I have gone back to making a proper pizza on a Saturday night, and Friday’s treat was (breaded) haddock and (beer battered) chips.

So low carb lifestyle it is, and maybe over a period of time, I’ll see some results. In the meantime, a soft recommendation for both the NHS app and Nutra Check, if you are based in the UK. Your [insert weird unit of measurement here] may differ.

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