The Pros and Cons of Tracking Food & Fitness

The Pros & Cons of tracking food and fitness

Fitness trackers and food journals are still big business. Back in 2012, when I was in the grips of obsessing over my weight, I was the only person I knew who wore a fitness tracker (apart from a few of my online friends on MyFitnessPal). Nowadays it seems everyone is wearing one and there hundreds of different types and brands too choose from.

But is tracking fitness and writing down every bite, for everyone? 

Here are the pros and cons of tracking your food and fitness:

The Pros of tracking food and fitness:

1. You become more aware of what and when you're eating.

For awhile I tracked my food intake and became aware of my eating patterns. I realised I was going long periods of time in the day without food and then I would binge on everything I could find when I came home from work because I had neglected to listen to my hunger and fullness cues. I also became aware of the lack of fruit and vegetables in my diet and began to add more into my recipes when cooking at home.

2. Increased awareness of what you're eating and noting how you feel at the time can help address issues of emotional eating/comfort eating.

If you become aware that you're not hungry and are just eating because of your emotions, you can then seek support and find alternative methods for coping with and resolving emotional issues. Therapy, meditation, and self care are all far more effective for coping with difficult emotions. That said, we should never feel guilty for taking pleasure and comfort from food.

3.Tracking your foods may spark an interest in nutrition.

This caused me to continually improve my recipes, so that I reduced the added salt and sugar content and increased the amount of whole grains, seeds, nuts, fruits and vegetables I used in my cooking. These recipes have since been a huge help with managing the symptoms of my IBS.

4. Wearing a fitness tracker will either tell you that you don't move nearly as much as you thought, or that you burn far more calories going about your daily life than you imagined.

Either way, your guess work is likely to be proved wrong. This is good, because now you have a clearer picture of how active your lifestyle is and how much you need to be eating. Many people find themselves eating too little when they begin exercising on top of rushing around in a physical job, household chores and running around after kids.

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The cons of tracking food and fitness:

1. You may become utterly obsessed with tracking food and exercise.

If it gets to a stage where you're really anxious about going over on calories/points/syns whatever once in a while, or refuse to go to bed until you've beaten your step goal for the day, or you find yourself skipping meals to keep calories for the day down and cancel social plans as a means of avoiding a tricky food situation, then you're taking it too far. Likewise, if you're cancelling plans last minute so you can exercise the additional calories away, or insist on exercising even when you're ill. This is disordered eating territory.

2. You may run the risk of becoming obsessed with certain ingredients in foods...

As with anything to do with diet culture, you may be tempted to cut out entire food groups or avoid certain food groups in an attempt to lose weight, despite no formal medical advice to do so. An obsession with food ingredients and the associated anxiety is increasingly becoming recognised as ‘Orthorexia’.

3. You might reach the stage of thinking that exercise is pointless during the times your tracker isn't with you.

Whenever I hear someone make this remark, it’s a red flag for a disordered relationship with food and exercise. This very thought process stems from diet culture, which tightly wraps exercise up as little more than a tool for weight loss . Exercise has loads of benefits in terms of health and mental well-being. It’s best to do it for the joy of it. Exercise is never pointless when you’re doing it for the stress relief, alone time, or company if working out in a group environment.

So is it a good idea to track food and exercise?

When I set out to turn my health completely around back in 2011, I relied heavily on tracking my food and fitness via the app, MyFitnessPal (which I used alongside heart rate monitors and fitness trackers). For awhile it helped as it made me more aware of how much I ate and how little I moved, then it quickly became an obsession and a source of guilt.

I don’t use any of these tools anymore as I found they conflicted with the nature of Intuitive Eating and made me obsess over calories. Whether or not I ate, or what I ate depended entirely on what I saw on the app, rather than how I felt i.e. my intuition (Was I hungry?, what did I want to eat? How did this food make me feel?)

My advice is to avoid tracking your food and exercise if you can. There may be times when you have to monitor food intake, for example when struggling with IBS I had to keep a log of my stress, foods, stools and symptoms. I did this using an app called Cara, as I could log all of this without having to see calorie counts.

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