I Log Every Single Thing I Eat. Here's Why.
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.
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 who 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.
"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 foods 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?"
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:
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.
"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.
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?