If you want to lose weight, reduce chronic disease risk, or feel better, your diet matters. Every bite moves you toward or away from your health goals.
That’s where food tracking comes in. When you stay accountable to your diet, you stay accountable to your health.
In this article, you’ll learn the different methods of food tracking, the best food tracking app, and how to integrate food tracking into your life with minimal effort.
What Is Food Tracking?
Food tracking is a broad term. It can mean:
- Counting calories
- Tracking your carbs, protein, and fat intake (tracking macros)
- Tracking micronutrients
- Using an app like Carb Manager to make food tracking easy
- Following a diet that assigns points to different foods
- Eyeballing your portions
- Keeping a food diary
- Painting fanciful watercolors of your meals, complete with nutritional info
We'll review these methods later. Here’s a definition that brings them together:
Food tracking is a conscious effort to keep tabs on what you eat on your way to better health.
Benefits of Food Tracking
The most well-documented benefit of food tracking is weight loss. And there’s good science backing it up.
In one study, people who kept a food diary lost twice as much weight as folks who didn’t.[*] By tracking their food, they naturally ate fewer calories (no special diet required). The only experimental difference between the groups was the journal.
Food tracking—journal, app, or otherwise—is like following a budget. Tracking your expenses helps you limit your monthly spend.
$150 per month on cat food?? Harold, this cat is going on a diet!
Likewise, tracking your meals helps you limit overeating. Same logic.
And the benefits of food tracking extend beyond weight loss. Here are some examples:
- Tracking micronutrients helps you avoid deficiencies and lower your risk of chronic disease.
- Tracking protein and calories helps you add muscle and build strength.
- Tracking macros (i.e., limiting saturated fat intake) can help lower your cholesterol.
- Keeping a food journal helps you identify “problem foods” that cause unpleasant symptoms.
Insert your health goals into this framework, and you’ll find good reasons to track your food.
Do You Need To Track?
If you have a health goal—weight loss, longevity, etc.—you can benefit from food tracking. There are very few downsides.
But not everyone needs to track. It’s not a requirement for living a long and healthy life.
Consider the folks living in “Blue Zones.” These regions have unusually high proportions of centenarians and most probably don’t use a food calorie tracker.[*]
Most of us, however, don’t live in a Blue Zone. We live in zones of refined sugar, seed oils, and hyper-palatable foods designed to addict us.
We need a technological leg up. And if you’re obligated to log a sleeve of sugar cookies, you’re less likely to eat it in the first place.
Methods for Tracking Food Intake
Time to get practical. Let’s review different options for food tracking.
#1: Food journaling
Keeping a food diary is the most analog method of food tracking. You simply write down what you eat.
Food journals are great for unraveling food intolerances and sensitivities, and correlating foods with well-being. Today I had two slices of cake and almost fell asleep at my desk.
But unless you pine for the old days of math homework, pen and paper aren't ideal for more detailed food tracking.
#2: Tracking macros
Tracking macros means tracking protein, carb, and fat intakes. Here’s how this can help you reach your goals:
- Getting enough protein helps curb hunger during weight-loss efforts while maintaining muscle.[*]
- Limiting carbs also suppresses appetite and promotes fat-burning. Keto diet, anyone?
- Tracking fat intake helps you moderate portions. (A handful of cashews has more calories than you think!)
Speaking of calories…
#3: Counting calories
When you track macros, you’re also tracking calories. But you can also count calories alone.
To lose weight, aim to eat fewer calories than your metabolism burns. This is called maintaining negative energy balance.[*]
Be careful, though. If you overly restrict, you’ll enter a cold, hungry, tired starvation mode.
Target a mild caloric deficit: 5–15% fewer calories than are required for weight maintenance. That’s the key to sustainable fat loss.
#4: Estimating portions
Once you gain some tracking experience, you can estimate calories and macros reasonably accurately, especially if you eat the same meals every day.
But don’t jump straight to this step. (Your educated guesses won’t be educated enough.) Instead, use a food tracker like Carb Manager to check your work until you get the desired results.
#5: Points systems
Some weight loss programs use a points system to simplify calorie counting. A banana is worth X points, a chicken breast Y points, etc.
But where you gain in simplicity, you lose in accuracy. (Maybe the folks who created the system are irrationally biased against high-fat foods, for instance.) Wouldn’t you rather interact with the actual data?
#6: Intuitive eating
Eat when hungry, stop when satisfied. That’s the guiding principle of intuitive eating.
It’s sound advice, but it’s too unstructured for many people. It’s not always wise to “listen to your body” when you’re surrounded by addictive foods.
#7: Food tracking app
To automate food tracking, use an app. It beats lugging around a 35-pound macro tracking notebook that doubles as a weapon for fending off home invaders.
What’s the best food-tracking app? Carb Manager, folks.
Okay, we’re a little biased over here. But that doesn’t change the fact that Carb Manager is the most advanced food tracker on the planet.
You can literally take a picture of your meal to log macronutrients, micronutrients, and calories. Or you can use voice tracking. Or you can create custom meals for one-click food logging.
It’s the easiest way to stay accountable to your diet. Your long-term health will appreciate it.