The Well-Tech Trap

Technology has infiltrated the wellness sphere. Fitness enthusiasts can track their progress using a Fitbit, Nike+ chip, Polar heart rate monitor, or one of the hundreds of iPhone apps designed for such purposes. In addition to fitness devices and apps, nutrition has gotten techie with food trackers and online coaching. While some people find well-tech innovations to be helpful, others find that tracking every move and mouthful ultimately undermines their progress.

In Diary of a ‘Supertracker’, Carly Pacanowski, a National Institutes of Health postdoctoral fellow who studies eating behavior, noted that her research indicates that diet tracking might work better for men than women. She explained that “self-tracking works by forcing people to pay attention to how food affects weight" and reasoned that since "women are already exposed to so many ads and messages about weight[,]...the extra attention makes little difference.” Dr. Pacanowski also cautioned that "those already overly concerned with weight and shape — or who are at risk for disordered eating — could be adversely affected by detailed self-tracking.”

The problem with Dr. Pacanowski’s caveats is that they encompass nearly everyone who would utilize diet trackers. The truth is, all dieters, male and female, are bombarded by ads and messages about weight. They are also presumably concerned with weight and shape, or they would not be dieting. The mainstream media is brimming with mixed messages: cupcake wars v. corset-wearing Kardashians, bacon v. Biggest Losers, Ina Garten v. InstaYogis. We’re being told to eat, eat, eat and then be toight like a tiger. The dichotomy between brownies and bikini bodies is downright mind-blowing.

I believe yo-yo dieters should steer clear of food and fitness trackers. I am a former weight watcher, spark person, and fitness pal. Each time I embarked on a new tracking plan, I fell victim to the obsessive food-fitness cycle: "Whoops, I ate too many calories. I need to go to the gym and burn them off." Followed by a gym session. Followed by "Whoa, I'm starving. I need a snack. I will have to burn off those calories tomorrow." The cycle makes you feel like a constant failure, which in turn stresses you out. Trust me, you will not have to worry about the calorie equation if you eat mindfully when you are actually hungry (not stressed, lonely, or bored) and stop eating when you are satiated (not stuffed).  

Furthermore, it is very difficult to measure whole foods accurately, especially when eaten outside the home (i.e. without measuring cups and spoons). Diet trackers often resort to processed foods because the nutritional facts are quickly and easily accessible (i.e. they’re listed on the package). Instead of counting calories, dieters are better off sticking to a whole-food, plant based diet (see Food Pie Chart). If you are used to eating the Standard American Diet, patiently wean yourself off processed non-foods and replace them with nutritious, flavorful whole foods (see Mix & Match Macro Bowl). Indulging in an occasional (not daily) treat is fine, but remember that food is fuel not a friend. If you are frequently turning to food for emotional support or because you’re bored, talk to a buddy or find a healthy hobby.

After reading The Food Police in My Phone, I wondered why anyone would want to have their meals inarticulately judged by one of Rise’s dubiously trained “dietitians.”

Side Note: If Rise’s employees are not Registered Dietitians, they should not be referring to themselves as “dietitians” or “nutritionists.”

I am not a fan of carbo-loading. Carb-heavy meals make me feel like crap - lethargic, constipated, and nutritionally unfulfilled. However, it is irresponsible for Gabriella (the author’s Rise food coach) to write off the author’s oatmeal breakfast without considering what else the author ate throughout the day. Food should not be evaluated in a vacuum. Nutritional diversity throughout the day and week should be considered, as should an individual’s lifestyle (sedentary v. active) and personal cravings and food struggles. There are vibrantly healthy people who eat fiber-rich steel cut oats with nuts (protein & fat) and berries (antioxidants & vitamins) for breakfast and incorporate vegetables and proteins into their other meals. Moreover, meal ratings without suggested alternatives will make users, like the author, feel like they are failing, which could lead to counterproductive emotional eating binges.

Instead of spending $49 per month on an online health coach, pick up a copy of The Mindful Diet for $13-17 and meet with an RD or local health coach in person once or twice a month for accountability and guidance purposes.