Tracking your food is a powerful tool for weight loss, weight gain, and performance.
For some, it’s an absolute necessity for success.
While everyone can benefit from tracking food, the same approach isn’t necessary for everyone. Aggressive food tracking is necessary for some people but could lead to “fitnessPal” burnout and potentially halt progress for others.
Let’s highlight three general avatars, and the approach to tracking food that fits them best.
I need/want to lose a significant amount of weight.
Generally when we work with people who are seeking to lose a significant amount of weight (let’s call that over 20#), there are two major themes: unconscious eating, and lower food quality.
While the fix for this might sound simple, we want to acknowledge that it’s not always easy.
We have found that tracking food without an agenda goes a long way to solve these two problems. The goal here is to bring a steady stream of consciousness to what you consume on a daily basis. It’s a good beginning, and might be all that’s required.
This awareness of just writing down or logging what you eat has been proven to help people eat a bit less than before, and to increase the quality of what they eat.
Psychologically, it makes sense. People don’t want to feel ashamed about what they eat. Avoiding the thought of what they consumed, or how much, can help block these feelings, but such denial unfortunately leads them to the compromised state of health they are trying to avoid.
Tracking one’s foods creates a lower likelihood of poor, unconscious eating habits. By virtue of keeping track, you are forced to face reality—that you are eating too much and/or making unhealthy choices.
Ride this until a more rigid and specific tracking approach is needed.
My bodycomp goal is important, but small and specific.
This is where things need to narrow down a bit. You are 5-15# away from your goal, and things just seem to be stymied. You have a solid awareness of what you eat and how much, and your food quality is better than decent.
At this point, you need to get more detailed in tracking. Even just being a few hundred calories over maintenance over the course of the week is going to ground you to a standstill. Intuitively consuming a bit less to move you to a deficit is difficult.
In this case, tracking calories (at the least) is mandatory if your small weight loss goal is important to you.
Here’s what we recommend:
If you are in that final little push to lose the last 5-15#, or to gain a few more pounds to bulk up, track your calories—and protein. Your fat and carbohydrate macros will likely fall into place if the former is in check.
Depending upon body size, and BMR, somewhere in the neighborhood of a 200-calorie deficit/surplus is a good place to start.
Hitting about .75-1x your bodyweight in grams of protein will generally put you in a good spot as well.
I'm ready to compete.
This is where things need to get particular. That’s because your outcome is super specific and details matter.
Not only should you track calories and protein, but also fats, carbs and micronutrients are all going to play a role in your precise body composition, energy, recovery, strength, speed, and general performance.
Your tracking may even have different protocols and needs based upon the day of the week.
Like it or not, rising to the level of optimization you are after is going to call for you to get down into the weeds for your tracking.
Here is the big takeaway: Track to the level you need for your specific outcome. Getting more detailed than you need could be a waste of your time and energy. You are more likely to fall off the wagon due to the amount of mental capacity it will require.
Everyone is different, and these are three broad examples of how someone should approach tracking their food. The best way to find out what you should do is to work with one of our experienced coaches. Either remote or here in Austin, you can book a Free Strategy Session now!