Week 4: Mike's food tracking diary - finally starting to happen

It's taken a failing wearable to show me that there is light at the end of the tunnel
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It's fair to say that my first couple of weeks of food tracking have been something of a struggle and I was already close to throwing the towel in early and admit that it wasn't for me.

Living with MyFitnessPal and its nutritional info overload was an overwhelming experience and I was searching for something with a simpler approach that could prove to me that there was a solution out there I could really embrace.

Read this: The best calorie counter apps and wearables

So I ditched MFP and Under Armour HealthBox for Jawbone's fitness tracker and companion app combo. I know Jawbone is seemingly a company in disarray at the moment, but my experiences with the wearable and the software have generally been positive in the past.

Well, that was the case until now. Having retrieved my Jawbone UP2 and UP3 from the bottom of my wearables box (yes, I have a wearables box), I charged them both up and began to get reacquainted with the app again. The problem was that neither tracker wanted to power up or pair to my iPhone.

So I had no choice but to abandon the wearables for now and rely on my phone to count daily activity and to make use of Jawbone's third party app support to pull in fitness and weight data from other sources.

The process of food tracking with Jawbone's app is pretty similar to MyFitnessPal. Hit the + button inside the app and then select the knife and fork icon to log meals. I had my choices to simply take photos of meals, search meals from a food catalogue, scan barcodes, add water intake and log meals from restaurant. MyFitnessPal does offer a similar restaurant meal logging feature, but this time I was able to put it to the test in the UK and the US where I was staying for the week.

After going through the task of noting down my airplane meals, my first dinner Stateside was in a small Italian restaurant. To my surprise it appeared in the app and I proceeded to pick my dishes off the menu. The only problem was that it then asked me to add the calorie information myself. Another food tracking fail. In fairness, I was pretty surprised it even recognised the restaurant in the first place and when I attempted to log meals for other restaurants on my trip, that information was already accounted for.

Week 4: Mike's food tracking diary - finally starting to happen

Jawbone's simplified yet insightful approach is starting to have an impact

At this point, it was still a royal effort to log meals as soon as I'd eaten them or had begun to tuck into them, so I began to get into the habit of taking photos or making small notes on my phone instead to add into the app later. What I've quickly learned from some of the comments made on previous diary entries is that food tracking will always be a bit of a chore, so I've accepted that and tried at least to log all my daily meals and drinks at some point of the day.

What was surprising is that I felt it was less frustrating than in previous weeks because Jawbone's approach felt more flexible and less daunting. I didn't have to rack my brain working out measurements because I now had the option to break down meals into servings or portion sizes I actually understood. I was still estimating, but I felt I was estimating with more precision than before. I could roughly work out how much scrambled eggs I had for breakfast or portion of chicken that was layered on top of my salad.

What I really liked was the food score that gave a simple breakdown of food I'd eaten and whether it was healthy, okay food to eat, or stuff I needed to avoid. I could instantly see that I'd eaten too much of the foods to avoid and could look to increase my fibre intake. It's also worth mentioning the food word cloud, which throws together all of your meals into a word cloud and it became quickly apparent that I clearly liked tucking into chicken and chocolate throughout the week.

Week 4: Mike's food tracking diary - finally starting to happen

Jawbone's headline software feature is its Smart Coach integration that aims to analyse data and provide interesting health and fitness tidbits based on that data. The few bits of advice I've had so far have actually been useful and insightful. The first was about the benefits of dark chocolate that definitely made me re-think my next choc fix. The update on my low water intake also prompted me to make sure I drank more water, and while an update on my average food score wasn't all that useful, I am already getting more insights into my data than I did in my time with MyFitnessPal.

While the hardware has let me down so far, I can only say positives things about the Jawbone software. Sometimes it's all about the approach and crucially I never felt overwhelmed by the data being served up. In just a week it has shown me some of the limitations that exist with food tracking but also showed me that it is manageable and there is value in doing it whether that's swapping out your chocolate or just making sure you drink enough water during the day. That's what makes it all the more disappointing when you hear that Jawbone might be getting out of the consumer wearable game. Yes, it clearly has some big hardware issues, but there's still a lot to like on the software front.

Mike's food tracking diary

Week 1: The quest to find out if food tracking works
Week 2: I'm in measurement hell
Week 3: The struggle is real

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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