I am a nerd.
I carry books everywhere, complete with “to research further” lists for bookmarks. I set aside Trivial Pursuit cards as reminders to look up more information after the game. I use spreadsheets for everything from calculating my annual hay order to plotting my endurance horses’ conditioning schedules…for the whole year.
So, no one will be surprised to learn that I like to track my food intake.
One of the beautiful things about primal (or un-weighed/unmeasured paleo) eating is that, in the vast majority of cases, there’s no need to chart every bite of food that goes down the hatch. Most of us can simply commit to eating only certain types of foods, paying reasonable attention to quantities of particularly calorie-dense choices like nuts, and forget the tedium of counting carbs and calories and all the rest.
But as I said, I’m a nerd. Obsessive, some would say. I actually enjoy plugging my meals into Fitday or My Fitness Pal, tweaking selections and quantities to get just the right macronutrient balance day after day, maintaining accuracy down to the last almond. I like poring over the resultant charts and graphs, noting trends in the data, comparing my intake and performance and looking for ways to improve.
That all sounds useful, right? And it is. To a point.
After which it becomes unproductive.
Or even destructive.
You see, my problem with a paint-by-numbers approach to eating is that I begin planning meals around the necessity of filling in particular categories:
Let’s see…I’ll need more fat tomorrow…better add an avocado to my breakfast salad. Oops! That bumped my carbs too high. Okay, so I’ll nix the carrot from the roasted mixed veggies at dinner. What about protein? Hmm, looking good, but a touch on the high side. Better cut that leftover pork roast down from six ounces to four…but then I’ll get hungry. I have room for more fat, though, so how about I add a shot of coconut milk? Yes, that’s better…but it inched the carbs back up a shade…
Not a good way to practice listening to one’s own body. Not a good way to live on the least-best quantites.
Ah, what’s this? I have another 200 calories available. Dark chocolate sounds lovely, now that I mention it…
Certainly not a good way to let intermittent fasting happen — which is exactly what did happen the day after I decided to suppress my inner nerd and resume eating by feel: I ate dinner at 7:30 p.m. Went to bed. Woke up, fed the horses, drove to the office, hurried to a meeting, drank some coffee, felt energetic and bright, carried on working right up until 12:30, when I broke my 17-hour fast with a bowl of leftover red-hot chicken, vegetable, and coconut curry.
I quit tracking because I realized that I was using the practice to control my intake rather than to learn from it — and as a result, the intake was controlling me. Yes, it was fun and interesting, but it was neither productive nor beneficial.
I don’t mean to say that tracking has no place in primal living, at least for the nerds among us. I found it useful when I first went primal because I needed to learn the carb content of the foods I eat most often. Fine. It became useful again when I got curious about the macronutrient rations to which eating “by feel” had led me. Fine.
Tracking lost its usefulness when it told me what to eat, rather than me telling it what I ate. The time had come to let it go.
Will I ever track again? Sure. When I have a good reason to. But when I’ve learned what I need to know, I’ll make tracks for the “log out” button posthaste.
Now, y’all better be prepared to remind me I said that.