In the age where technology and data are king, it’s no wonder online food trackers have risen in popularity. It’s for good reason. These fitness tools are an easy way to quantify your current diet and shed light on how to bring about wanted change.
However, there is a dark side to food tracking.
Equip yourself to sidestep food logging traps as you learn the good, bad and ugly that comes with these online tools.
First, there are valid reasons to use an online food tracker.
Online fitness logging with apps like MyFitnessPal and Cronometer provide a baseline of your current normal. Data can give you insight into your current condition and what might need to be adjusted to change your status quo.
They also can help you adjust to a new eating regime to give you an idea of when you are and are not hitting the target. “That which is measured gets managed” adage is where these tools shine, giving you up-to-date, evidenced-based information to help adjust your diet to match desired results.
However, it’s not all peachy-keen when it comes to tracking.
It takes time
Life is busy; the time and attention needed to accurately enter what you’re eating for every meal can be an investment in the beginning. Sadly, this data you’re working so hard to collect may not always be 100 percent accurate because some people contribute false information to nutrition calculators.
This is where using an app that has a barcode scanning feature, such as MyFitnessPal, can be beneficial since the source of the nutritional data is more reliable than that hand-entered by a single user.
Only provides one-size-fits-all nutrition advice
There are other shortcomings, too. Not all nutritional advice is equal. Food tracking apps generally have a one-size-fits-all approach to recommendations for weight loss. The standard percentage for macros (fat, protein and carbohydrates) are often set by outdated information and is not tailored-fit for your unique needs.
Then there is the down side to food tracking.
Those with perfectionistic tendencies can find themselves in an obsessive compulsive cycle. Eyes constantly glued to their app, neglecting relationships around them, the costs can be great.
Clues you may need to break up with your food tracker because your obsessive tendencies are kicking in:
You find yourself spending hours micromanaging every macro for every crumb.
When you don’t perfectly meet your daily goals, it ignites your stress response and negative feelings. You feel anxious, depressed or like throwing in the towel.
You’re half-tempted to sneak a food scale in your purse as you head to the restaurant. Your over-analysis of the weight of that turkey burger patty interferes with connecting with friends when eating out.
The “I’ve Failed!!!” Mentality
This is where all-or-nothing personality types can get really tripped up. Over-use of food apps can ignite a perfection vs. failure mentality.
Seeing only two options, 100 percent “on plan” eating or a “I’ve totally failed” mentality can lead to outbursts such as “I ate 3% percent more than my allowed carbohydrate value. I’ve ruined everything! Since I’ve failed, I might as well eat that plate of brownies and carton of ice cream!”
Ignoring Your Body Signals
Relying too heavily on what a screen says you need means you may start to silence what your body is telling you need.
If you’re only looking at the fact that you haven’t met your macros for the day, you might be tempted to reach for one more helping at dinner instead of listening to your body’s innate wisdom when you ask yourself if you’re even hungry.
Let’ say your diet is completely dialed in. You’ve gotten rid of the junk food. You’ve decreased inflammation, lost unwanted pounds and are getting daily movement. It might be time to consider the next phase of health promotion. Now do you need to shift your macros to better support your cycle? Do you need to just put away the phone and prioritize social connectivity (and the disease prevention and recovery that comes with a strong network of true friends)? There are many ways to promote health. Meeting your macros is just one piece of the puzzle.
Being overly-committed to your food tracker could mean you neglect other beneficial elements. And, while it’s perfectly fine to use them for a while, since they can in fact increase your success on a weight loss or an immune and gene supporting food formula, it’s important to be mindful of the times you might need to step back.
If you’ve found yourself in an unhealthy relationship with your online food app, here are some alternatives:
Set a time limit for tracking. You still use your app but only for a set amount of time, once a day and for a certain number of weeks.
Get an accountability buddy. Let them see your log and ask you tough questions about how much time you’re spending on tracking.
Go old fashioned. Use paper and pencil to track what you ate and how you felt, how you’re sleeping, the state of your mental and digestive health. If you aren’t seeing the results you’re wanting, go back to analyzing more closely by writing down the food and amounts with macros calculated at the end of the week.
Work in steps. The first step is your small goal, the second step is your larger goal. Maybe your first goal is “just eat real foods instead of ones from packages.” Then your second goal is weight loss through a particular set of macros. Even if today’s stressful meeting drove you to eat four times as many frozen blueberries as you should have today, you can rest in the fact you stuck with your first goal and didn’t reach for the Ben and Jerry’s. You can get your macros on track the next day.
Work with a practitioner. This way you can find the freedom that comes from an eating template tailor-fit to your unique needs and their expertise and experience can take some of the pressure off you being the ultimate analyzer of your food log. Set up a consult with Dr. Emily today and begin discovering your personalized eating plan.
Bottom line, food is nourishment. Anything that shifts your mindset away from that could be causing ugly habits better broken.