The Healthy Way To Use Fitness & Food Trackers
In some ways, authentic wellness is a paradox—health advice often seems contradictory, and the wealth of products, programs, and information (or sometimes misinformation!) can be overwhelming.
Get enough sleep— but not too much!
Excess stress is toxic—but the right amount gives you energy!
Up your protein—but too much protein is bad for you!
In my opinion, it’s all about finding the middle ground, incorporating solid self-discipline, realistic self-acceptance, and a healthy dose of common sense. Sometimes, however, that happy balance is hard to find!
This is especially true when it comes to exercise and food tracking, including the use of apps like Fitbit or My Fitness Pal. A total lack of awareness can create denial and an unhealthy lifestyle (one study showed that many people, without detailed and meticulous tracking, overestimate exercise and underestimate food intake). However, an excessive focus on tracking can also torpedo your fitness goals if it becomes obsessive and self-defeating.
As a personal trainer with a holistic wellness perspective, I do recommend periods of food and exercise tracking for my clients, with some specific goals and caveats:
Only track in short bursts.
In my opinion, it does not take more than three to seven days to get a solid handle on your eating and exercise habits. If you are tracking for extremely extended periods of time, you may be crossing over into unhealthy perfectionism. The real question is, what are you doing with the information? Here’s what you should do:
Make a realistic routine and plan based on the information you learned from your tracking.
The goal of tracking is to create a nourishing eating plan and a realistic exercise routine. When I work with clients, the program starts with seven days of tracking followed by goal-setting. Don’t get enough protein? Let’s fix that. Can’t squeeze in those afternoon workouts? Let’s try moving them to the morning. Tracking should create solutions, not guilt.
Use the tracking to find and solve your weak spots, not to create total perfection.
Many of my clients struggle with three areas: knowing what to do for breakfast, overeating when they get home from work, and succumbing to junk food in the house at night. Some clients even find out that they do not exercise at all. These key moments can add literally thousands of calories to daily energy balance. Addressing these weak spots is far more important than ferreting out the exact number of grams of sugar in your salad dressing or going from 9,761 steps to 10,000.
Consider involving a professional instead of “competing” with friends.
A licensed and educated professional will help you to be realistic about your goals, provide accountability, and (hopefully) have boundaries. Losing weight with friends can be a complicated endeavor—friends may have deeply buried mixed feelings about you changing and also may be too close to give you much-needed reality checks.
Make sure that you are using the tool of tracking, and that it isn’t using you!
Once you have tracked for a certain amount of time, such as a week, can you honestly claim that you don’t know how many steps you take on an average day or how you could plan your meals for success? Remember that tracking devices and apps are tools, not the solutions. It is your job to create the solution, and an app won’t do it for you.