Week 6: Mike's food tracking diary - It's time to talk calories

This week, I have a chat with Fitbit about the key to monitoring your meals
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It's been six weeks now since I decided to live the food tracking life and I'm still sticking with it (just about). Now it's time for the big one: Fitbit. The good news is that I've been living with the Fitbit Flex 2 again for the past week, walking to work, running, swimming and wearing it while I eat lunch at my desk. It's not really helped me in the quest to remember to log meals - the app does that, of course - but it's kept up its side of the bargain to track my fitness without issue and that's not something I've been able to say much over the past few weeks.

My expectations of what Fitbit would offer in the food tracking realms were not all that high. I've used it many times and even then it didn't feel radically different to what I've experienced before. But Fitbit is not the king of fitness tracking for nothing and a big part of that has to do with keeping things simple. Whether it's fitness, sleep or food, it's more Jawbone than MyFitnessPal. It's kind of like handing someone an iPhone for the first time; it won't take very long to get to grips with it. The same could be said about venturing into Fitbit's companion app.

Read this: Fitbit smartwatch investigation - what should we expect?

Want to log something? Hit the + at the bottom of the homescreen and you're ready to start adding meals. It's not all that different from what I've had to deal with before, but there are some little touches that I can appreciate. Like remembering items you've logged together for repeat meals, which made logging my muesli and milk for breakfast a little easier for instance.

Some familiar issues continue to rear their ugly head, like still needing to be a measurement expert to work out exactly how much you've eaten and encountering yet more barcode scanning issues, mostly from items I'd picked up from some cheaper supermarket chains.

Food tracking according to Fitbit

Week 6: Mike's food tracking diary - It's time to talk calories

Fitbit works on the premise that it's all about monitoring calories consumed versus calories burned. Once you've entered the item that's tipped you over the edge for the day, there's a big red bar breaking up the good green ones in your weekly progress graph to tell you that.

There still a lot of debate about whether counting calories really is the key to eating healthier. I've read a lot about the danger of ignoring some high calorie foods that can be beneficial or whether those food packaging labels are really telling the full story about what you're tucking away.

I spoke to Thomas McMennamin, senior product manager for weight & nutrition at Fitbit, who points to the evidence, whether that's studies or from user testimonials that show this approach does work.

"One of the interesting things about food logging is really understanding your calorie intake and your trends over time," McMennamin told me. "There's some really interesting studies that have looked at the impact of food logging. There's one from 2008, where dieters made a food diary for six months and they lost twice as much as weight at those who didn't. There's a really significant awareness aspect that I think it is really important to the process. A lot of that focuses on calories in and calories out."

Week 6: Mike's food tracking diary - It's time to talk calories

McMennamin does acknowledge that there's more that can be done on the food tracking front and as a company, Fitbit is always looking at "anything that makes the experience easier, faster and more enjoyable for the user." He did have some advice for me and other struggling food trackers though. "When you're calorie checking, you want to get it at close as possible, he said. "There's still a benefit if you can't get it exactly right simply by getting a better understanding of what's in your diet and the calories you're taking in. Really pay attention to your food logging because people learn from their food logs and I think that can go a long way for helping people improve with what they're eating."

So I took McMennamin's advice and began to look more closely at what I was logging. It wasn't all that drastically different from previous weeks and I was still eating slightly more during weekends. Calorie intake vs burned is a very simple way to look at things and I craved Jawbone's useful Smart Coach-powered trivia and the food item word clouds that could show me quite clearly that I was putting away a lot of chocolate. While Fitbit is making the process of logging easier, it lacking something. I wanted those actionable insights and you just don't get that from Fitbit just yet. While there's evidence elsewhere in the app that a more meaningful approach to data is happening, there's still a lot of work to be done as far as tracking food is concerned.

This week, I'm swapping the Flex 2 for the Fitbit Charge 2 and then it's over to our award-winning health and fitness platform of the year, Withings Health Mate. Fitbit hasn't won me over yet, but there's still time to prove me wrong.

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
Week 4: It's finally starting to happen
Week 5: Making small steps to big change (hopefully)

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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