Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The pros and cons of logging your food

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. (You can also use Spark People)
my fitness pal logo
I don't use this app 100% of the time 365 days a year. I use it when I am finding myself "falling off the wagon" a bit in terms of portion control and overall healthy eating (darn, sweet tooth!) OR when I am training for a race and need to make sure I am eating enough carbs and calories (and not so much junk). 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 at a healthy weight”; “I thought you said you don’t diet”; “So, you gonna log that last slice of pizza?”; "why don't you just eat what you want when you want and stop when your full?"
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. My calorie range varies greatly depending on my exercise level. I’ve found over the years that I’m most comfortable somewhere between 1700-2000 a day depending on how hungry I feel and how active I am. When I am training for a half marathon, this can go upwards of 2500 calories a day! That is not restricting food.
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 at a healthy weight”
First off, thank you for thinking so. Secondly, I’m not at this weight by magic, I promise you. No, I don’t follow a strict diet (well, I try to eat unprocessed and mostly vegetarian), but I can’t eat whatever I want all the time and stay my size. I love to eat and HATE being hungry. 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. 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 cookies, and the chocolate (yup, everyday) . 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. Today, for instance, I had a bagel with cream cheese for breakfast, which is much more than my normal two eggs and a banana, so I made adjustments at lunch.
PRO: There are no “forbidden” foods or food groups
“You gonna log that last slice of pizza?”
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 are usually big like the one above. I make sure I save room for them!
“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.
“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. I have had eating struggles in the past, so I am very cautious and in tune with myself about how I am feeling when I log my food. If I ever feel old habits coming back, I stop. However, I have found that logging actually HELPS me NOT slip back into old habits because it is all scientific, creates balance for me (which helps prevent binges), and makes me feel very much in control of my health and food intake.
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, especially when I am training for a race.
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 (however, I would be extra conscious to have a smaller meal meeting the nutrients I still needs that day). 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. I still eat big celebratory meals on birthdays, special occasions and on vacations. I also still LOG my foods on vacations to make sure I don't go too crazy. This app has helped me stop treating food as a reward and more as a way to maximize my energy and my mood. 
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 think that using this app can help people get more in touch with their body through food and, in turn, help intuitive eating. 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?
*This post was copied and edited by myself from here*
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