Some people love counting calories and some people hate it. So how do you know if you should be tracking your food?
Calorie trackers like MyFitnessPal have become incredibly popular in recent years. Now many common diet programs like Noom and Weight Watchers incorporate food tracking into their approach as a result. In my practice as a dietitian, I have spoken with people who report that tracking has been incredibly helpful to them, while others say that tracking is too stressful and perhaps even increases self-reported levels of disordered thought patterns around food. .
But how do you know if you should personally track your calories? Let’s discuss the pros and cons of counting calories and what to do next if you decide it’s best for you.
What are the potential benefits of calorie tracking?
Research from the Journal of the American Dietetic Association suggests that any form of self-monitoring, such as tracking food, is helpful in maintaining your weight in the long run. Self-monitoring includes tracking calories, stepping on the scale, or keeping records of some kind about diet and exercise habits.
When tracking their food for the first time, many people report increased levels of food awareness, the ability to be more mindful, and more appropriate portion sizes. There is something about the act of tracking that can help increase consistency and make the brain more aware of the choices you make.
Who should avoid tracking their calories?
While there are some benefits, there are cases where food tracking can be useless or potentially harmful. For people with eating disorders or people who fall on the spectrum of disordered eating behaviors, tracking your food can increase stress and anxiety levels. Increased stress around food can potentially increase the obsession with food and prevent you from healing your disordered behaviors in these cases.
Ways to track your food
Tracking your food traditionally requires a food scale, measuring cups, and one of the nutrition database apps like My Fitness Pal or Calorie Counter. However, these apps are the most detailed form of tracking and may pose the highest risk for increased stress around food.
Other lower-risk ways of tracking include using a pen and paper or taking pictures of your meals and snacks. Many people report that taking pictures offers a good balance between responsibility and consistency without a huge emphasis on calories.
While image-based tracking is less precise, it appears to offer similar benefits, such as increased self-awareness around food and better attention when eating, without being completely focused on the numbers.
You may need to find out what kind of tracking works best for you through trial and error, and if you’re wondering if you’re having trouble with eating disorders, consider talking to an expert.