Over the past few weeks, a lot of new research talks about calories and macronutrients tracking. A notion I have a love-hate relationship with even though it works wonders when done right. Yet it can be harmful when done wrong. Therefore, right off the bat as a nutritionist and trainer, I say tracking overall caloric intake as well as Marcos is situational. Depending on your personality type, tracking can be highly beneficial for achieving fitness and health goals. However, it can also lead to negative behaviours like eating disorders, and obsessiveness, therefore it’s essential to do it safely as well as understand the negatives.
What’s a calorie
Before taking about the benefits and negatives, let’s define what a calorie is in addition to its importance. A calorie is a nutrient energy measurement tool, which describes how much energy our body needs to perform everyday tasks internally and externally. These include physical activity, digestion and metabolism.
That said, for each of the three main macronutrients, the number of calories per gram varies. There are four calories per gram of carbs or proteins, nine calories per gram of fat. Tracking apps use this information to track your daily intake, or you can do the math yourself if you prefer.
However, I see a lot of articles leaving out this portion when explaining what calories are and how important restricting them (eating in a deficit) or eating in a surplus is for weight manipulation. Leaving the negatives out could be to remove stress and anxiety from beginners, but leads to many of the outcomes I am about to talk about such as feeling guilty, ignoring body cue, stress, anxiety and much more.
The most common ones are feeling guilty, anxious, stressed and becoming obsessive. Hence why I say tracking is situational because for strict people, perfectionist this may become a source of negative self-criticism. Furthermore, those with obsessive personalities or anxious tendencies tend to amplify the notion above. Phrases like; “oh I went over my daily calories,” “that ice cream was a bad idea” amongst others cause the person to eventually develop eating disorders or a give up a healthy nutrition path.
Another one is ignoring cues or falling out of sync with your body. Being in tune with your body is essential for living a healthy and happy life. It allows you to understand when you are thirsty vs hungry as well as how to nourish yourself properly. There are a lot of other benefits of being in sync, but those are for another post. Tracking calories or using an app to do it forces you to rely on the numbers rather than the body. In some cases, this dictates skipping or adding in extra meals to hit the right number. These notions add unnecessary stress and lead to many other issues.
Moreover, tracking can lead to a monotonous dietary lifestyle to abide by daily caloric and macro intake as an attempt to reduce the risk of halting progress. Even though this leads to more stress, anxiety about nutrition which leads to cravings or over/underfeeding.
All these negatives are avoidable as long as you are willing to allow variety. I do not mean variety in the diet, but also overall caloric intake. Eating a little more one day won’t cause drastic weight gain or regression, nor will under-eating cause radical loss. It’s healthy to do each of these things, which is where listening or being in tune with the body comes in. When you listen to the body, you will pick satiating foods rather than force-feeding foods that fit specific criteria. You will also learn how to block out an eating window for those who chose to do time-restricted feeding.
That said understanding how much calories to consume in a day makes manipulating your weight a simple task. There is no more ballparking or guessing how much calories. Not only does this save time, but for some allows the freedom to indulge in the foods they love. Incorporating this knowledge with the ability to listen to your body amplifies the results as well as makes life a lot better. I know this is the case with me and many others who let tracking become apart of their everyday life.
Tracking calories is also highly beneficial for people with specific health issues that require them to consume precise amounts of various nutrients.
Things to think about
Before implementing a long term food diary, I suggest trying it out for a month. During that time, do weekly check-ins with yourself to assess your mental and emotional state. If you find that you are becoming anxious, self-critical or any of the negatives above, stop as soon as possible because it’s a slippery slope. Sacrificing one form of health for another is not worth it in the long run, there are easier ways to monitor caloric intake.
The first being, only counting calories when you have a specific goal like gain or losing a few pounds. During the process, your body will naturally adapt to the surplus or lack of intake. When this occurs it’s time to be more lenient on the diary, miss a day or two then go back and add the foods in, I guarantee you’ll be within the range. Only miss days if the dairy isn’t essential for medical reasons.
Furthermore, always remember eating should be enjoyable and not a task to achieve a goal. When it becomes a task lay off the tracking for a bit until you can wrap your head around eating a variety within daily calories. I am always here to help those who struggle with this or any other issues.