I have been giving this tip for years. I’m pleased to see that research is now backing this recommendation.
Why do I tell people not to track? For many people tracking calories/ macros/ food is NOT healthy behaviour (scroll down for my list of questions you need to ask yourself). I have many reasons for this (in fact I included a hefty section on it in my book).
My top reasons:
- Tracking tends to encourage the view that food is fuel. Which it is. But it’s also WAY MORE. Food is part of the fabric of our culture. We celebrate, comiserate, and connect over and around food – and that’s ok! Often what tracking leads to is tremendous guilt/ shame around foods that aren’t “on plan” – this is not healthy and this binary thinking and restriction can often lead to an unhealthy relationship with food and the restrict-binge cycle.
- Tracking can stop people from listening to their bodies. Either ignoring hungry because they’re “out of calories” or eating more because “they still have calories.” Neither is favourable to good health or a good relationship with food. Being attuned to your body enables you to honour your hunger, fullness and satisfaction and is vital to body respect.
- Tracking has us focus on quantity NOT quality. If you eat all your calories from cookies – you may be “on track” on calories but in a huge nutrient deficit. In one (of the many) large studies consulted for Canada’s latest food guide researchers looked at the long-term health of 100,000 men and women. What they found was that people who consumed a greater proportion of vegetables, nuts, fruits, and whole grains were more likely to have better health outcomes than their counterparts who consumed a higher proportion of more highly processed, sugary and high-fat foods. The ringer? These people weren’t told to manage their portions – just to focus on the QUALITY of food choices. A calorie isn’t a calorie. It’s about nutrients. This is NOT to say we need to demonize foods we deem to have less quality. Some “lower quality” foods have other purposes – circle back to point 1. The point here is tracking calories/ macros…is very often missing the point entirely.
I could go on but here’s the latest research, and why I sincerely hope you consider PUTTING DOWN THE FOOD TRACKER!
Want to geek out?
Here’s an excerpt from the article summarizing the results:
“My Fitness Pal (MFP) [a calorie tracking app] users reported significantly higher levels of attitudinal (dichotomous thinking, shape, weight, and eating concerns) and behavioural (binge eating, dietary restraint) eating disorder symptoms and psychosocial impairment than non-users. Effect sizes were large. MFP use also predicted unique variance in global attitudinal symptoms after controlling for eating disorder behaviours, impairment, and demographics. That nearly one-third of men perceived MFP as a factor contributing to their disordered eating highlights the possible utility of enquiring about the use of calorie-tracking apps when screening and assessing for eating disorder symptoms in men.”
Is tracking working for you?
If you track notice how tracking shifts your behaviour. Ask yourself these questions to shine a light on whether this tool is helping or hindering you:
- What are you telling yourself when you’re “off plan” – are you kind? Or does your inner critic turn the volume up?
- How do you feel if you don’t track? Does it make you uncomfortable?
- Do you feel confident in your capability to feed yourself without tracking it all?
- Do you listen to hunger cues? Or do you ignore them if the tracker says no more food?
- How does tracking make you feel?
If you’re not happy with any of the above questions, I encourage you to put the tracker down. At least short term to reconnect to your body and your internal cues. Consider a practice of Mindful Eating and work on healing your relationship with food.
My Bottom Line Advice?
If you do choose to track – please look at using a tool that will enable you to track more than just calories and macros.
Other things to consider tracking:
- Sleep quantity and quality
- Activity type, duration and intensity
- Overall mood, stress and energy levels
- What you ate
- What you did while you ate
- How you enjoyed your food
- How much water you consumed
Tracking in this way SHORT term can be an effective awareness tool and help you gain insight into what is and isn’t working for you. It can also help you connect the dots and help you see what other health habits may be helping or hindering your relationship with food. This can be incredibly healthy and productive.
Want my tracking tool?
I share it and many other nutrition, health and fitness resources and tools with the members in my Super You Studio. In the Nutrition Masterclass I dig into this as well as the practice of Mindful Eating, as well as my Top 10 Tips to eat healthy (no diet required), my Food Fad Filter and so much more! To learn more about the Studio and what else is inside click here.