As with most nutrition questions the answer is “it depends”…..blink blink….seriously though, it depends on the individual.
I personally despise the time and effort it takes to track calories and macros. However, I have found it helpful to do in short duration to see if I’m eating enough protein and to do periodic check-ins to make sure I’m eating enough calories. If I decide to actually do a shift in number of fat or carbs or cycle then I usually have to track for a few week to a month to get in a good groove.
When Not to Track
If you are the type of person who has dieted most of their life and has unhealthy relationship with food and diets, I suggest NOT tracking. It can make people neurotic and extreme and generally unhappy. I advise not tracking for the purpose of “staying under a certain calorie level” for the purpose of restriction.
For more information on this topic, please check out the posts listed below.
- What do I Eat?
- Good Enough Is Good Enough
- Pressures and Expectations
- Body Types
- Diet the Short Version
For these folks I recommend doing a “portion size” approach. Meaning, protein the size of the palm of your hand, all the veggies you can fit in, starchy carbs the size of the front of your closed fist (more if you are super active), added fat the size of your thumb. Or on a normal size plate, ½ the plate of veggies, ¼ protein, ¼ starchy carbohydrates, and 1 tablespoon of added fat. Eat it all.
When to Track
I think that for most women it is important to track when there is a suspicion that you are not eating enough calories or enough protein. Both of these are super common among women specifically. Thanks to the pressure of societal standards many women under eat. Stop that! Eat the food!
The point of tracking isn’t to see if you were “good” or “bad”; food doesn’t have morality. It is to obtain data to see if you need to make adjustments to reach your goals. Like seeing how many M&Ms or in my case Margaritas are sneaking into your week.
I find that when I track, I put forth more effort to eat more protein and less sugar. I want to make sure that I’m eat enough calories to sustain my life and activities. To make sure I’m eating lots of veggies and not just chips, salsa, and cheese for dinner. I know you feel me! Not that there is anything wrong with that….clearly I do this with some frequency to bring it up.
It can be a good way to stay accountable to yourself and your health goals. It is also a good way to do periodic check-in to make sure, over time, you are still eating enough calories and protein.
Side Note: It goes without saying that if you are a physique, bikini or bodybuilder competitor you will track.
Tracking Isn’t a Way to Live
If you have never tracked your food, I think you should try it. Even if it isn’t in an AP with calories and macros, just write down everything you eat in a day for a month and then review it at the end of each week. You will see trends and where you can make better choices towards better health.
Tracking isn’t something that I recommend people do long-term. Again, it is time consuming and can drive you to an unhealthy extreme mindset.
Eat the food! All the food! Just eat!