Five Things I Learnt From Using a Calorie-Tracking App

Let’s get something straight: food is our friend. As a society, we’ve developed the idea that, to be better people, we need to deny ourselves certain foods and generally eat as little as possible. That is not a good mindset. In the past few years, I’ve been working very hard to undo the damage of problematic teen magazines, diet trends and false science. For that reason, I have always been suspicious of calorie tracking.

It seemed to me that obsessing over the caloric density of everything I ate would lead to an unhealthy relationship with food. However, moving into a flat this year and having to feed myself for the first time has presented some challenges. I’ve been struggling to maintain an eating plan that keeps me a functional human being, and also doesn’t bankrupt me (let me mention here that I don’t eat animal products, and that comes with its own issues). So, I thought the time had come to try out a calorie tracker! The one I have been using is called Lose It! and I chose it mainly because you can either download it as an app or set up an account on their website (which suits me because internal storage issues are very much a thing).

Screenshot by Emily Wedepohl

 

When you sign up, you input your age, height, sex, current weight, goal weight and the date you’d like to achieve your goal weight by. The app then calculates how many calories you should be eating per day to achieve your goal in your given time frame. The basic goal of weight loss is to eat fewer calories than you burn. Every day, you enter the food and drinks that you have, and the app draws from a massive database to calculate the number of calories you’ve consumed. You can also input any exercise you’ve done and the app will subtract the number calories you’ve burned. There is a progress bar which shows how close you are to your daily total, as well as a breakdown of which nutrients you’ve consumed. I’ve been using Lose It! for 3 weeks now, and here are a few things I’ve learned:

 

1. Forget everything you thought you knew about calories

The biggest surprise for me has been how many calories are in supposedly healthy and unhealthy foods. A ¼ cup of peanuts and raisins has more calories than a Steers veggie burger. How even. Of course, there is more to food than calories; nutritional density is just as, if not more, important. BUT it is nice to know that I can enjoy my treasured junk food and still stick to my daily goals. (For more cool calorie mythbusting I highly recommend following @thefashionfitnessfoodie on insta!) I’ve also learned to pay more attention to my portion sizes. High-calorie snacks are awesome and you don’t have to cut them out, but eating half a bag of peanuts and raisins is probably a bad idea. On a similar note, it’s super cool to see how much exercise you do accidentally. I walk to and from gym and campus every day, which is almost 1,5 hours of walking in total. So I’m burning a whole bunch of calories every day without even thinking about it (which is great because I get to reward myself for all that cardio with Pandaland muffins).

Image: @thefashionfitnessfoodie

 

2. You have control over your appetite

Before using the app, I was probably eating about twice as many calories as I needed. That’s because I would eat throughout the day, and only really stop when I wasn’t hungry. Except I’m always hungry. Or rather, I just really like food and I want it in my mouth, so hunger becomes irrelevant. However, since tracking my calories, I’ve learnt to be more aware of whether or not I actually need to eat to keep my energy up. There have been multiple times where I have wanted to make a snack because that’s just what I would usually do, only to check out my progress bar and figure out that I’ve already consumed enough calories to get me through the next few hours. Once you become aware of what your body needs, you can figure whether you feel hungry because you need energy, or just because you want food.

 

Image: Emily Wedepohl

 

3. You’ve got to take responsibility for your eating habits

The great thing about an app like Lose It! is that you can hold yourself accountable. There is no point using the app unless you’re going be totally honest with yourself. I have had great days when I ate a bunch of healthy, nutritious food and stayed under my budget...and I’ve also had days where I had muffins for breakfast, chips for lunch and popcorn for dinner. I dutifully recorded my food intake and watched the progress bar turn from green to red as I soared away from my daily allowance. It’s not a great feeling, but in a way, it’s cool to have a space where I can be aware my mistakes and decide to do better the next day! On that note...

Image: Emily Wedepohl

 

4. Awareness is good, guilt is not

One of my favourite features of Lose It! is that once midnight hits, the slate is cleared and you wake up to a blank page. You can forget what happened yesterday and focus on what you’re going to do today! There is a weekly progress chart, just to check out how you’re doing, but you don’t have to stress about a cheat day. The app allows you to acknowledge your mistakes, and then let them go. It’s almost like that exercise where you write a letter to your ex and then set it on fire. What’s done is done, and the only option is to move forward!

Image: @thefashionfitnessfoodie

 

5. Calorie counting is not just a weight loss tactic

To be honest, weight loss is not really my goal. I gym regularly, partly to shed fat, but mainly to put on muscle, and that means that my overall weight probably won’t drop too much. So, actually, the goal weight that I put in when I signed up was kind of an arbitrary number. My main focus with this app to is to become more aware of what I am putting in my body and how that makes me feel. It’s really cool to have a focus shift, where you concentrate less on how closely you’re following a thousand different weight loss tips, and more on getting the right fuel to kick ass.