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DietPower for Weight and Health Management

by Gary F. Zeolla

I recently purchased the DietPower software program. This program is advertised as being an aid to weight loss. I don’t have a weight problem, but I purchased it so I could analyze the quality of my diet. Below are my impressions of this program.

General Details

DietPower can be purchased on a CD ROM and/ or via download from DietPower’s Web site. Since the download is several megabytes and I only have a dial-up connection, I ordered the CD ROM. It only took a couple of days to arrive.

The program installed with no problems. And the interface is very easy to use. The introductory screen offers a “tour” to familiarize the user with the program. There is also an extensive “Help” file. Along with information on using the program, the Help file also provides basic information on all of the nutrients the program analyzes one’s diet for.

DietPower analyzes one’s diet for calories, protein, carbohydrates, sugars, fats, fiber, cholesterol, sodium, and 23 different vitamins and minerals. The recommended amounts are very up-to-date. They even reflect some of the most recent changes to the RDAs, such as the raising of the RDA for vitamin C for adult men from 60 mg to 90 mg and the lowering of the RDA for zinc for adult men from 15 mg to 11 mg.

The “default” setting for caloric distributions is 15% protein, 25% fat, and 60% carbohydrates. However, these levels can be altered to any proportions, along with the levels for all of the other nutrients the program analyzes for.

When you first run the program, it asks you for your name, sex, age, current weight, and weight goals. It then uses this information to calculate your required nutrients, including calories. There is also an extensive listing of exercises. You pick out whatever activities you’ve engaged in each day, and the calories these activities burn up are also added to one’s daily caloric allowance.

You then pick out what foods you have eaten for the day from its extensive listing of over 8000 foods. These foods are arranged by categories and there is a search function. So it is very easy to find the needed foods.

You can also add foods to the database and copy foods into a “Favorites” folder. Once commonly eaten foods are copied into this folder, it only takes a few minutes to add a day’s foods to the program.

With all of this information, DietPower can then analyze whether you’re consuming too little, too much, or just enough food for your weight goal. And most interestingly, if you use the program each day, it will adjust the allotted level of calories based on whether you’re loosing, gain, or maintaining weight. So if you’re basic metabolic rate is higher or lower than average, the program’s allotted calories will reflect this.

The basic program can accommodate up to nine different users. And a professional version is available for nutritionists wanting to use it with clients.

The Weight Loss or Weight Gain Program

DietPower is not a “diet” per se. It does not tell you what you should eat. However, it is compatible with any of the currently popular types of diets. What DietPower does is tell you how closely you’re following your chosen diet.

In other words, if you have decided to follow a low fat diet, DietPower will let you know if your diet is really low in fat. And conversely, if you’re following a low carb diet, DietPower will let you know just how low in carbs your diet really is. And since the allotted caloric proportions are fully customizable, DietPower can be used with either of these divergent diets, and any other.

But the real value of DietPower lies in helping you to keep track of how many calories you are consuming from whatever source. To try to calculate these values by hand can be very time consuming. But once you are used to the program, you can enter your daily foods and analyze it in a matter of minutes. And it will even give you a rough idea of how much weight you’ll gain or lose at your current caloric level.

In addition, one of its features is a “Diet Designer.” You enter your weight goals and it will tell you the level of difficulty of your chosen diet. For instance, I told the program I wanted to gain five pounds in the course of three months. And it told me it was a very easy diet, and that “It means eating 330 calories more than required to maintain your current weight -- a surplus equivalent to about 4 slices of bread per day.”

Then for fun, I entered as a new user and said I wanted to lose 30 pounds in 30 days. The program immediately warned me that this was an unhealthy diet and suggested I chose a more realistic goal. When I clicked “Confirm” saying that I really wanted to use this diet, it now warned me that the needed drop in calories to reach my goal would not provide adequate nutrition. The Diet Designer then told me, “That's an absurd diet, and your weight loss may not be permanent.” All of this is very accurate and true.

