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The pros and cons of logging your food

I’ve gotten a lot of questions about how I maintain my weight and what kind of diet I follow, so today we’re going to talk a little about logging food and how it works for me and might (or might not) work for you. I’ve mentioned it before on the blog, but I use a great app to help me hold myself accountable- My Fitness Pal.

my fitness pal logo

I wanted to write this because I get mixed reactions from people when I tell them I log my food and exercise: “But you don’t need to keep track of what you eat, you’re already thin”; “I thought you said you don’t diet”; “So, you gonna log that last slice of pizza?”

Or when friends express interest in losing weight and I recommend MFP: “I don’t want to keep track of what I eat, I just want to eat better”; “That just seems too obsessive for me”

I have a slightly different philosophy when it comes to tracking my food. I don’t believe that logging food has to be the same as restricting food. Sometimes I count the 1400 calories I ate that day, other times I count the 2200 calories I ate that day. I’ve found over the years that I’m most comfortable somewhere between 1500-1800 a day depending on how hungry I feel and how active I am.

Now, I’m not an expert in any way or a registered dietitian/nutritionist, but I do know what works for me. I also need to stress that what works for me might not work for you. That said, I want to address some of the comments on using a “calorie counting” app and use it to illustrate some pros and cons of this type of system.

“But you don’t need to keep track of what you eat, you’re already thin”

Well, I’m not thin by magic, I promise you. No, I don’t follow a strict diet, but I can’t eat whatever I want all the time and stay this size. Very few people can and they are freaks of nature. There was a time when I was a bottomless pit and skinny as a rail (and by “a time” I mean when I was 16 years old), but as I’ve gotten older my body has naturally changed and it takes work to maintain a weight that’s not only healthy and realistic, but that I feel great at. Those of you in your early 20s that read this blog, you’ve been warned. It doesn’t last, and it does require effort to maintain a healthy weight.

PRO: Learn what foods give you the most energy and finding a calorie goal you can stick with comfortably.

 

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“I thought you said you don’t diet”

I don’t diet. I log the pizza, the wine, the pasta, the bread, the olive oil I dip my bread into, and the chocolate. The beauty of tracking calories this way is that you can learn balance- no food are off limits, but you may need to make some adjustments later to stay on track and still indulge in things you love.

PRO: There are no “forbidden” foods or food groups

“You gonna log that last slice of pizza?”

Yep…..

dinner log

CON/PRO: If you stick to it, you need to log everything. Accountability can be great, but it can also give you a rude reality check. My dinners often look like the one above..except usually with more wine.

“I don’t want to keep track of everything I eat, I just want to eat better”

Sadly, most people don’t know what that means. Just because you ordered a salad doesn’t mean you ate healthier than someone who ordered a steak. See this perfect example from the nutrition calculator on the Outback Steakhouse website:

Outback comparison

Beyond the fact that the salad has more calories, it also has way more sodium and saturated fat. The steak, on the other hand, is higher in protein and fiber. Knowledge is power, people.

PRO: Using a tracking app can help you educate yourself about what you’re really eating.

It’s not about staying under the calorie goal. There will always be times when I go over, but the goal of using a tracking app (for me, at least) is to become educated about what I’m eating. Beyond just calories, I like to see if I’m getting enough vitamins, potassium, fiber, etc. It’s a lot easier to keep track of that stuff if I can log it somewhere and take a look at the end of the day.

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“That just seems too obsessive for me”

And here enters the biggest CON of logging your food. For some people, logging your food can become obsessive and could turn into a real problem. I don’t recommend using MFP for anyone who has a history of an eating disorder or an unhealthy relationship with food. There is no “magic number” for calories and expecting an app to give it to you is unrealistic.

Logging my food is great for me because I LIKE numbers. I enjoy collecting data and figuring out what it means for me. Analyzing my ratio of carbs/protein/fat is interesting because it helps me make better decisions in the future.

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The reason MFP works for me is that I separate the “numbers game” from reality. At the end of the day, food is just food. If I go over my sugar goal or calorie goal for one day, it doesn’t ruin my week. I’m not going to skip dinner because I met my calorie “goal” by  2:00 PM. What it does, though, is help me to live a lifestyle that follows the 80/20 rule so I can be healthy, but also live a little. It’s also a way to educate myself on the foods I like to eat and how certain foods affect my mood and energy.

