Calorie and Points tracking apps; Friend or Foe?
There are many fitness apps on the market now that will help you to keep track of your fitness goals. They track your calorie (or point) consumption and macros for the day and then let you take a look at what you ate and how many calories you have left to eat for the day. Help you keep track of weight changes over a period of time.
But are they helping your or hurting you to help achieve your goals?
Writing everything down: I have had many clients tell me, I can’t lose weight, I am eating “healthy” doing all the thing you tell me but the scale won’t budge. I usually ask them to write down what they have been eating so we can take a look at it together and see the exact amounts and what types of foods they are eating. I usually recommend an app like My Fitness Pal to help record this just because its easy since it’s on your phone and it does all the calculations for you.
What usually ends up happening is that the person realizes that they have been making some food choices that they have not realized that is hindering their fat loss efforts. By writing it down and seeing exactly what the calories and macros are to each food they are able to become aware of exactly what they have been eating.
Writing down exactly what you eat all day can also be a good exercise in mindless eating habits. A lot of times we eat things without even realize we are eating them. We grab just a few french fries off of a friend’s plate, we eat the foods our children didn’t finish, we have some cake to celebrate a co workers birthday. These things start to add up and we don't realize it because it is either out of habit or just mindlessly grabbing whatever we see in front of us.
Using these apps can really help to keep track of exactly what we are eating and seeing how it correlates to your weight goals.
Apps like My Fitness Pal is also great if you are looking to adjust your macros to fit your needs. You are able to adjust the amount of carbs, fats, and proteins right in the app and it will help track it for you.
Our metabolism isn’t always as easy as calories in vs. calories out, there are many other factors that affect the way our metabolism burns fat in our body. Yes, it is important to be aware of how many calories we are eating a day but it also important to take into consideration factors that affect our metabolism that do not have calories such as stress and sleep. In basic apps that just count calories there is no adjustment for things like stress, sleep deprivation, adrenal and thyroid issues. So using an app just to count calories may lead a person who struggles with these issues to feel frustrated that their goals aren’t being attained by just simply counting calories.
No way to teach balance of calories throughout the day
These apps also don't take into consideration the balance of food throughout your day. You can skip breakfast and lunch to “save” calories and then eat a huge dinner, have dessert and then snack on chips all night while watching TV and still say within your caloric goals for the day. That is not really the way it supposed to work.
Saving up your calories for a weekend binge every weekend or every night is not going help you lose weight, if that is your goal. These apps can not teach how you should be balancing your calories throughout the day with healthy foods.
I have seen clients shy away from healthy foods like salmon because they have “too many points” but choose to eat a bag of chips because they are less points so that they can eat more during that day. That’s not the way it should work!!
When eating healthy and for fat loss it is important to chose foods that will help you to burn fat and lose weight, some of these foods may be more calorie dense like oatmeal and salmon and not 100 calorie snack packs of processed junk food. If you are able to understand this concept then these tools can be good for you but if you do not understand that you need to eat proper foods throughout the day I would recommend that you focus on learning that first before worrying about counting every calorie.
Calorie counting can also become obsessive and controlling. You start to feel like you are a slave to counting every calorie that goes in your mouth and figuring out if you eat this one food can you still have room to eat that something else you want later. Like stated above calorie counting can be a good tool to figure out what foods are holding you back from losing weight but the problem becomes when you start to feel controlled by counting of calories.
When we count every calories that goes into our mouth and only eat because of calorie content we lose our ability to really listen to what our body needs and wants. We start to give away our power to outside sources like these apps.
If you are a recovering calorie counter I would suggest that you steer away from these apps and start to get in touch with your body and the foods you feed it. Instead of writing down the calories of the food you eat write down the way the food made you feel. Did you feel tired after, bloated, experience brain fog? Did eating a large meal and snacking after dinner every night result in your pants and dresses feeling tighter?
Start to adjust your diet around these observations and you will be able to move away form being a slave to counting calories and relying on these apps.
As with anything if these apps work for you then great, use them, but i they are working against you it is time to find a new way! Experiment and see what your body likes best!