Calories, macros (macronutrients), daily weights, water intake…the amount of data one can track on dieting apps can really add up. For me, as a person who has made her living talking, writing, and teaching about nutrition and food intake, tracking my diet when MyFitnessPal and other similar apps were new was an interesting (even fun!) thing to do. It fit with my mindset about weight control (calories matter…and I still think they do). I wrote about macro tracking on this blog in 2017 if you’re not familiar with what I’m talking about. But, somewhere along the line, tracking my food intake and weight became less fun, much less fun. I also grew as a nutrition professional over time, and found that diet tracking didn’t suit me or fit my food and health philosophy anymore.
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How It Started
Eleven years ago, as a 40-something mom of two who had started noticing the effects that age (and lots of loaves of homemade banana bread) were taking on my physique, I began tracking my diet and weight using an app on my phone. This was a novel way to help me learn where my daily calories were coming from. I was also coping with relationship problems that turned into a divorce, and I had a significant health problem that required major surgery. Looking back on it all, tracking my food was one thing I could control. It felt stable to see the numbers in black and white, the graphs, the charts—all of it helped me get through a few rough years when I wasn’t feeling good about much else. And I was losing some weight, so those line graphs were gratifying to see.
How It Progressed
Over the years I tracked consistently, but not daily. I tracked more when I felt I needed to trim down or pay more attention to certain things, like protein for example, and less when I was feeling good and healthy. I tracked macros instead of calories for a couple of years near the end of my tracking journey, and then I simply tracked weights as I grew more disinterested in the whole process. I won’t dispute that tracking your diet can help with weight control (mostly short term), but it’s certainly not necessary. What I can say from my own experience is that tracking the minutia of one’s food intake for 11 years is excessive. Maybe obsessive. And a waste of brainpower that could be better spent on things that truly enhance life—like taking time to enjoy the pleasures of eating and nourishing oneself.
Problems With Diet Tracking
Tracking led me to ignore my natural appetite.
Some days we are naturally more hungry than others so we need more food. It sounds ridiculously simple and it really is—tune in to your body’s needs and eat according to your appetite. When I was tracking and went over my calorie limit, I felt disappointed in myself. There was a measure of shame that overcame me when I went over my specified calorie limit. And when I stayed within my calorie range but was still hungry, I felt physically bad. This stuff didn’t happen every day, but when it did it just reinforced distrust of my body’s signals. I’ve had to learn to tune in more so I can eat more intuitively. Bending my appetite to fit an app is something I just won’t do anymore.
Tracking took a lot of time and thought.
I’m all for meal planning, but planning in order to fit macros takes more effort than just planning based on what’s in your fridge. When I wasn’t entering data from a meal I just ate, I was thinking about what to make for my next meal and then pre-entering it to see if it fit my macros—and if not, I’d change around portions or foods to get it to fit better. I also spent time entering recipes into the database so I could get the macros for my tracking. All of this was time-consuming and led me to spend a good chunk of my day thinking about food—and not in a pleasurable way.
Tracking did not tell me about my fitness level.
Over 11 years of tracking I saw a trainer weekly for much of it. I enjoy seeing a trainer and it felt good to get stronger, increase my aerobic fitness, and put some muscle on my body. I’ve never been athletic, so working out with kettlebells and taking fitness classes at my gym made me feel good about my body—and my diet and weight tracking did not reflect how my body makeup changed. Weight is a measure of gravity’s pull on your body—it doesn’t discern between fat, muscle, bone, or water. Better ways to track your body shape include taking measurements or seeing how your clothes fit over time. And better ways to track your fitness include progressing in the amount of weight you can lift, the number of reps you can do, or how much more stamina you develop.
Tracking ended up making me feel bad about myself.
What started out as a tool to help me learn more about my eating habits and assist in weight control efforts ended up, over a period of years, making me feel out of sync with my body. I was being controlled by the tracking app. Over time, tracking brought me no joy, just a feeling of being disconnected from my body.
Tracking did not bring long term impact.
When I was actively trying to drop a few pounds, the tracking was helpful. A reasonable caloric intake is important when trying to lose weight. But remarkably, when I looked at 11 years of data trends, I saw that over all that time, my weight only varied by 12 pounds. And that includes recuperating from two surgeries, hormone imbalances, a divorce, a new marriage, and yes, now being over age 50. All that time, effort, and angst for just 12 pounds up or down? Big deal. Clearly, my body likes to be a certain size—so much so that even trying to hold it to tight control didn’t yield very impressive results.
Your experience with tracking your diet might be different. I am not judging people who want to track their food intake or weights. We are all on our own journeys. My journey has led me past thinking of my nourishment in terms of macronutrients to an increasing interest in mindful eating, balance, and enjoyment.