I realize that many people might not agree with me on the validity or usefulness of tracking apps. I’m not affiliated with My Fitness Pal in any way, in case you were wondering. I just got it because it was the highest rated free app on iTunes. I’m definitely interested in hearing your thoughts or experiences on logging food and/or counting calories!

What are your thoughts of food tracking apps?

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17 thoughts on “The pros and cons of logging your food

  1. I LOVE this post, Kelly. LOVE IT.

    The sad thing is, I think your in a absolute minority- the few who can separate the obsessive nature of it VS reality- something to be incredibly proud of. Food tracking apps can be a double edged sword, but you highlighted the distinctions well.

    Thank you for keeping it real, Kelly. I now sound like a broken record. Bed time.

  2. I love to track my food too ! Although I honestly don’t pay attention to calories I pay more attention to the macros I often found myself barely getting any protein and this caused me to be tired with decreased energy and now with the app I can make sure I get enough protein for my body 🙂

  3. I’ve been doing this IIFYM thing, so tracked my food with MFP as well for a couple of months last year. For me, the big CON became truth, I got very obsessed with logging all the food, each and every gram, I was afraid I would forget to log that 5 grams of almonds I added to to my yogurt after switching off the scale and so on. After all, I skipped the tracking part and learned to just eyeball everything (most macros were stuck in my head anyways so basically no problem). After some diet experiments this year I gained some weight. To lose it again I’ve started to log my food again, just to get back into balance. I want to skip logging again as soon as possible before I get abosessed again. Nevertheless, it helped and helps me very well in weight loss. But the mental pressure is too much for me.

  4. I think that logging food is a great tool to have. I don’t typically do it – mostly just because it’s a lot of work to do – but when I do it’s an eye opening experience. When I track food I also track water, so it’s a good way to make sure I am getting enough water every day!

    • Logging is definitely work. There are days where I forget to log stuff for sure! I need to do a better job of keeping track of my water, but usually just keeping a bottle right by me at all times helps.

  5. This is a GREAT post! I use it sometimes to get myself back on point and make sure I eat enough for my activity. It is time consuming, but once you eat the same types of things, you can make them meals and add them in, which is nice. This is super informative, though!

  6. I love My Fitness Pal too – I really like that you can scan barcodes of things to quickly add it to your foods for the day – and I totally agree with your points, especially the knowledge is power one! So true!!

  7. I agree with a lot of what you said. I used to use MyFitnessPal obsessively and only focus on total calories–and found I was way under my “goal” all the time–not healthy. But now I’ve changed they way I use the app and try to focus on having a balance of carbs, fat, and protein. I used to never look at that pie graph or nutrient details page, but now it’s what I look at the most!

  8. Thanks for sharing your view on this, Kelly. I used to track all the food I ate, but that was a HUGE part of my eating disorder so I had to give it up cold turkey. I think it’s great that it works for you, but unfortunately I also think that you’re in the minority 😦 Most people get too caught up in numbers and it can become a huge problem for them. At the end of the day, I think it’s important to do what works for you, whatever that may be.

  9. This is such a great post – so honest and balanced. My views are very similar to yours on this… but I’m on a break from the tracking right now. I started using MFP in Jan to help me assess my macros, and find out what was working/not working. I wasn’t just tracking numbers though; I was tracking how I felt, how I slept, my… toilet habits?! It was a great ‘self-experiment’ but right now I want to try and be more go-with-the-flow and save my energy for other things. Again, all part of the experimentation! It doesn’t mean I won’t track again, but I think right now it’s not a priority. Great post Kelly!

  10. Interesting Kelly, I used to log my food to make sure that I was getting enough of each of the food groups to fuel my high mileage in training, and I have to agree with you that it did help. It also made me reach for healthier options rather than the sweets, but I found that once I knew what i was doing, I did not need it any more as I know roughly how much I eat. I definitely consume over 3000 a day, but that is okay with my training. It is about what is right for you.

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