Tracking calories and macros is big in the fitness world and also pretty important for major weight loss. I see many benefits to it as well as fall-backs and inconveniences. The main benefit being that using it for long enough gives you an idea of what your diet should like like. You get used to eating the right foods in the right amounts. After it becomes a habit, you get a pretty good idea of what you need to meet your macro and calorie goals so it shouldn’t need be a long-term practice.
Consistently tracking your food helps avoid temptations too. If it’s junk and I have to track it, I avoid it. If I already planned my food for the day and plugged it in, I’m much less likely to go off book and “cheat”. Once I got serious about my fitness results was when I started using it long term. I don’t see a real benefit to using it if you don’t have serious fitness or weight loss goals. I also don’t see much of a benefit of using it long-term, which I did. For about a year I tracked consistently, only missing a few days here and there on the weekends.
I’m coming back to update this post because since the original post things have changed a bit. I stopped tracking for about a year. I plugged stuff in here and there to see how I was doing, mostly just to make sure I wasn’t falling too off-track. But logging for over a year got me way more obsessed with the numbers than the quality of food I was eating. I had anxiety about food and avoided social gatherings because of the tempting junk food and alcohol. My relationship with food became unhealthy. Believe it or not it actually took work to QUIT tracking at this point. This is where I believe tracking calories and macros becomes a problem. It’s also a problem when it takes up so much of your time and becomes a stressful puzzle, fitting together all the right foods to meet your goals.
There’s a balance you have to find with it and there are ways to make it much less anxiety-inducing. These are things I’m here to talk about today.
Save Meals, Recipes, and Foods for Faster Logging
I plug every recipe I eat into MFP because a lot of times I eat it all week so it will be easy to just go back into my recipes and find it. I use “meals” for combinations I’ve logged that typically all go together and that I eat frequently. For example, one day I logged my Huevos Rancheros as separate things instead of a recipe and I just saved it as a “meal”. This is convenient if the meal can sometimes vary slightly. Instead of having to edit the recipe, you can edit the individual items once you log the meal.
Foods I save are typically created with fast food nutrition calculators. My regular Chipotle meal is saved in there as well as a couple others, but I don’t use the Foods category very much other than that. It’s just a way of entering a single item and all of it’s nutrient values manually. Most foods are already stored in the database though.
Plan Your Food for the Day and Stick To It
I plug everything into MFP for the day that I’m going to eat while I’m sipping my coffee in the morning (or the night before if I have time). Then that’s how I know what to pack to work with me and I usually stick closely to what I planned. As I’m updating this years later, I now have a new job requiring me to work through lunch and dinner (and somedays breakfast too), plus all my snacks, including pre and post workout. This requires planning in advance so I can bring everything with me. If that’s all I bring, that’s all I eat so I know I’ll stick to it.
To Save Time, Don’t Log Vegetables or Seasonings
I save time by not including seasonings in my recipes and if I’m just being a little lazy I don’t log my vegetables because their carbs are pretty negligible since they’re mostly fiber carbs. Their calorie count is next to nothing as well. I do log the oil I cooked them in since that counts for something. There are exceptions to this rule though. Things I DO log:
- Starchy vegetables – potatoes, corn
- Higher Carb Vegetables – carrots, squash
- Salty seasonings – blends that have a lot of salt in them, or salt itself.
The Bar Code Scanner is a Big Time-Saver
Use it! It’s improved so much from the original smartphone bar code scanners. Saves time searching for it or using a generic entry that might not be accurate. It’s important to have the right brand of something. Sometimes different brands can be very similar but not always.
It’s Okay to Miss a Day or Two
During my longest tracking stint, I probably missed or didn’t finish logging a handful of days. These are usually days where I went to parties/family dinners and didn’t have the recipes for things to log. Or cheat days! Which are few and far between for me. You don’t have to be perfect all the time. An occasional bad day is fine and actually can be good for you. Even when I have cheat meals I try to log the rest of what I ate. I would log the meal honestly but they’re hard to log accurately especially if it’s at a restaurant. My Fitness Pal has come out with their restaurant menus but the list of what’s available is still limited. Tracking the rest of my cheat day food gives me an idea of what I have room for so as not to go too overboard.