Tracking apps and tracking traps

I wrote this post in collab with the total BABE MACHINE that is Alice from @aliceandpeanutbutter. Follow her Insta, stay up all night reading her blog and listen to what that gal says because she is an anti-diet angel. I’ve mentioned her on the blog before- her posts keep me sane with how relatable, eloquent and real they are and I know you’ll think the same too.

Apart from ASAP and PAW (shout out to MSN convos circa 2006), there are few acronyms that strike more fear into my donut-loving lil soul than the dreaded MFP. For those of you who value their sanity/time/iPhone battery life, and MFP is alien to you, lemme break it down a bit. My Fitness Pal is a smartphone app that tracks your caloric, macro and micronutrient consumption. You can set a weight goal, it’ll set you a suggested daily calorie intake, you can link it to fitness trackers and it’ll level the calories burned against the grams, cups and servings of food you microscopically weigh out and obsessively input to the app. For the last 5ish years, I’ve given My Fitness Pal varying levels of dedication. At different, stressful and weird periods of my life, MFP has played a pretty big role. Can’t get a handle on the Portuguese imperfect subjunctive before your oral exam tomorrow? Don’t worry! At least MFP says you achieved your protein goal. Haven’t got a graduate job? At least MFP can prove didn’t eat over 1400 calories today. At my dieting worst last year, I was inputting my food consumption to MFP with minute detail, scanning barcodes on the sly, updating my weight every few days and getting so annoyed that I would never really know how many calories I burned at the gym- not because I wanted to have a really heavy workout, but that if I couldn’t put it in to MFP, did it even really count? THANK GOD when I stopped dieting, MFP was one of the first things to go. I finally deleted it in May last year. In the case of this break-up, it was deffo you, MFP, not me. Fitness app wise I’ve been a lil less faithful. For a while I was into MapMyRun, then came the 7 minute workout app, RunKeeper and, most recently, the iPhone Health app. I’ve used them all with fluctuating levels of fervour and whilst I downloaded all of them as a genuine aid to fitness, with the way that you can collate ‘em all into ‘active minutes’ and ‘calories burned’ on the iPhone Health app, I do notice the same addictive MFP tendencies kicking in a little lately.

It goes without saying that these days, I don’t use MFP because I value my sanity, but when you’re that absorbed in something for so long- some of it sticks. I can still tell you the caloric content of the majority of my most frequently eaten foods and that still troubles me from time to time. If I’m having a bad body day or my jeans feel a little tighter, I inevitably will be much more reluctant to eat the custard cream that I know I want, because I know its exact (calorie and sugar dense) nutritional composition. My general day-to-day is however where the fitness trackers now take centre stage. And to be honest, with the point that I’m at with making peace with food and fitness, this make total sense to me: diet wise, I know that I’m a lot more intuitive and free when it comes to food, but I still feel a sense of obligation, guilt and stress when it comes to exercising. It doesn’t happen every day, but it happens. I know this because my mood and the way I think of myself and my body are still a little dictated by how much I’ve ‘achieved’ on those fitness apps: I am happy when I hit those 10,000 steps, or see the ‘active minutes’ clocking up; I am a disappointed, awful, human potato (Potatelin) when I don’t.

And as well as the fitness trackers affecting my mood, I’ve been questioning recently whether they’re also, slightly more insidiously, impeding the intuitive relationship that I’m trying to have with my body and exercise. I know that I look at the calorie counts after I go for a run and feel freer with food afterwards. I know that sometimes I push myself to do a 5k purely because it’ll nudge my average step-count up a notch. I’m guilty of using the Health app to collate all the info logged in these apps- admittedly, they don’t all have to feed the data into it. So it makes me question, if one is genuinely concerned with moving one's body just because it feels good, then why does one need to see all the info collated like that? And feel a sense of achievement if the number is ‘good’ enough? For me, I’m trying to get a sense of achievement from moving my body when I want to and when it feels right: that means running a nine-mile run like I did two weeks ago because it felt great or only exercising once like I did last week because my body was effin’ knackered. Step-counters and fitness trackers don't take your life into account- they don't know when you've had a bad night's sleep or a rubbish day at work or are invited out for nachos at the last mo, but it'll still berate you for not exercising. And so even though I know fitness tracker apps might be totally neutral and even really helpful for some people, I’m recognising now that for me, they might actually be detrimental to recovery from disordered eating and to living a less stressful life.

And so in the past coupla weeks I’ve been trying to tackle this.
Part One is by identifying the enemy: recently I’ve been a bit worried about my iron intake and tempted as I was to work this out by logging into MFP or Cronometer or whatever, I did not let myself do it. I know that in the rather delicate state I am, it would be mad triggering. I would be scared of the sugar levels and cry at my carb consumption and so at this point, what I don’t know can’t hurt me. It is much healthier for me to be without ‘health’ apps.
Part Dos, is using the nicotine patch of the tracking app world, substituting the drug-like hit of clocking in miles or calories burned: tracking something beneficial. These days I'm trying to focus on the ‘Mindful minutes’ that my iPhone can log. To me, my mental health and sleep are as important, if not a whole lot more so, than how much broccoli I’m eating, so I’m enjoying seeing the time I spend on this roll in.

One thing that I do wish I could track is how much time/energy/precious CM brain space I waste on thinking about weight, diet and exercise. I think it would put everything in such huge perspective, showing me not only how much of me it still takes up, time that could be spent but dancin’, writin’ or eating Nice n Spicy NikNaks, but also how much I’m getting better. How much nicer I am to lil old me these days. How much less I stress about eating bread. Watching the minutes I spend on worrying about my weight slowly creep down: these days, that’s the only number I’d be happy to see decrease.