If you have tried to change your body composition, chances are you may have tracked calories before. There are a host of tracking apps now where many individuals will track their calories or macronutrients (fat, protein and carbohydrate) in order to achieve a specific goal they have set. There are both pros and cons when it comes to calorie tracking and it certainly isn’t suitable for everyone.
- Increase food knowledge: calorie tracking, at least initially, can be helpful as a way to increase food knowledge. Calorie tracking, when done correctly, can empower individuals to be able to make better informed food choices due to learning about the different nutritional make-up of foods. This could be useful to do for a week or two, until food knowledge is sufficient, and then may no longer be required.
- May help with accountability: calorie tracking can be a useful tool to assist with accountability. When tracking intake we’re more conscious of the types and amounts of foods we are consuming, so may make better choices incidentally.
- Guide as to whether you’re eating enough: some individuals may be unconsciously under fuelling, or have the goal of weight/muscle gain. In these situations, calorie tracking along with monitoring body composition can be a useful tool to ensure energy intake is adequate.
- Can lead to disordered eating: Calorie tracking can result in disordered eating for some individuals. It can quickly become an obsession for some, particularly those with perfectionistic personality traits. Calorie tracking is not appropriate for individuals with an eating disorder/disordered eating or a history of disordered eating.
- Poor accuracy: most calorie tracking apps allow for anyone to create an entry. So for example, if you go to enter in a chocolate brownie or even just chicken breast – there will be various options to choose from that vary considerably in calories. Without a good baseline food knowledge, it can be very easy to miscalculate your intake on calorie tracking apps.
- Time consuming: entering in everything you eat and drink into an app can be very time consuming and burdensome. It may be fine for the first day or two, but the novelty can quickly wear off. It is particularly time consuming to enter in mixed dishes (such as a curry or stir fry) as it requires entering in each ingredient and dividing it by serving size.
At the end of the day, calorie tracking apps can be a useful tool for some individuals when used correctly and ideally with professional guidance to assist with building food knowledge. They are generally best used as an initial tool to assist with gaining a better understanding of the nutritional profile of foods. Calorie tracking apps also come with various cons such as risk of disordered eating and poor accuracy.
If you have concerns about your own eating behaviours or those of someone you care for, then it’s very important to reach out for help – the earlier the intervention, the greater chance of success. As the first point of call, see your GP to discuss your concerns with your relationship with food and possible disordered eating behaviours. You can also contact the Butterfly Foundation on 1800 334 673.
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