Fitness trackers and food journals are big business these days. Back in 2012 when I had just lost 60lbs, I was the only person I knew who wore a fitness tracker (apart from a few of my online friends on MyFitnessPal). Nowadays it seems everyone is wearing one and there hundreds of different types and brands to choose from. But is tracking fitness and writing down every bite for everyone?
Here are the pros and cons of tracking your food and fitness:
1. You become more mindful of what you're eating. This is especially useful if you find yourself mindlessly snacking in the day. Many of us are working in offices where there is always biscuit tins and trays of iced donuts and so we find ourselves mindlessly munching out of boredom or stress. I've also known of parents who find themselves eating their kids' leftovers and people who munch their way through a pre-meal snack while they're waiting for their dinner to cook. It all counts! If you're logging it then you become consciously aware of it.
2. Increased awareness of what you're eating and noting how you feel at the time can help address issues of emotional eating/comfort eating. If you become aware that you're not hungry and are just eating because of your emotions, you can then seek support and find alternative methods for coping with these. Try some of these self care tips instead of comfort eating.
3. Tracking your foods may spark an interest in nutrition. This caused me to continually improve my recipes so that I reduced the salt and sugar content and increased protein and fibre, as these were the general issues with my diet at the time.
4. Wearing a fitness tracker will either tell you that you don't move nearly as much as you thought, or that you burn far more calories going about your daily life than you imagined. Ether way, your guess work is likely to be proved wrong. This is good, because now you have a clearer picture of how active your lifestyle is and how much you need to be eating, making meal planning and workout schedules much easier to draw up.
1. You may become utterly obsessed with tracking food and exercise. If it gets to a stage where you're really anxious about going over on calories/points/syns whatever once in a while, or refuse to go to bed until you've beaten your step goal for the day, or you find yourself skipping meals to keep calories for the day down and cancel social plans as a means of avoiding a tricky food situation, then you're taking it too far.
2. Likewise if you're cancelling plans last minute so you can exercise the additional calories away, or insisting on exercising even when you're ill.
3. You may run the risk of becoming obsessed with certain ingredients in foods and find yourself cutting out entire food groups or avoiding certain food groups in an attempt to lose weight, despite no formal medical advice to do so. See also my post on orthorexia and 'clean eating'.
4. You might reach the stage of thinking that exercise is pointless during the times your tracker isn't with you. This isn't the case, as your body doesn't care whether you've tracked your walk to the post office or not. Just get out and do it, even if your Fitbit is on charge!
Know when to track, and when to stop
I've been on both sides of the 'for/against food and fitness tracking' fence. When I set out to turn my health completely around back in 2011, I relied heavily on tracking my food and fitness via the app, MyFitnessPal (which I've used alongside heart rate monitors, Fitbits and most recently, my TomTom Spark 3) Sometimes I still use these tools, but in a different way, usually these days it's to check I'm eating enough to sustain my weight training and breastfeeding.
Once I'm in a comfortable groove with how much I'm eating and what I'm eating, I stop tracking for awhile and just keep my habits up until I feel like something has changed. These days I'm able to stop tracking and not panic about it, because after years of tracking and fiddling with macros, trying out new recipes and improving them, I'm in a good place. I know that my habits are firmly ingrained by now and I know that I can still go out for meals, eat cake and occasionally order takeaway without doing any damage.
My advice is to track your food and fitness when you're just starting out or if you're switching up your routine quite a bit, to get some idea of what's going on, and then stop tracking once you've settled into a routine. This way, you'll hopefully prevent tracking becoming an obsession.