My good friend, and fellow mentally juvenile Strength Coach Patrick Umphrey honored me by writing up a killer guest blog for my site today.
Patrick is an incredibly talented coach who has managed to really help transform many people's physiques and more importantly their lives through his combination of experience, empathy, and grounded scientific knowledge.
Dude is an All-Star and I'm so pumped he chose to contribute to my site.
Also, he likes to make the occasional poop joke..... Ok, maybe more than occasional, but who doesn't like a good poop joke.
There seems to be a popular opinion that tracking calories is the ultimate method for battling obesity.
We know that calories in/calories out is true, so if all we need to do is to eat fewer calories than we burn, we MUST keep track of every calorie in order for that to occur, right?!
Well, not necessarily.
I have an opinion about the pros and cons of tracking and who might be a good candidate for it, and who might not. I will also share my personal opinion and my experiences with tracking and not tracking.
Right now, I can’t stand tracking calories. It has nothing to do with “how dedicated I am”, it has to do with me recognizing that it’s a really bad idea for me for how it negatively effects my thoughts about food and my choices about food, and I’m HAPPIER IN MY LIFE when I don’t track. And being A HAPPY PERSON ranks higher on my list than any minor benefit (slightly faster progress) I may get from it.
Some things to consider that may be relevant:
· I do not compete in any physique sports.
· I compete recreationally (read: I kinda suck at it, lmao) in powerlifting and I’m able to make desired weight classes without logging.
· I’m able to lose and gain weight at reasonable rates without logging, although during weight gain phases I would conceded that logging would be of slight benefit – I do tend to gain just a bit fast when I do it using non logging methods.
· I do make certain to consume enough protein even though I don’t track it. I will mentally track it and get within a reasonable range.
· However, I do not mentally tally calories or any other macronutrients. I rely on habits.
So lets take a look at WHY someone would track their intake.
· Tracking calories will generally give you a reasonable estimate on your calorie intake. Many people eat more than they think [1,2] and this is definitely an ESTIMATE , but it’s still going to provide you with a reasonable general idea of your energy intake.
· Tracking calories can build awareness of your energy NEEDS by showing you what your body-weight does at various calorie intake amounts.
· Tracking calories can build awareness of your food intake habits.
· Tracking calories can build awareness of your portion sizes on a per meal basis.
· Tracking calories can allow you a method of making rather small changes to your energy intake to try and produce a desired result.
Now lets take a look at why someone would NOT track their intake. (Aside from people who generally DGAF, LOL)
· People who tend to get obsessed or fixated with numbers.
· People who hate tracking but have other methods of accomplishing the desired outcome.
· MY PERSONAL OPINION: People with an ED (Eating disorders, not erectile dysfunction) probably shouldn’t track. However, if this is you, please speak with a professional who specializes in eating disorders on this topic.
· People who do not have convenient access to technology or just don’t use it (they won’t be reading this but trust me, they exist).
· People who aren’t ready to commit to logging. Perhaps they view this as a huge inconvenience that they aren’t ready to take on yet.
I have a client named Greg. He didn’t like the idea of logging when we started out, and that’s totally fine.
Had I forced Greg to log because “everyone has to log” according to some people on the internet, I suspect Greg wouldn’t have adhered. His progress so far has been EXCELLENT with a simple habit based approach where we discuss food and activity habits and set single, habit based objectives.
Greg has gone from 297 to 271 in about 9-10 weeks.
Once Greg has been able to stick to a given habit for a reasonable amount of time, and provided he feels good and feels READY to take on another habit, we add one to the list.
NOW, would I take this approach with someone who wants to get from 15% body-fat to 8% body-fat? Probably not, at least not near the end-stages of the diet where most likely, calorie and macronutrient accuracy becomes of higher relative importance.
I present this as one real world example of a good candidate for “not logging”.
How about people who probably SHOULD track intake?
· People who are looking for the benefits of tightly controlled food intake who are also not opposed to it. If they’re neutral on the idea, I’d say go for it. It’s a damn good method.
· People who have goals such that those goals are dependent on rather precise measurements of calories and macronutrients. (Physique athletes, weight class restricted athletes).
· People who need to build some of the awareness factors described in the previous list and who are also willing to log without much opposition to it.
· People who enjoy looking at data and utilizing it. Clients who are engineers (just one example) tend to fit this category but that doesn’t necessarily exclude them from the previous list.
I will say this – I tend to have MOST people track intake for at least some period of time. I also tend to have MOST of those people continue to track intake as long as they are not opposed to doing so.
For people who can stick to it, it’s a great method. Once someone reaches their goal weight, if they want to experiment with maintenance in a non-tracking system, we try it. And if they enjoy tracking (these people do exist!) then of course we just leave it in place.
Finally, I should note that tracking and habit building are not mutually exclusive. In fact, one mistake I think many people make is to ignore habit development because they are tracking. The thought process that seems to take place is something like this: “I’m logging my food therefore I just stop eating when I reach this set of numbers”.
Taking a multi-faceted approach to diet tends to produce better results. And the truth is MOST people aren’t going to be tracking food forever. Sorry Ethel, but when you’re 93 years old sitting in your rocking chair while your dentures soak, you’re probably not going to slap that Jell-O on a food scale and log it into MyFitnessPal Ver 3.0B+
And so working on some habit development while you are tracking will likely be one of the things that ALLOWS you to prevent weight regain when you do decide to stop logging.
In the fitness community, the IIFYM trend has become synonymous with flexible dieting. In order for a diet to truly be flexible, my belief is that the diet should get the individual to his or her goal, AND it should do so in a manner that is least restrictive.
Your diet is not only the sum of the foods you eat, but it’s also the methods and ideologies you apply to that diet. Those things matter a great deal.
Tracking is a tool. It can build awareness, it can provide people with a reasonable method of estimating AND MANIPULATING energy intake to produce a result.
It is NOT the only method, it is NOT a great fit for EVERYONE, and contrary to popular belief there are people who can reach their goals without it.
Patrick is an online coach and personal trainer. He specializes in trolling people on facebook. Oh and he also coaches people to make them a bit more awesome. You can find him here