Of course, most people would probably adopt a weight goal that’s somewhere between these extremes. But this does show how the program gives encouragement or warnings in regards to your goals. And since the program adjusts your caloric allowances based on how quickly you’re gaining or losing weight, it can aid you in altering your diet to meet your goals.

So the program can be very helpful in keeping track of how well you’re doing on your diet. But I can foresee a couple of drawbacks. First off, there is the tedium of having to enter what you eat and weigh each day. But, as indicated, once you get used to the program, this only takes a few minutes. And if you miss as day, the program will estimate your day’s calories from your previous intakes. And knowing that you will have to mark down what you eat just might keep you from eating something that is not allowed on your diet.

In addition, it is not really necessary to weigh yourself each day. As long as you weigh yourself once or twice a week, the program can estimate your caloric needs by how your weight fluctuates from weigh in to weigh in. On days you don’t weigh yourself, DietPower will just use you previous days weight. But, of course, the more days one misses the less accurate its estimate of you metabolic weight will be.

Another drawback is the same for most any diet: trying to estimate serving sizes. It is very common for people to underestimate how much they are eating. For instance, I remember seeing a study where people were asked to scoop out a half cup of mashed potatoes. But the average amount scooped out was three-quarters of a cup.

So DietPower recommends weighing or measuring your servings. And DietPower has food scales for sale on its site for this purpose. But, needless to say, weighing your food at every meal could get to be a drag real quick. However, I don’t think it would be necessary to do so all the time. It would probably be sufficient to measure your food for a few days to get a “feel” for what say a half cup of mashed potatoes really looks like. Then maybe occasionally thereafter it would be helpful to re-check your servings sizes to be sure you’re not gradually scooping out larger servings.

The next drawback is that DietPower is basing its calculations on body weight. But, as I discuss in the article Throw Your Scale Away!, it is body fat loss or gain that’s important, not bodyweight per se. However, in that article I recommend the use of a Tanita Body Fat Scale. And such a scale will give you your bodyweight, along with your body fat percentage. And DietPower now has such scales for sale on its site.

So what I’ve been doing is entering my bodyweight in DietPower as the program ask, but I also have been entering my body fat percent in the “Notes” section of the “Calendar” function. That way, I can keep track of how both my bodyweight and body fat are fluctuating.

So with these couple of caveats, I can see how DietPower would be helpful to the person trying to lose or gain weight.

Health Management

Another area DietPower can be helpful is in general health maintenance. For instance, if your doctor has prescribed for you to be on a low fat, low cholesterol diet, DietPower will help you keep track of how much of these two items you are getting in your diet. It also calculates the amount of sodium in one’s diet for those on a low salt diet.

In a different area, most bodybuilders and powerlifters believe they need to consume about a gram of protein per pound of bodyweight for optimal muscle and strength gains. And DietPower can be set for this level and used to track ones diet to be sure one is consuming sufficient protein for these purposes.

But it is for general diet analysis that this program really excels. After keeping track of my diet for a week I ran an analysis of it. Since I consume little or no meat on most days, I figured my diet would be a little low in zinc and vitamin B12, which it was. But I was surprised that the program actually warned me that I was getting too much iron. Part of the reason for this is DietPower analyzes iron levels based on the recently lowered amount of the RDA for iron for adult males from 10 mg to 8 mg. But whatever the case, it does show that one does not need to eat meat to get adequate iron.

But what really surprised me was my diet was low in thiamin, riboflavin, and vitamin E. But I then used DietPower’s “Power Foods” function to find the best sources for these nutrients. This function enables you to search on the best sources for any nutrient based on the amount of the nutrient per 100 calories of the food. Then with this information I made some minor adjustments in my diet to increase the amounts of the nutrients in my diet that I was low in.

Conclusion

DietPower can be a valuable aid to anyone concerned about their weight or the quality of their diet. It provides information that can aid one in gaining or losing weight and in keeping track of one’s diet for health and athletic purposes or just for general health maintenance. See Diet Evaluation for another time I used this program to evaluate my diet.

The above article was posted on this site January 8, 2002.

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