Originally written for www.leanfit.com
Client question: What is the best way to track my nutrition?
Tracking nutrition is a great tool for those looking to gain a better understanding of what their daily food intake is. It helps build awareness of nutrition and often shines light on areas of our diet where we may be falling short. Although it isn’t for everyone, and certainly not a strategy that needs to be used daily, all year long, it is a tool that people can utilize to get their nutrition on track and learn how their eating style may be affecting their body composition and goals.
In today’s era of technology, tracking is easier than ever. Numerous aps and online programs have been developed that allow people to simply track their daily food intake. By far, the most popular of these aps is My Fitness Pal. MFP offers a variety of features, including goal setting, macro, calorie and exercise tracking, progress reports, and sharing your journey with friends.
MFP is an awesome tool, particularly for those who are working towards a specific goal. Remember: the more specific your health and/or fitness goal, the more dedicated you must be to your diet. MFP allows you to track each meal and lets you know when you have hit your calorie and macronutrient goals.
As much as I love this tool, there are certainly downfalls to be aware of. First, anyone can add foods to the MFP database, and it’s not always clear whether the nutritional information on these items is correct. The best way to combat this problem is to use the barcode scanning feature (available through the app, but not the online interface) if the food is packaged, or look for similar foods with the green checkmark beside them. This means the content has been verified. Another tip to remember when tracking your food is that “eyeballing it” isn’t always the most reliable method. Serving sizes may be misjudged, and that can be enough to throw you into a calorie surplus when you’re trying to eat in a deficit (or vise versa). Unless you are loosely tracking to ensure you remain relatively on point with your diet, I do recommend weighing and measuring your food when possible. Again, this is for those individuals who are striving to reach a specific goal within a given time frame. Otherwise, a more relaxed approach to tracking is acceptable and recommended.
Another factor to be aware of is that, by no means, is tracking a perfect science. Not only can there be error in the data, but everyone processes calories and nutrients differently. So it’s very difficult to know how your body will absorb and utilize the amount of calories documented for a specific food.
If you are working with a professional, nutrition tracking may be as simple as keeping a food journal. Your coach or nutritionist can then view your log and provide suggestions moving forward.
In conclusion, I think food tracking is an excellent tool to have in your nutritional toolbox. It can help build food awareness and support you in reaching your goals. That being said, it can be time consuming and inaccurate. So take it with a grain of salt and only use it if it makes sense to do so. Tracking is not a strategy that needs to be employed 24/7, so take advantage of it when it can be most useful to you. If you find yourself obsessing over the numbers, it may be time to opt for a less all-consuming nutrition approach.