Food Tracking: The Good, The Bad, and the Insane

Tracking what you eat: is it the secret key to achieving a healthy body weight, optimal nutrition, and superhuman goal-crushing awesomeness? Or it a one-way ticket to crazytown?

For me, I think it's possible that both are true.

And yep, for those of you who have followed the blog for a while, this may sound familiar. I generally prefer an "intuitive" eating style but every now and then I go on a food and exercise tracking rampage.   Remember my tedious Tips for Counting Calories and my advice about keeping a food or exercise journal or my brief love affair with Jilllian Michaels...er, I mean the BodyMedia Fit armband?

I actually suffer from a psychological malady, though oddly enough not one recognized by the textbooks: intermittent Fitness Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

Is anyone else severely FOC'D too? 


Crabby's Sad Case History

I eat a 90% healthy diet, but I do love my treats.  And I suck at portion control.  Being "too full for another bite" is a foreign concept to me.


More, Please.

I generally cope with my greediness by trying to choose the sorts of high-volume, relatively low calorie foods that allow me to eat gigantic portions all day long. Veggie/egg white scrambles, huge salads, healthy smoothies, grilled veggies, lots of salmon and chicken and grass-fed meat and whey powder and other protein sources, whole grains and legumes, and a parade of weird looking stirfries and casseroles and soups.

I try to only use "good fats," and do my best to avoid sugar and refined carbs.  Instead I use stevia in ridiculously excessive amounts and will probably die of some weird side effect even lab rats haven't experienced yet, because they don't consume as much as I do. Maybe my hair will start growing inside out, thus strangling my brain and rendering me bald, but that would be preferable to going without sweet things.

 Too Much Stevia on Remulak?

And I also try to compensate for occasional WTF splurges with extra exercise. Mostly, this whole weird system works! And yes, I am kinda nuts.

However, there seems to be a predictable cycle:

1. First comes a creeping increase in portion sizes and treats.  I have no self control at parties or free sample tables or when traveling where healthy options aren't available.  Too many of these splurges in a row will reset my Entitlement Meter, and then even  my regular routine starts to involve a lot more dark chcocolate, trail mix, and other healthier  but still high calorie versions of junk food.

2. I gain weight.

3. Evidence of weight gain is first met with denial and the blaming of the laundering process for shrinking my pants.

4. The denial stage is then followed by half hearted pledges of reform, then some temporary progress, then a whole lot of backsliding, then further, more earnest pledges, followed by failure to actually change much of anything.

5. Often the cycle culminates in an extended self-indulgent blowout. Holidays are awesome for providing these opportunities.

6. But then finally, DING DING DING some mysterious subconscious bell rings, chiming out: Enough, Crabby! Time to DO SOMETHING! (This time, I believe the discovery that I'd gained 10 lbs since I'd last stepped on a scale had something to do with it.)

7. When I finally hear that "enough" bell, I know there's only one sure fire way for me to retrain my brain to be happy with healthier choices and portions. I have to suck it up and track things.

Ordinarily the thought of tracking every bite feels like such a soul-crushing impingement of my personal liberties that I can't even read about other people doing it with out feeling slighty icky.  But when I am ready, I am All Over It.

Food Diaries or Other Forms of Tracking are Not for Everyone.

They can be especially problematic for folks with eating disorder histories, perfectionism issues, body image issues, or rebellion issues.

Also, people who have enough common sense to just eat healthy food in sensible portions and accept whatever healthy weight they end up at have no need of such things.

Food Tracking Can Be Weirdly Helpful.

However, if you can contemplate the notion of tracking without feeling all depressed and barfy, research suggests that keeping food journals or otherwise tracking your food helps with weight loss.

It sure works for me!  Well, if turning one into a total obsessive-compulsive nutbasket can be considered "working." When the time is right and I start to track... suddenly I become insanely motivated to eat properly again and I get totally get into it.  It may be many months later, but I eventually meet my goals and figure out a maintenance plan (alas, not a permanent one) and say Sayonara until the next time.

Right now, I am completely FOC'D and am smack in the middle of the Most Insane Initial Phase.  This is when I'm bursting with enthusiasm and so relieved to be back in control of what I consume that I spend nearly every waking moment thinking about food and how to eat the optimal amounts of the right kinds of it.  Fortunately, the Lobster is also tracking, though not quite as obsessively.

Because virtually every waking hour I am plotting, scheming, counting, weighing, measuring, logging, searching for new recipes, trolling the grocery store aisles for more acceptable treats, and blathering on to anyone who will listen about how great it feels to be back on a Thing.  (We don't use the word "diet" in the Crab/Lobster household, but I have to admit it sure as hell looks like one).  We will be in the middle of a conversation and suddenly one of us will rush off to our tracking app to log three almost forgotten almonds or a walk to the post office.

Gosh are we fun to be around!

Two New Wrinkles and a Request for Help

The Crab goes Low Carb!  Inspired by Mark's Daily Apple's tempting endorsement of the joys of becoming "fat adapted," I'm experimenting with greatly reducing my carbs and upping my fat intake. I am attempting to shun my usual whole grains and beans and sweet potatoes and other starchy things for a while, and even cut back on my fruit consumption.

Will I become an effortlessly lean fat-burning energy machine full of even more vitality and happiness?  I already feel pretty darn good, but the hope of resetting my metabolism to enable easier natural weight loss is indeed enticing.  Or is this going to be one of those eating plans that works for some and not others and will I be a "some" or an "other?"  We shall see.

Online Food Tracking--Anyone got a favorite or least favorite program? I've abandoned my old "scribble wild approximations down in a notebook" method of tracking and signed up for an online program that's making the whole logging process a lot easier. Right now I'm using the My Daily Plate thingy. But there are lots of other online tools, some great and some sucky, and I can't help wondering if there might be something even better out there.  Plus I encountered a few that totally suck, so I thought it might be nice to write a food tracking app review post because google loves shit like that because it could save people a lot of frustration in spending time getting set up on the wrong one.

So if any of you who are also suffering from Fitness Obsessive Compulsive disorder have a favorite or unfavorite food/exercise logging program or app, and you have some feedback about it, I'd love to incorporate it into an upcoming post.  If you're a blogger and have a link to your blog (especially if you've blogged about it, but also just if you'd like an identifying link), that would great to have too.  Ideally, random people looking for food tracking programs may google and find us here all talking about our favorites, and, impressed with our knowledge and keen observations and wit, may become new fans of our blogs.  Or may google off to find a magic diet pill that will make tracking unnecessary, whatever.

You can email me, or leave something in the comments here, or if you don't want to be in the post but have things to say, you can wait and leave a comment then.  It's all good!

What do you all think of tracking your food and exercise? Does it strike you as a helpful tool or a sign of mental illness?


Food Scale: Free Digital Images
Pig: World of Animal Welfare
Coneheads: All Over the Web. Sue me, SNL.

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