Should You Track Your Food?
Improving our health and fitness can take many different forms and pathways. Weight training or cycling, or yoga, or swimming, each method of movement produces loads of positive outcomes both inside and out. As we see progress in our fitness levels, one thing which will help get you to your goals faster and stay there long term is your nutrition. One way we can help to unlock this understanding is through tracking our eating each day.
Understanding what is going into your body and why it may or may not benefit your workouts is key. Weight loss comes through caloric deficit and muscle building will come through surplus. However, tracking may not be for everyone.
Here are 5 reasons why you should be logging your food, and 5 reasons tracking your meals might not be the right choice for you.
Reasons TO Track Your Food...
Imagine that someone was duplicating all the things you ate in a day and laid them out on a table before you went to bed. You could see, literally, what you consume and it would be an easy thing to point out what parts were best and what parts you could use less of.
Food logging is like that, whether you use pen and paper or an app on your smartphone, a complete food log lays it all out in front of you.
For example: Ah, my lunch choices aren’t so great. It looks like I don’t eat enough in the morning and I’m starving by 10:30. Then I eat something fast that’s not the healthiest choice. No wonder my evening workouts have been suffering lately.
Feedback on progress or lack thereof
Let’s say you have been consistently hitting the gym and working out hard. While you have increased your strength a bit, you’re just not seeing much in terms of physical differences. Logging how much food you’re eating and specifically knowing your protein intake may show that you’re just not eating enough to build more muscle.
It may be a good time to add in some extra, healthy, snacks or look into a protein powder in order to boost your calories so your body has the resources it needs to build with.
Added layer of accountability
Goal targeting is a critical piece of making changes to our health and fitness. If you have a weight lifting goal, a cycling event, or perhaps a desired weight you’d like to get to, defining and structuring your habits and lifestyle to meet that need will make it easier to achieve. With a lot of these goals, staying consistent with your movement habits requires a plan and a program.
Just sort of ‘winging it’ won’t get you to the finish line and tracking your nutrition supports that program. By aligning your food to your movement or weight loss goal, it adds an additional component of accountability to yourself. You may have hit all your workouts, but if you improved your fueling in even just a few simple ways you might speed up progress which can encourage you to push further.
On the other hand, knowing that your food intake isn’t what it could be and having it laid out for you may spark some initiative in an area you may have taken for granted before.
It creates a central habit which one can build around
Establishing a consistent practice of recording your food makes altering your movement programs that much easier. Planning on building some muscle? Knowing exactly how much protein you are currently taking in lets you know whether you need to increase or not. Having a thorough food log will show you what and where to best add in those extra sources.
Positive habit formation builds upon themselves. Rarely do we only do just one good thing for ourselves and the rest of our lifestyle is garbage. However, getting out of balance IS a thing and as we desire to improve our health and fitness one good practice leads to another, then another, and so on. Tracking your food regularly might be the first new one you establish and is a great foundational one to begin with..
Food as fueling for performance
One of the most challenging aspects of changing our eating habits is shifting a focus away from food as a reward, or something comforting, or a beast to be conquered and more towards a source of energy. In choosing to view the foods you eat as fuel for activities, we will naturally self limit our choices to those which more closely align with our goals.
While we don’t want to fall into a restrictive ‘no fun zone’ of eating, having a perspective on nutrition that equates to how it benefits us and our activities can lead us more easily to creating meals that meet our needs.
Reasons to NOT Track Your Food...
It’s too much too soon
You may recognize the need to be more on top of what you’re eating in a day however, it might not be the right time for you to start. It could be just the busyness of daily life, or a short term monkey wrench like illness or a busted car. Those things are real and do genuinely affect our routines and habits.
It’s totally ok, if, rather than focusing on food you choose to put your attention on movement, or mobility work, or meditation. Continuing to pile on new behaviors when we haven’t become comfortable with the ones prior is just setting ourselves up for a crash.
Instead – Choose just one mealtime per day to improve on, or set aside one extra hour on the weekend and make a meal to freeze and use later in the week.
The visual of your perceived poor diet sends you into a spiral
You meticulously recorded all your foods and now you have solid evidence that you are hopeless. Laying it all in front of yourself just seemed like making a trophy case for your failure as a human. So, why bother?
If you think this might be your reaction then don’t track food.
Instead – set yourself up to be more successful in those tough moments. Pre-purchase healthier snack foods, choose 1 vegetable per week that you’ve never tried before. Drink homebrew coffee instead of the drive through mega-latte.
Potentially feeds into unhealthy eating behaviors
If you’re a person who’s struggled with obsessive eating behaviors, tracking might not be the best practice. It could be a good discussion with your health care team and whether that’s a good option or not.
Since tracking provides a lot of data and numbers, some people may become hyper focused on those to the detriment of other health factors.
Instead – Focus your energy on meal planning and prep work. Organize a shopping list and inventory what you already have. Save money by wasting less food!
There may be additional concerns which need your attention first
Much like piling on too much too soon, there may just be other areas of your health and fitness that need your focus. While all areas of our physical and mental lives will benefit by having improved eating habits, you may choose a different path for now.
Rehabbing an injury may fall into this sphere. Focus your energy where it’s best needed, and if that’s by doing the list of exercises prescribed by your physio, then do that.
Instead – Start to identify and recognize the daily dips and spikes in energy throughout the day. Do you crash at lunch? Are you vacuuming in all the food at night? Try to pinpoint what works best before and after a workout. Is it more food? Less food? Different food?
Your weight, nutrition status aren’t at issue right now eg; your diet is on point
Not everyone needs to gain or lose weight at the moment. While tracking can help keep a person where they want to be, it isn’t the end all be all. You might have just developed strong and consistent eating habits that work for you and your lifestyle. Don’t fix what ain’t broke!
Instead – It might be a great time for you to examine performance. Fueling properly and efficiently can boost your energy intra-workout which will elevate your total effort levels. This means big gains can be had by tweaking your pre and post workout meals. Take a look at your routines and also your long term goals. How might nutrition be hindering or helping you get there?
Tracking consistently what foods you are eating and when is a fantastic way to understand your patterns, behaviors, pitfalls, and successes. Ultimately, though, it’s only a tool. Like any tool, it can be used to build something up or break something down, in this case, ourselves. Just be sure it’s doing more of the former rather than the latter.
Need some more fitness motivation?!? Make sure to check out these blogs:
– Why Weight Training is a Must For Weight Loss
– Meal Planning Tips for Success
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