Search "food tracker" in your app store and dozens (if not hundreds) of food tracking apps will be suggested. These days, it is not uncommon for people to use applications to track the foods they are eating and their calorie intake. However, is tracking foods a good idea? The answer is not black or white.
Food Trackers Can Help Increase Our Awareness
Keeping track of what we eat for a short period of time can help us gain some insight into our into habits. Maybe it helps us realize we don't consume a lot of fruit, or that we tend to eat the same things all the time. This is can then help us establish small goals to improve our eating habits. It can also be very helpful to look beyond what we are eating, and be curious about how we are eating. When clients tell me they would like to track foods, I encourage them to focus on hunger and fullness cues, eating triggers, emotional state and thoughts around food.
The Dangers Of Food Tracking
While tracking foods can have some advantages, it definitely comes with some risks. When using apps that count calories and nutrients, it is very easy to start obsessing about those numbers. Too often, these numbers start to have too much power over our emotions and decisions. Suddenly, we find ourselves guilt-ridden because we went beyond our calorie count or we decide to skip an outing with friends because we've already reached our allotted carbs intake. For people with eating disorders, food trackers with calorie counts can be especially dangerous and can trigger self-destructive habits.
Furthermore, relying on numbers to decide if we are eating in a balanced manner takes our focus away from our internal calorie counter: our hunger and fullness cues. No smartphone app or equation can better determine our specific needs than our internal eating cues. Tracking our food can make us less in tune with our body. It can also take the pleasure out of food.
"When the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers" - Ellyn Satter, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
The Bottom Line
My advice to you is this: think things through before starting to track your food. For some, it can be a very powerful tool. For others, it can be very dangerous. No matter what you decide, make sure you don't lose touch of your hunger and fullness cues.
If you would like to use a smartphone app to track your food, I recommend the following (which do not display calorie/nutrient counts):
- Rise Up + Recover by Recovery Warriors
- Recovery Record
- mySymptoms Food & Symptom Tracker (for those experiencing symptoms like nausea, stomach pain, headaches, bloating, heartburn, diarrhea, etc.)
Have you ever used an app to track your food? What was your experience like?