Tracking Your Food: How Accurate Do You Need to Be to See Results?

POPSUGAR Photography | Emily Faulstitch
POPSUGAR Photography | Emily Faulstitch

If you're serious about dropping some pounds (and keeping them off!), it's important to take note of what you eat. You may even consider tracking what you're eating either by counting calories or macronutrients, or keeping a food log of some sort. As you do this, you inevitably start to wonder: how accurate do you need to be to see results?

The reality is, when you want to lose weight, tracking your food helps to ensure that you're not unknowingly sneaking in extra calories, which could happen, even if you think you're following the serving size on the nutrition label to a T.

Pantry-raiders should especially pay attention. "Being accurate is important because if you're a habitual snacker, you could easily be overeating on a daily basis and have no real awareness around it," JC Deen, a fitness coach who helps clients lose weight, told POPSUGAR.

Let's say you wanted to eat a plain bagel (about 250 calories) with some peanut butter (standard serving is 190 calories). If you eyeball the serving size, it's easy to overdo it without measuring it on a kitchen scale. Since peanut butter is so calorically dense, going over a little bit every time means extra calories that add up over the long run and could stall your progress.

Thus, a certain level of consistent accuracy is important.

In addition, Deen says that high levels of accuracy only really matter when you want to make consistent progress toward your goal weight, or get to it "a little faster" than normal (in the most healthy and sane way possible, of course). Accuracy is also necessary for women who have overall less weight to lose, such as competitive bodybuilders. If you're not on a strict timeline or are not a bodybuilding type, you don't need to be measuring every morsel of food you put in your mouth.

At the same time, striving for accuracy can be a double-edged sword, no matter your method. On one hand, when you plainly see what you're eating in your diary, there's no mystery as to why you haven't made as much weight-loss progress as you'd hoped for. On the other, it's possible to develop an unhealthy obsession with tracking every single thing, where anxiety can claw its way to the front of your mind. In other words, there needs to be a balance.

"If you're known to become obsessive with tracking your food, a good method is to track for a short period (two to three weeks), take note of your eating patterns and behaviors, then step away from tracking and stick to good eating habits," Deen says.

If you normally make a smoothie with banana, a handful of kale, and Greek yogurt in the morning, then keep it up! Just don't track it anymore, he adds.

While counting calories (or macronutrients) can be helpful for weight-loss efforts, you should take a break from tracking if you start to get too obsessive. Because where's the fun in life and eating if all you think about is getting onto MyFitnessPal to log the three spears of broccoli you just ate?