Week 2: Mike's food tracking diary - I'm in measurement hell

My first week getting to grips with counting calories
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In case you missed my week 1 explainer, I've decided to start a food tracking diary. I'll be using wearables, apps and smart home tech that claim to make the arduous task of keeping a check on what you eat a whole lot easier.

Why am I doing it? Well I'm not planning to produce a before and after photo showing off my dramatic weight loss (or gain). What I really want to find out here is if tracking my food can help me think more about what I eat and see whether it can help me make worthwhile changes to my diet.

I decided to kick things off by using MyFitnessPal, arguably the king of the food tracking apps. I'm also using Under Armour's UA Band and Scale to monitor my daily activity and keep a check on my weight. All of that data is pulled into the UA Record app where I can see exactly how I'm getting on.

Getting into that food tracking mindset took a few days to get used to. Initially I found myself thinking too much about what I was going to eat, but that defeated the object of what I wanted to achieve. This was about my usual eating and drinking habits.

The first item to get logged into the app was a simple croissant. Easy enough right? No. The problem was that this delicious French pastry was not accounted for by MyFitnessPal. That's because I bought it from my local bakery and not a supermarket. This was my first encounter of having to pick the generic option. It got logged as a 'giant croissant'.

Week 2: Mike's food tracking diary - I'm in measurement hell

This was a sign of things to come unfortunately. When it came to lunch and dinner I had to start thinking about measurements, something I wasn't prepared for. I have no idea whether I consumed 299g of homemade potato wedges nor did I have the patience to approximately measure how much sliced cucumber went into my salad. This was only one day in and I was already starting to hate this. I did the next best thing I could and gave rough estimations of what I ate. Not ideal, but the other option wasn't going to happen.

Read this: The best calorie counter apps and wearables

It gets easier when you can scan barcodes, apart from the one occasion when a bag of bagels was mistaken for a chocolate cake. I definitely did not buy cakes. This is the most satisfying way to track but it's not perfect either. What happens when you don't decide to devour a full pack of peanut butter M&Ms? I just had three (honest). Fortunately, on this occasion I could log my sweet candy individually but it doesn't work for everything.

Things were going pretty well up until Wednesday. Until then, I was buying my own breakfast and lunch, making my own dinner but then it happened; I went out to eat. It was pizza time and as I sat down to look at the menu I didn't really know what I was going to do. There was no way I was going to stop a waiter in a packed restaurant to break down the exact measurements of the topping on my pie. "What MyFitnessPal needs is a restaurant logging feature," I said to myself. It does have one, except it only works in the US in certain cities. It was another food tracking fail. Again, I had to roughly work how much of a hit that pizza was going to take on my daily calorie allowance.

Week 2: Mike's food tracking diary - I'm in measurement hell

It didn't get much better when I had to eat at my brother's house, a scenario I found myself in at the weekend. In the midst of helping to clear boxes in his new house, I was snacking between breaks. I felt less urgency to log meals, which meant keeping hold of chocolate bar and salt fish patty wrappers in my pocket to sort out later. Then it was time for dinner (homemade), which meant rummaging through the bins to find out which supermarket my sea bass fillet came from and doing a measurements check on the veg.

So here's what I've learned about my first week of food tracking. It's already feeling like an absolute pain to do simply because it's easy to do some of the time, but mostly it's a chore. I did learn something though, I eat more at the weekends. Granted, that's probably a given when there's more free time to do it, but when my calorie allowance went into the red, I could see it quite clearly.

I'm actually quite surprised how well equipped MyFitnessPal is in accommodating food items, but there's always going to be those gaps. Those times when you need get to grips with measurements and be prepared to quiz someone who's making you a meal the exact breakdown of what went into it.

Week 2: Mike's food tracking diary - I'm in measurement hell

What I was most disappointed in was those 'useful insights' into my data. Under Armour has made a big a deal of talking up its IBM Watson software partnership, which is supposed to deliver useful and personalised advice. I've not seen any of that yet. Inside the MyFitnessPal app I can see a breakdown of nutrients or notes on how much protein an item contributes to my daily intake, but this information simply did not stick with me.

Under Armour's integration of the Band, Scales and heart rate monitor chest strap help factor in exercise and what impact that has on calorie intake. A big run meant I could eat a bit more that day to refuel, but there was nothing in the way of telling me the kind of foods I should be refuelling on.

This week, I'm going to upgrade to the premium version of MyFitnessPal. Apparently that will give me a greater level of food analysis and introduce features like a breakdown of macronutrients. I have my doubts this is going to dramatically alter my experience, but I'm willing to ride it out and see if this food tracking app and wearable combo can still win me over.

Mike's food tracking diary

Week 1: The quest to find out if food tracking works

How we test

Michael Sawh


Michael Sawh has been covering the wearable tech industry since the very first Fitbit landed back in 2011. Previously the resident wearable tech expert at Trusted Reviews, he also marshaled the features section of T3.com.

He also regularly contributed to T3 magazine when they needed someone to talk about fitness trackers, running watches, headphones, tablets, and phones.

Michael writes for GQ, Wired, Coach Mag, Metro, MSN, BBC Focus, Stuff, TechRadar and has made several appearances on the BBC Travel Show to talk all things tech. 

Michael is a lover of all things sports and fitness-tech related, clocking up over 15 marathons and has put in serious hours in the pool all in the name of testing every fitness wearable going. Expect to see him with a minimum of two wearables at any given time.

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