Tracking

22 Nov

So, let’s talk about tracking. I’m given to understand it’s sort of a controversial subject in the online dieting community (I’m basing this entirely on the few posts I’ve seen on it, and the generally animated discussions that happen as a result).

Pros


  • Maintain an accurate view in your mind of everything you’ve eaten in a given day. Nine times out of ten I could tell you what I had for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But I’ll probably forget that cheese slice (or four) I ate in between. Oh, and that handful of chips from my clerk’s huge-ass bag. Oh, and then there’s the 75 packs of Rockets I compulsively ingested during a painfully long conference call. And so on and so forth. If it isn’t written down the moment I eat it, my brain moves on about the day as though I haven’t eaten it at all. My fat cells disagree.
  • For planning purposes. In having a written account of everything I’ve eaten, I have a good idea of whether or not I can “afford” a pizza for supper, or if I’m better off sticking to a salad. Without that written record, I’m more likely to suffer from a bout of exceedingly convenient amnesia and eat the pizza, regardless of the burger I had for lunch and the bacon sandwich for breakfast. Please also see previous reference to 74 packs of Rockets.
  • Hampers food-ninja behaviour. I hide a lot of what I eat. It’s a strange little tick I have – I don’t like snacking in front of other people unless they’re also eating. If I find myself alone in the kitchen, I will eat before someone can come in and find me. I’ve been doing this my whole life. I’m very good at it. Interestingly, although it’s not guaranteed, probably about 50% of the time whatever primitive part of my brain prompts me to be a food-ninja recognizes the tracker as a person. If I can convince myself that I have to write it down in order to be allowed to eat it, I’ll walk away. A ninja leaves no trace, not even a written one.
  • Increases mindfulness. The fact that I have to actually track everything makes me aware of what I’m eating in a very present-tense way. It can actually cause me to pause and consider whether I actually want it, to weigh the benefits of eating something point-heavy now, or waiting for something better later. And so on and so forth.

Cons


  • It’s hard and requires effort. Not only do you have to remember to write down each individual pack of Rockets, you have to actually do it. You can’t not write it. It screws up the whole system, promotes cheating, and skews the mental image of what you’ve eaten today – in other words, completely undoes all of the pros listed above. It’s really easy to forget to track, or to “forget” to track. It’s hard sometimes to stare at what you’ve eaten in the face and acknowledge that it was too much, or you blew through your bonus points on the first day of the week, or so far on the other side of Healthy that you kind of wonder why food like that is allowed to exist. It’s sometimes hard to keep tracking in the face of that.
  • It promotes obsession. Nothing quite like meticulously jotting down every morsel that crosses your lips to create an unhealthy obsession with counting every calorie. Additionally, the downside of any system is that it can create a strong reliance on that system. Unless you want to count everything, even when you hit maintenance, at some point you need to learn to “stand on your own.” Counting is a way to teach yourself to be mindful about what you eat and plan your intake appropriately, but it can become a crutch if you let it.
  • It can take some of the fun out of eating. Now eating is like a job. Sometimes you just want to eat a fucking chocolate bar. The thought of having to open your log and mark down a big fat “6 Points” beside it takes some of the taste out of the damn thing, even if you do have the room in your food budget for it.
  • It can create a false sense of security if you’re cheating. The most adept of food-ninjas can run circles around a tracking log. It was just a bite, barely worth jotting down, probably not even a point. And if I eat forty-two bites, well, as long as I’m thinking in terms of bites instead of pints, I don’t need to write anything down. Then when it’s supper time and I’m staring down that meatloaf lathered in cheese, I look at my log and it totally looks like I’m on plan and can afford to gorge myself on the whole loaf. Then all that’s left is to act innocent and confused when the scale shows me two pounds up the next morning.

Ultimately – like all weight-loss plans and schemes and so on – it has to be a personal choice. Some people will swear by it, because it’s perfectly suited to the way their brain is built. Some people will eschew it entirely because it doesn’t work at all with their brains and may create larger problems.

For my part, even if you count the cheating and the amazing awesomeness of my food-ninjitsu, I do exponentially better when I’m tracking than when I’m not. I know this from long experience. If I stick to writing things down, I lose weight. If I stop writing things down, I’m good for maybe a week at most. Then things start sliding in again, so sneakily and quietly that I don’t even know I’m doing it on any practical level.

The trouble comes with maintaining the effort. But I’m not as heavy as I am because simple logic like “it’s good for you” works.

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