Why do I tell people not to track? For many people tracking calories/ macros/ food is NOT healthy behaviour (scroll down for my list of questions you need to ask yourself). I have many reasons for this (in fact I included a hefty section on it in my book). But here are my TOP 3 reasons I think you should put down the nutrition tracker.
My top reasons:
- Tracking tends to encourage the view that food is fuel. Which it is. But it’s also WAY MORE. Food is part of the fabric of our culture. We need to be able to treat on occasion. Often what tracking leads to is tremendous guilt/ shame around foods that aren’t “on plan” – this is not healthy.
- Tracking can stop people from listening to their body. Either ignoring hungry because they’re “out of calories” or eating more because “they still have calories.” Neither is favourable to good health or a good relationship with food.
- Tracking has us focus on quantity NOT quality. If you eat all your calories from cookies – you may be “on track” on calories but in huge nutrient deficit. This isn’t good. In one (of the many) large studies consulted for Canada’s latest food guide researchers looked at the long term health of 100,000 men and women. What they found was that people who consumed a greater proportion of vegetables, nuts, fruits and whole grains were more likely to maintain a healthy weight (and health) than their counterparts who consumed a higher proportion of more highly processed, sugary and high fat foods. The ringer? These people weren’t told to manage their portions – just to focus on QUALITY of food choices. A calorie isn’t a calorie. It’s about nutrients.
Is tracking (really) working for you?
If you track, notice how tracking shifts your behaviour. Ask yourself these questions to shine a light on whether this tool is helping or hindering you:
- What are you telling yourself when you’re “off plan” – are you kind? Or does your inner critic turn the volume up?
- How do you feel if you don’t track? Does it make you uncomfortable?
- Do you feel confident in your capability to feed yourself without tracking it all?
- Do you listen to hunger cues? Or do you ignore them if the tracker says no more food?
- How does tracking make you feel?
If you’re not happy with any of the above questions, I encourage you to put the tracker down. At least short term to reconnect to your body and your internal cues. Consider a practice of Mindful Eating and work on healing your relationship with food.
What the heck is “Mindful Eating?”
Let me paint a picture.
Be honest. Have you ever sat down to watch a movie with a bowl of popcorn and before you know it your hand hits the bottom of the bowl? Yeah. Me too.
Have you ever noticed how much you don’t notice eating?
It’s easy to get onto “autopilot” when you’re eating and multi-task away the meal or snack.
The challenge with this? When you don’t notice what or how much you’re eating, it’s next to impossible to listen to your internal cues of fullness and satiety. Read: it’s super easy to over-eat! Or over-indulge on foods that while delicious may not be nutrient rich. This leads to an imbalanced plate and very possibly an unhealthy relationship with food.
What’s the solution?
It would be easy to say “just pay attention.” In fact, when the new Canada’s Food Guide was released one of the main recommendations was to “be mindful of your eating habits.” They clarified this to include “take time to eat,” and “notice when you are hungry and when you are full.” Which is awesome (I literally did a happy dance when I saw this was included)!
But is it really that simple?
In my experience I would say yes…and no.
We live in a society that is perpetually multitasking and busy. Which means we rarely (if ever) just sit and eat. We eat while we scroll facebook, read a magazine, work, drive…
I would suggest there are multiple layers to why we shouldn’t do all this multitasking (ugh, there’s that shitty should again), but #reallife
Over the years I’ve come up with my own Real Life Practice of Eating Mindfully and I wanted to share the coles notes with you.
What does it mean to “eat mindfully?”
My personal definition as settled into this: eating mindfully is a practice of presence around food – not just in the choices I’m making, but why I’m making them, and how they are making me feel – both physically and emotionally!
How can I practice Mindful Eating?
STEP 1: Check in with your body – are you hungry?
YES! Cool – answer these two questions:
How hungry are you? Consider rating your hunger on a scale of 0-10. 0= so starved you’re weak or dizzy – you’re completely empty, 10= filled to the point of feeling sick.
NO. No worries, this happens to everyone. Consider this question: what am I hungry for?
What other needs am I trying to meet? How are you feeling mentally? Spiritually? How else might I meet those needs? This can be really helpful to think about in advance.
STEP 2: Choose Intentionally
- Thoughtfully choose your foods
- What do you need to satisfy your physiologic needs?
- What do you feel like eating that meets those needs?
- Remember this: NO judgement. Sometimes you’re going to nourish for your soul’s sake. That’s ok – in fact that’s part of a healthy relationship with food!
STEP 3: Eat mindfully
- Notice: enjoy the textures and flavours of your food. Experience the food with all your senses!
- Eat with others: eating with others can help you slow down and enjoy the process more!
- Slow down! Did you know it takes your brain about 20 minutes to register fullness? If you eat too quickly you’re far more likely to overeat! Try putting your fork down between bites to help this.
- Savour: from start to finish savour the experience of eating.
- Stop when you’re full! Remind yourself you can have more later if you want more! This is especially important with “treat” foods that feel indulgent. Black and white diet mentality may have you trapped in the idea that this is your “last chance” with this food – but now that you’re not stuck in diet-mode you know differently! Yay!
- Limit distractions: no screens, tablets or books – just eat. I know this isn’t always possible, but do your best to limit distractions especially in the first few bites and as you near fullness so you can pay attention to your internal cues!
The process of mindful eating is a powerful one. Start with ONE snack or meal, as you develop a skill set around this expand to more meals and snacks!