You should track your food
Some of you may have loved it, finding it highly beneficial and helpful towards your health and fitness goals. Some of you may have found the opposite, and consider food tracking to be an utter pain in the backside.
WHY YOU SHOULD TRACK YOUR FOOD TO SOME DEGREE
If you are reading this, you are interested in fitness and nutrition enough to have tracked your food in one way or another in the past. Some of you may have loved it, finding it highly beneficial and helpful towards your health and fitness goals. Some of you may have found the opposite, and consider food tracking to be an utter pain in the backside. I can relate to both, don’t worry!
Food tracking can be done in many different ways. It essentially refers to recording what you are eating on a regular basis, for reflection and learning processes.
You may track your food SUBJECTIVELY, such as estimating how much of things you are eating in a food diary format.
You may track your food OBJECTIVELY, such as weighing and/or measuring food and drink with measuring cups and spoons, in a phone app such a My Fitness Pal.
Both have their place, but let me discuss some pros and cons of doing so with you, before recommending which method may be more appropriate for you based on your personality and situation.
PROS OF TRACKING
Tracking your food to some degree, ESPECIALLY in early stages of your health and fitness goals, can help you to build CONTEXT around what foods contain which nutrients and how much you should be eating based on your requirements. Essentially, food tracking helps to EDUCATE you around food and nutrition in a practical manner.
Self-awareness & accountability
Tracking food helps you to build self-awareness around your eating. It’s easy to eat whatever comes into your sight sometimes, but when you are tracking everything going into your mouth, you become more aware and accountable around what you are eating. This should help you to make more of an effort to eat in a manner appropriate for your goals, whether that requires you to eat slightly more or slightly less.
Hunger cue help
If you struggle recognising your hunger cues, IE struggle to eat enough because you rarely feel hungry, or struggle with eating too much when you are not actually hungry, then tracking your food for a period of time can help with this mismatch (however is NOT a long-term fix). Let’s say you are trying to put on muscle mass and need to eat more than what you are used to- tracking can help you numerically see how much you actually need to eat, and you have the ability to space your intake out through the day (it seems more achievable compared to being overwhelmed by how much you perceive yourself having to eat).
CONS OF TRACKING
Interference with social events
Food and eating is about more than just meeting numerical macronutrient and micronutrient requirements. Wild animal-eating is centred around this, but humans have sociocultural environments which we have to consider. Being too overly dependent on food tracking can interfere with social or family events which involve food. No, it isn’t necessary to eat-out and/or drink alcohol every time you see your family or friends, especially if you have health and fitness goals. BUT we don’t want to let attachment/dependency on food tracking ruin these experiences, or push us to avoid them, like some trackers fall victim to. Don’t be the one bringing a Tupperware meal to your Aunt’s birthday dinner, please.
Obsession and disordered eating
Tracking can be highly beneficial from an accountability and educational standpoint as mentioned above, however, becoming too dependent on it and overly-prioritising it can lead to obsession, especially in people with naturally anxious and obsessive personalities. If you are dedicated to tracking on a week to week basis, and can occasionally accept days (for example, a wedding, a birthday party, a friends-catch up) where tracking will be too difficult and you give it a miss, this is a healthy mindset to have. HOWEVER, if you get highly anxious over not being able to track, or even go to the extent of withdrawing from social activities just to be able to track your food, then this is where it might be time to give it a break as these thought patterns are unhealthy.
Room for error
Numerical apps like MyFitnessPal can be highly effective when used properly and the user understands what they are doing. However, if you do not have much experience with it and/or haven’t been taught by somebody who understands, then there is a large room for tracking errors, or in other words, you are likely to get a misrepresentative gauge over how much you are likely eating (over-tracking or under-tracking).
SO WHAT, ALEX?
In summary, I do recommend everybody tracks their food to some degree, especially in early stages of their health and fitness goals.
Subjective methods: Food photos, food diaries (+ getting feedback from an experienced coach)
More suited to those who are brand new to the nutrition world, are not great with numbers, have less disposable time (IE kids, time-intensive occupation), have a history of disordered eating or very anxious and obsessive personalities (tracking may not be immediately suitable altogether), who prefer the sound of this type of method.
Objective methods: Numerical apps like MyFitnessPal, Easy Diet Diary- weighing and measuring your food.
More suited to those who enjoy numbers and measuring, who are more experienced with the training and nutrition scene, who have more specific goals (EG sporting or bodybuilding goals).
Track your food to some degree, but ensure you get help from somebody experienced and knowledgeable in nutrition, that is willing to refer you onto a nutritionist or dietitian should you need extra levels of assistance. Food tracking is highly beneficial if done properly and sensibly, but has the potential to become excessive and risky.