Hey girl, it’s your fave coach Nicki here supplying you with the goods once again.
Today, we will be learning whether calorie counting causes disordered eating. Some people are wary of diarising their food for fear that is causes obsessive behaviour or disordered eating. I’ve worked with clients wanting to lose weight and get healthy, but they are reluctant to track their food due to claims that it can create obsessive behaviour. Is there any truth to this? Let’s take a look at the research!
Well, a new randomised controlled trial shows this not to be the case, fuelling optimism for people who want to more actively manage their diet without unintended consequences!
- In the study, 200 female college students who did not closely monitor their diet were randomly assigned to one month of diet tracking with MyFitnessPal or no intervention (control).
- The researchers did not observe significant negative effects on eating disorder risk, anxiety, depressive symptoms, body satisfaction, quality of life, eating behaviours, physical activity, screen time, or other forms of weight-related self-monitoring.
- For individuals without a current or previous eating disorder diagnosis, tracking with a diet app did not negatively impact psychological outcomes or increase eating disorder risk. On the other hand, the mere act of tracking did not significantly improve other health-related behaviors.
For me, the results of this study showed a few things. Firstly, it shows that dietary tracking is a tool, no more and no less. Where no previous or current eating disorders existed, tracking for one month didn’t lead to negative effects on mental health or increased eating disorder behaviours.
This suggests that if you’re not someone who has suffered with/ is suffering with eating disorders, tracking will most likely not create the issue. But again, it’s important to listen and be aware of your own body, emotions and behaviours when it comes to tracking your food. This study also didn’t look at the long term impacts of tracking (for example: tracking for months or years).
It is also interesting to read that the mere act of tracking didn’t lead to the improvement or adoption of other health-related behaviours. This tells me that even if you choose to track your food, it’s important to understand this alone may not be enough for long term health-related behaviour change. You will also need to focus on your daily nutritional habits and adopting other healthier behaviours. Things like drinking enough water, eating enough fibre, eating a balanced diet or getting the recommended amount of exercise etc.
Dietary tracking within the context of dietary guidelines that encourage flexible restraint can be generally viewed as effective. It is one method to help modify dietary intake without inducing disordered eating symptoms or other negative effects on mental health.
The huge caveat is that some individuals are particularly predisposed to developing eating disorders. These individuals should not in my opinion start any intervention involving weight monitoring, diet monitoring, or dietary manipulation without guidance from a qualified medical professional with ample training and experience in the area of disordered eating specifically. It is often best practice to instead adopt a flexible, unmonitored approach that focuses on daily habits and a balanced plate.