It’s difficult to engage in any sort of nutrition or fitness modalities these days without a negative association, and tracking food is no exception. We’re quick to label the behavior as obsessive, and while that can certainly be the case, is it always?
Similar to my thoughts on the scale, our intentions behind our actions and how we view or relate to the data are extremely important.
For example, one woman may be counting macros (macronutrients—carbs, fats, proteins) in Myfitnesspal to ensure she’s adequately fueled for her workouts while losing fat at a reasonable pace. She is firm in the notion that her worth isn’t derived from her body, she decided to make changes to her body based on her own volition, and she views the results of tracking as an objective measurement (i.e. she doesn’t get emotional if she goes over the numbers). She also understands that this is a temporary method and is using it as an opportunity to learn more about her body.
Alternatively, another woman is tracking her macros in Myfitnesspal to mold her body in an effort to gain approval from others, and she is hoping a new body will be the answer to her unhappiness and lack of self-worth. She views herself as a failure when she goes over her numbers, and she develops a lack of trust in her body. She isn’t tuned into what her body is telling her and solely relies on the data from Myfitnesspal—thus, she begins to believe she will lose control if she ever stops tracking.
Both of these women are tracking their food, yet the intention behind the action and their relationships to the data are completely different.
In my experience, few women fall into the category of the first example, as it takes a sufficient amount of introspection and unraveling of narratives to get there. Only after completing the work of firmly understanding our worth is inherent, knowing where the motivation to make aesthetic changes comes from, and understanding that tracking should usually be used as a temporary means of learning about our body are we ready.
And sometimes, we believe we meet all the criteria above, only to begin tracking and spiral into old thought patterns and behaviors. This can mean there is more internal work to be done, but it can also indicate that tracking isn’t in alignment with our personalities and/or priorities.
Assessing the criteria below is helpful to determine if you’re ready for tracking.
You may be well-suited for tracking if:
- You have done the introspective work and firmly understand that changes to your body don’t impact your value or worth as a human being. (non-negotiable)
- You thrive off of numbers, data, and facts (I do not fall into this category).
- You have consistent eating habits already, eat mostly whole foods, and you want to dial things in a little further to see changes in performance or aesthetics.
- You have an athletic event or meet coming up and you need to “make weight”.
- Your energy has been subpar, and you want to identify opportunities for improvement.
- You understand that tracking isn’t to be used in lieu of tuning into your body, although this may lead to overriding hunger or satiety signals. You understand that maintaining a mindful relationship with our bodies is still very important when tracking.
- You look at the data objectively (i.e. if you go over your numbers, you don’t view yourself as a bad person or attach any sort of good/bad connotation)
You may not be ready for tracking if:
- You believe the results of tracking are the key to your happiness and self-worth.
- You haven’t done any introspective work to unravel your relationship to your body or the intentions behind making changes.
- Your eating habits are inconsistent and your diet largely consists of processed foods.
- Data and numbers stress you out, which is common with those who have a previously obsessive or disordered relationship with food.
- You attach emotions to the data rather than looking at them objectively. I.e. “I’m good because I went under or was on target.” Or “I’m bad because I went over my numbers.”
- You’re seeking a method of control in your life because everything seems inconsistent elsewhere. You believe tracking will provide the control and sense of calm you’re seeking.
- You plan to track forever, as you don’t have a mindful connection to your body and don’t trust that you can make decisions on your own.
- You don’t know your body’s hunger and satiety cues or your emotional triggers for eating.
Tracking food isn’t inherently bad, but it can cause former thought patterns and habits to resurface if we used to dwell in the land of disordered eating. Alternatively, it can also be an extremely valuable tool when used mindfully and from a self-assured foundation.
Deciding whether tracking food is right for you requires an honest look at where you are currently, both physically and mentally, and the true intentions behind wanting to implement this method.
If you find yourself in the midst of tracking and realize that it wasn’t the right decision for you based on what is noted above, then I recommend making small adjustments to relinquish the habit. If you decide to give it up in one fell swoop, then that’s great, but that approach can lead to a lot of anxiety for many.
An alternative approach is to remove one rigid component of tracking at a time. If you weigh and measure your food, then eyeball your portions for one meal while still recording your food intake. Next week, eyeball another meal, and continue until you’re no longer weighing or measuring any food.
At this point, you can then begin to loosen the reigns on tracking your food intake, which is commonly done in an app like Myfitnesspal. Again, start with one meal at a time, and you’ll slowly begin to trust yourself and your body.
If you’re not sure what the best approach is for you, then start by honestly assessing your intentions—they provide an accurate depiction of the current state of your foundation. This process often requires support and a heavy focus on mindset, so using a coach for guidance and support can be very helpful.