Tracking our macros: a necessary fitness tool which risks becoming obsessive

Today’s topic is tracking. Tracking our macros (carbs, fats, protein) and calories, most likely using the famous ‘My Fitness Pal’.

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My general thought is that tracking is important as it gives you a solid idea of how much you are consuming, which is crucial for anyone but particularly for those doing intense exercise. The issue is that it can become quite addictive and hard to stop…

Why can tracking be important?

Personal Example

I am the prime example of some who has benefited from tracking my food. As you will recall from a previous blog post, I was under-eating by about 1,000kcal per day.

How did I know this? From a fitness MOT, which showed my basal metabolic rate was 2,547kcal per day, and from tracking my food which showed I was eating between 1,500-1,750kcal per day.

This was a huge turning point as it explained my excessive tiredness amongst others. I was simply not eating enough to fuel my body when sitting around doing nothing, never mind in addition to the intense exercise I was doing.

Since this MoT, I have made a conscious effort to increase my daily calorie intake and with success. All of this is only possible thanks to tracking my food.

Achieving goals

Tracking is also crucial to attain a specific goal.

ball fun game goal
Tracking is crucial in achieving fitness goals – 90% of the work is done in the kitchen.

If you are looking to lose fat, you need to know your fat to carb/protein ratio, as well as your calorie intake. Similarly, if you are looking to gain muscle, you need to know your current carb and protein intake. Without knowing where you are currently at, you can’t know the correct route to take to reach your end destination.

I feel this is especially true for those new to exercise. Like anything in life, knowledge is (mostly) power. The more informed you are, the better you can utilise this knowledge to achieve your goals. People often wonder why they are not seeing the results they want aesthetically and physically. I ask what their macros are to reach this goal and they say they don’t know. I say they are silly as they are trying to achieve something blind-sighted.

The same also applies to new diets. For instance, my brother has just started doing a keto diet (very high fat and no carbs). He must absolutely track his macros to ensure he is getting enough fat into his body as his body is running off fats, not carbs. When your body runs off fats, this is called ketosis. If he was just guessing, he would not necessarily be in a state of ketosis, therefore defeating the point of the diet.

General Lifestyle

I actually do believe everyone should track their food once in a while to have an idea of what they are consuming. It is very easy to be eating more than we think, and equally very easy to be eating less than we need.

Foods have hidden calories. It is only when we start looking at the nutritional information in our food and tracking it, that we become aware of what we are putting into our bodies. Is this not something we should all be aware of anyway?

And why can it be negative?

Numbers
Constantly tracking food can lead you to see food in numbers and not its nutritional value.

I have recently discovered that tracking is addictive and I would go as far as to say it has become an obsession.

I recently tried to stop tracking my food as I eat pretty much the same thing daily so knew my macros well. I only lasted a few days and felt completely out of control of my life! So I have started tracking again…

Knowing what is in foods means you start to no longer see a food as a food, but as a bunch of numbers and nutritional info. Because of this, you are less likely to go for certain foods. Whilst this is positive if you are refusing to eat a muffin every day, it is less positive if you look at an apple and think, ‘actually, I shouldn’t have this, too much sugar so too much carbs’.

3 reasons why tracking can have downsides

I am guilty of this and it is not good, for three core reasons:

Fit and Fearless 5 Live Podcast
Highly recommend this podcast.

Firstly, we need to eat a range of foods. I was listening to a podcast by Fit & Fearless on Radio 5 Live, which if I remember correctly, stated that we should  be eating 30 different foods per week in order to benefit from all nutrients. If we therefore restrict ourselves to certain food groups, our bodies will be deficient in certain nutrients.

Secondly, viewing food as numbers can be the start of an eating disorder. As I also learnt from this same podcast, this does not mean anorexia or bulimia, but simply a negative view of food, the severity of which can vary.

Thirdly, knowing our macros means we feel guilty when we ‘cheat’ i.e. we eat something that we consider unhealthy. Normally this would be a pizza, burger, a piece of cake etc for which macros are (mostly) not available if we are eating out. We feel guilty as we know we have not hit our macros and not having the nutritional information is an extra annoyance.

Having said that, I will happily eat out (keeping it clean) and not worry about macros. Equally, if I do really fancy a cheat meal I will do it and not over-think it.

So there you have it, like anything tracking needs to be done in moderation. It has given me a great insight into the nutritional information of foods I feed my body and it has permitted me to make changes to my diet to ensure my body is sufficiently fueled.

Do I see myself tracking my foods forever? Probably not, but for the foreseeable future, probably yes.

Z x