Tracking your health progress can go a few different ways. Sometimes the smart move is to stash the scale in a box far up in your attic where you’re unlikely to dig it out without a struggle. Other times, the sensible decision is to occasionally track a couple of metrics just to check in and see where you’re at in terms of reaching your goals or even just to satisfy a curiosity. And then there are other times when it may make the most sense to track as many metrics as you can on your health journey.
How do you know which route is right for you?
Below we break down the reasons why you might consider tracking or not as well as how tracking may be a stepping stone to get you closer to intuitive eating.
PROS of Tracking Your Progress
01: Creates Awareness
To me, this is the biggest reason why you might consider tracking. It’s very possible that you’re not eating as well or the way you think you are. For example, when you look over your previous week, you may notice how often you actually drink your calories and forgo real nutrients. Or that you aren’t eating nearly as many veggies as you thought you were. You may even find that you’re eating far more than you realized. There's even a large group of people who find that they’ve actually been drastically undereating and in turn have slowed their metabolism. We can't make a change without building awareness.
02: Helps You See Progress You Otherwise Wouldn’t
I find that many people often perceive themselves to look differently than they actually do. Have you ever looked at an old photo of yourself and thought, “wow, I looked great then! I only wish I knew that at the time,” then you know what I’m talking about. We’re our own worst critics so we may not see changes in the mirror right away even if they’re there. So by tracking, you can see that you are, in fact, seeing progress. Perhaps it looks like a smaller waist measurement or viewing at a before photo compared to a current one. And if you're tracking via a food journal, you may realize you've been sick far less than you use to or are maybe even experiencing less hair loss.
03: Helps You Stay Focused
When you take time to log the food you’ve eaten. Or better yet, log the food you plan to eat the next day, you’re more likely to follow through. There’s something about seeing it all laid out that can be a friendly reminder that you’re doing this for a reason. And that can help you make better decisions along the way.
04: Prevents Potential Weight Gain when Reverse Dieting
If you’re in the position of needing to eat more in order to reach your health goals, tracking can help prevent you from overdoing it and gaining unwanted weight. By tracking, you can ensure you’re slowly increasing and know exactly when it’s time to stop increasing and start maintaining your new caloric targets.
05: You're More Likely to Eat Better
We've noticed that when our clients track, they generally make healthier choices overall. This study noted that over the course of eight weeks, the group who tracked their food ended up eating two more servings of vegetables per day than the group who didn’t track their food. That's a big difference! So if you're trying to make it a habit to get more vegetables in your day, then it may be helpful for you to track.
CONS of Tracking Your Progress
01: It’s a Lot of Work (Seemingly)
It’s a lot of work to track accurately and consistently… or at least, that’s how I felt about it when I first started. It can be a pain in the butt to have to log your food every day or even write in a journal how you feel about what you ate or the progress you’re feeling. This is one of the main reasons why you’ll never hear me recommend weighing or measuring your food. While this may work for some, I personally find it requires too much effort and isn’t sustainable for the majority of people. Tracking calories and macros in an app; however, gets MUCH easier the more you do it. After a week or two, it actually becomes relatively easy as most people tend to eat the same things and you can automatically select those items or meals.
02: Accuracy is Challenging
It can be really tempting to just enter a ballpark caloric figure for a meal or select something that seems comparable. If this happens more often than not; however, tracking can backfire on you. Additionally, a large percentage of people have a tendency to underreport foods they deem as "bad". Entering incorrect values can lead you to believe that you’re eating more or less protein, for example, than you actually did, leading you off track. And also, calories aren’t a perfect science to begin with. So if you’re not tracking as accurately as possible, it may not be the best decision for you.
03: It Can be Obsessive
If it ever becomes obsessive, I implore you to abandon tracking and ditch the scale altogether. I've worked with a handful of clients and given them this recommendation for this reason. Obsessing over tiny numbers like weight or body measurements shouldn’t be the best measure to track anyway. Using measures like how you feel are far more important.
But what about intuitive eating?
The end goal for tracking is to find that happy place where intuitive eating can be your guide going forward instead of MyFitnessPal, scales, or other tracking tools. We recommend the hand method as an excellent on-ramp to transition away from tracking and closer to intuitive eating. We walk you through both methods in our Pretty Healthy Metabolism™ course so you can choose the best method for yourself and your goals.