Before you read on, you aren’t going to get an answer to this question. I’ll provide some insight on the tracking phenomena. This way, you can decide if keeping daily tabs on your diet is helpful to you.
Counting calories and tracking macros has gotten significantly easier due to fancy little apps. We all know everything is saved (good or bad) on the internet, so other than getting your feet off the ground when first signing up, it’s not too hard to keep at tracking. The majority of people sit at a computer or have their phones glued to their faces, so lack of time/accessibility is no longer an excuse to not track. But, should you?
- This is the number one way to hold yourself accountable. If you are diligent in updating all aspects of your meal, including dressings, oils and “harmless” handfuls of snacks, you will see a story unfold right before your very eyes.
- Most tracking apps are free. I use MyFitnessPal when I am looking to track my food or follow a client’s patterns. It’s really simple and even has a way to enter whole recipes so you don’t need to log every little morsel each time you eat your baked chicken dinner. This is a benefit to those of us that eat a lot of the same things. Did I mention it’s free?
- It is a simple way to open your eyes to what nutrition labels really mean. Macronutrients (carbs, fats and proteins) make up your food and calories, so it is extremely helpful to understand that just because a snack markets “low fat”, you will see that one serving may have a substantial amount of carbs instead.
- They are portable. Because most apps are useable right on your phone or tablet, so you can reactively log when you are out to eat. MyFitnessPal even has a barcode scanner. This allows you to scan the food into the app and all of the nutritional information is segmented out for you immediately.
- This hard data can show your nutritionist or trainer where you need the most assistance. What good is a food tracker if you don’t even know what the information means for you? By simply glancing at clients’ logs, I can see that while their caloric intake is at 1450 calories, this may be made up of 80% carbohydrates, 10% fats and 10% protein. For a fitness enthusiast looking to keep muscle and lose fat, this isn’t the ideal ratio. The app will show me just that.
- You will have a visual revelation of trends in your diet. Over time, many people see that they eat 30% of their daily calories over the course of 11 or 12 hours, then finish up the 70% for dinner. While this works for people who are intentionally restricting during the day (this is a specific type of diet I am not addressing at this moment), most are just trying to diet all day and wind up binging all night because they are starving. Some also realize how far off the grid their weekends become – over and over and over again.
- A food log is your nutritional bank account. Any personal finance guru will tell you that over time, coffees, happy hours or Target runs (guilty) add up. If you start to track where all of your innocent little purchases go, you will find out why you aren’t saving as much money as you thought. The same holds true for tracking your food; handfuls of nuts, chips, candy; an extra beer or 2 at happy hour; eating out 2 times a week. Individually, these aren’t really a big deal. But, if you have body composition goals that involve changing it’s current state, these little innocent indulgences will hinder your progress significantly.
Basically, having some sort of food log creates an awareness. You don’t need to use it forever. I use it once or twice a year when I feel like I need to get myself in check. I don’t obsess; I simply redirect my focus towards my goals. When used appropriately, it can be a great learning tool.
- If you are a control freak, you may let this take over your life. If you are already obsessing over every morsel that goes in or out of your body, this can perpetuate your need for control and become an unhealthy habit. For some people, this is how they live. For myself and the clients I work with, I like for them to be in control, but to have a healthy balance.
- If you are a closet eater, all these apps will simply waste your time. There is a lot of guilt and pleasure associated with food, so having to log “2 Twinkies and a Mountain Dew” when you know these aren’t the healthiest of options may bring feelings of embarrassment. That leads people to leave them off their log, giving the false impression that “they have tried everything and nothing works”. It’s easier to lie to yourself than admit you need to change. While that is very normal, it may not make logging food worth it until you are ready to be honest about your food consumption.
- While this falls in line with having control issues, if you have had a problem with disordered eating, you may want professional assistance or advice before you start logging your food. Whether you are recovering from eating too much or too little, it will help to have an understanding on where you need to be from a clinical standpoint. This is the safest and most effective way to use nutrition healthfully. You don’t want this tool to create or uncover unhealthy relationships with food.
- It does require some effort. While the apps themselves are very user-friendly, they do take some of your time. You need to be willing to add the kind of detail that will help you use the process to its fullest. It won’t take hours, but while you are getting used to the process, it might take a bit of your time to become acclimated.
While there are more advantages than disadvantages, that doesn’t mean it’s a “go” for everyone. You need to recognize if any of the tips will substantially impact your life in a way that will deter you or help you make the changes you have been waiting for. Tracking your food won’t make you lose or gain weight. It’s more important to understand what those logs mean and how they are affecting your progress. When helping someone with their diet, a diary of 1-2 weeks is necessary as nutrition is not one-size-fits-all and I have no “plan” for everyone. That’s how a roll.
Here’s the thing: If you aren’t doing it simply because you are lazy (and be honest with yourself about that) then maybe now isn’t your time for change; and that’s okay! Food logs will absolutely work when you use them honestly and responsibly. If you aren’t ready for that type of commitment, they will be there waiting for you when you are.