The popular nutrition and weight loss app MyFitnessPal is moving its free barcode scanning feature behind the paywall. For years, users with free accounts have been able to use this tool to scan food barcodes for easy logging and tracking of daily calorie intake, but the company recently announced that beginning October 1st, a premium account will be required.
MyFitnessPal’s daily calorie counting is a key component of the app, with the barcode scanner offering a shortcut to finding nutritional value for a specific food item in the app’s vast database of food. Much of that database is user-generated, with both free and premium users able to add any food by entering the nutrition facts and barcode off a label. Once October 1st rolls around, free users will still be able to search the database for their food entries, but the barcode scanner will cost $19.99 per month or $79.99 for an annual plan, along with other premium features. And any new users that create a free account on or after September 1st will be shut out from scanning barcodes even earlier unless they pay.
This stark move comes after MyFitnessPal redesigned its app in May, which put more helpful information on the homescreen for premium users while adding more scrolling through ads and pop-ups for free users. While losing the handy barcode scanning feature is a bit of a shock to longtime MyFitnessPal users, perhaps it’s not too surprising the app is sacrificing the user experience to maximize ROI after it was sold by Under Armour in 2020 to venture capital firm Francisco Partners.
Free features going behind a paywall in the world of tech is, of course, not a new concept — it’s even fairly common in the fitness category of tech, like when Fitbit moved its sleep data insight to its premium service or when the Oura Ring went from a premium hardware product with free software to just premium everything, and users were pissed. Companies might feel pressure to boost profits by monetizing popular features, but it hits hard when they do it to features that have life-changing benefits.
As a personal user of MyFitnessPal with a check-in streak of 2,632 consecutive days, I’ve used the app to change my habits, lose weight, and get in better shape like many others. Being a free user, I knew the trade-offs and withstood the ads and onslaught of pop-ups urging me to go premium because I like logging and tracking my weight every morning. That database of food and nutritional value built by users is such a valuable tool whenever I choose to be more strict and log each and every morsel of my daily intake.
By losing the barcode scanner, MyFitnessPal is doing its users an egregious disservice. Losing weight and being cognizant of what you eat is hard enough. I have enough shame manually searching the app for the nutritional value of half of an entire Costco pizza after I let myself make some bad decisions, so adding more friction to the process when someone just wants to log their cup of Greek yogurt seems wrong. And anyone that’s made major changes in their eating habits knows it’s a delicate balancing act to keep weight off, and anything that gets in your way even slightly can tip the scales toward undoing weeks of hard work in a single day.
MyFitnessPal is obviously looking to maximize profits, but if the popular r/loseit subreddit is any indication, many users may consider switching to competing apps like Cronometer, Loseit, or Macros over this loss. MyFitnessPal will probably keep adding more premium features like recipes, nutrition plans, and whatever else its app gets bloated with. The reality may be that most folks just want the simplest tool possible to log their calories and weight, and MyFitnessPal is taking a major L here. Maybe it’s time to let my streak end.