That is the question, isn't it?
As a long-time ketonian and low-carb chef-type person, I am regularly asked my opinion on tracking. After all, there are about a zillion different tracking apps and websites out there, all dedicated to helping hard-working dieters stay on top of their food intake so they can reach their goals. Today, I wanted to go into the pros and cons of tracking so you can evaluate it as a tool and decide if it's something you want to include- even if it's just temporarily- in your keto lifestyle.
Reasons to Track
The first thing that needs to be said about tracking is that it is a tool that can be incredibly useful in getting a realistic picture of your actual intake. Speaking as a former lifestyle coach, one of the first things any assisting experts are probably going to ask you to do is to track your food. Getting your daily intake down in black and white is incredibly useful in helping us help you to tweak your lifestyle. In fact, most mistakes are only ever really discovered once we get a good look at your daily tracker.
Are you eating enough in general? On keto it's easy to be full at a pretty low level of food consumption, and we have found that it's very common for people to overestimate their total energy intake. On the other hand, there's the "carb creep" problem, wherein you eat a lot of very low-carb items which add up over the day, but have mentally discounted them because they're not substantial in carbs by themselves. This is an incredibly common mistake. Many people also tend to underestimate their daily protein intake as well.
Then there's the issue of ingredients: what is actually in your food and is any of it problematic? As I've stated, ad infinitum, ingredients matter and if you're eating a lot of packaged or pre-made goods, it's highly likely you're consuming hidden sugars and starches. Unfortunately, if you're trying to eyeball your food, all of these problems can remain hidden, which may in turn lead to stalls, regain of weight, or a return of symptoms you'd thought were banished forever.
Being able to evaluate your food intake in-depth can be an invaluable part of figuring out what works for your own body as well. Do you do better at 50 grams protein or 65? You won't really know if you don't know how much you're eating per day. How about identifying sources of autoimmune flare-ups, or other food sensitivities? If you don't have a log of what you're eating it's going to be hard to pinpoint the source and eliminate it.
As you can see, keeping a log can be incredibly useful!
On the other hand, there are quite a few downsides to tracking.
Reasons to Ditch the Trackers
Let's face it: tracking is a pain. Realistically, no one wants to be tied to an app or a log every day of their lives for all eternity. When I was coaching, one of my goals for all my clients was to help them learn what keto looks like well enough that they could eventually dump the trackers and eat more intuitively!
Another problem with trackers is that they are inexact. Almost all of them allow manual entries, which is great if you have the package on hand and it's not available already in their system. But if you're not paying attention to the values and happen to get a hold of a manual entry wherein someone made a mistake, your own logs can be pretty wildly off. Sometimes values and calculations on recipes can vary a good deal between different trackers. As has been noted many times amongst members of our Kitchen Facebook group, trying to calculate the macro values for the same recipe with identical ingredients across different trackers can turn up some pretty wonky- and highly inconsistent- results.
There is also a tendency for a tracker to become a thing of obsession amongst those who may already suffer from anxiety or an eating disorder. We can become so focused on "hitting" those numbers every day that we stress ourselves out and obsess to the point of disorder.
Mandy's Two Cents
My own opinion on this topic is rather nuanced. I personally have a love-hate relationship with trackers. On my own keto journey, I've enjoyed life much more when I wasn't tied to a tracker and chasing my macros. When I was coaching, however, I quickly came to recognize them as a very good tool to help me help my clients figure out how to make a low-carb lifestyle work for them. And, in fact, in my own life I've used trackers a lot more recently, as a way to keep my protein in check during my various experiments with eating more carnivorously, and currently to make sure I'm getting enough food in to fuel my greatly increased activity levels while I train for my next 5K.
While I'm unexcited about using it as a long-term thing, I will acknowledge that tracking is something that has been a great help of late, and so I can't begrudge anyone who is a bit tighter with their tracking than I. As long as your relationship with your tracker doesn't become an unhealthy obsession, I would encourage their use amongst most people to at least spot check from time to time and make sure you're on the right track. From experience, you may be surprised at what you find!