Tracking Intake vs. Intuitive Eating Which One is Best for Client Success?

There are two major strategies that are often used in online nutrition coaching. One of these strategies is tracking, where clients are asked to track their macros or calories through apps or pen and paper in order to achieve weight loss, aesthetic, or performance goals. The second form of coaching is intuitive eating (IE). Nutrition coaches who practice intuitive eating teach their clients to become more in tune with their body by helping them understand their hunger cues while also helping them adopt a healthy attitude toward food.

Both of these sound great, but the big question is, which form is coaching is BETTER for client success?

Before we jump right into the answer, let’s break both of these down.

Tracking

Tracking can be either be done by counting calories or macronutrients, usually through an app such as Myfitnesspal.
With calorie counting, a set number of calories is calculated by using the client’s age, height, weight, and activity level, and this specific amount of calories is what the client will be consuming each day.

Macronutrient tracking is a bit different because the client’s calories are broken down into the three major macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. So, instead of the client counting calories, they are tracking the grams of each macronutrient they consume during the day.

Why Use Tracking?

Tracking either calories or macros is a great tool to use for clients who do not have much nutritional knowledge because it allows them to become more AWARE of what they’re putting in their bodies. Tracking allows them to not only become aware of their portion sizes but it also allows them to realize how calorically dense some foods are.

Let’s use peanut butter for an example, because who doesn’t love some peanut butter!?
How many times have you heard a client say something along the lines of, “I usually have one tablespoon of peanut butter on my oatmeal in the morning,” but when they start tracking they realize their one tablespoon portion size is actually closer to 4 tablespoons? There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a few tablespoons of peanut butter, however, if your client is trying to lose weight or lean down for a physique competition, those extra 3 tablespoons every day can really hinder their progress toward their goals.

Tracking can essentially help you find the right portion sizes for you and your body, so when an individual is transitioned off of tracking, they already know what portions and foods work best for them.

“I use a mix of behavior-based coaching and macro coaching with my clients to help tailor the program to their needs and goals. If I have a client that really wants to do macros, I’ll educate them on what it is and how it’s not something we are going to do forever and let them decide. In the end, everything we do is client-centered, so if they want to try macros, then we can give it a shot!” – Emily Tills, Registered Dietitian and member of the I Believe Mentorship

Cons of Tracking

Although tracking can be very beneficial for some clients, there are definitely some cons to this nutrition coaching method.

First, counting calories or macros is time-consuming. Most people do not want to weigh out everything they eat and enter it into an app on their phone for a long period of time. It is a difficult method for most people to stick to, so if you are interested in using this coaching method, you need to make sure your clients understand exactly what food tracking entails.

Second, tracking calories or macros can actually create an unhealthy relationship with food for some. Tracking can cause individuals to moralize food, by labeling what they eat as either “good” or “bad,” and in addition, it has also been shown to make some individuals constrict calories or binge.

Although tracking can be a great tool for some, it can also cause stress and negativity toward food for others. It is vital that nutrition coaches ensure their client does not have an unhealthy relationship with food before putting them on a program that includes counting calories or macros.

Overall…

Like most things in life, there are both pros and cons to tracking food intake. Clients may find this form of nutrition coaching enjoyable, successful, and productive, while other individuals may feel the complete opposite.
It is important to understand that the main goal of food tracking is to NOT have a client counting calories or macros for the rest of their life. Tracking should be used as a short-term tool to create awareness around food, and once a client has mastered this skill, they should be transitioned to a long-term and sustainable option, such as intuitive eating, which is what we will be talking about next!

Intuitive Eating

Intuitive eating (IE) is a philosophy that dismisses dieting and specific guidelines and instead focuses on teaching the client how to trust themselves. As an infant, we are all born with a great skill in self-regulation. This skill allows us to be in-tune with our hunger cues, so we eat when we are hungry and we stop when we are full. However, as we age, we tend to lose this skill and eating happens when we are emotional (bored, sad, angry, etc) and not only when we are hungry. Overall, nutrition coaches who practice IE help their clients become more in-tune with their body, while also improving their relationship with food.

Why Use Intuitive Eating?

There are many “pros” when it comes to IE, and helping to create a healthy relationship with food is probably #1.

Many people have tried a diet or two (or more) throughout their life, and many of these individuals have formed some negative thoughts and emotions around specific foods or food groups. For instance, some people may have these thoughts:

–  “Carbs are the devil.”

–  “I can’t eat a piece of cake, I’ll gain 5 pounds!”

–  “I can only eat 10 grams of fat per day.

“IE helps to push negative thoughts like these out of the way to make room for positive thoughts and emotions, ultimately leading to a healthier relationship with food.Through IE, clients also become more aware of their hunger cues. As mentioned above, as we age we tend to lose this skill, which often results in emotional eating. Essentially, IE teaches clients to pay attention to their hunger. So next time you go to the cupboard to grab a granola bar, think to yourself, are you really hungry? Or are you just bored? Maybe sad?Learning to pay attention to hunger cues is important because once mastered, a client’s self-confidence around food is greatly increased, which in turn increases motivation toward reaching their goals.”I choose to take an Intuitive Eating, weight inclusive approach because I believe it’s the most compassionate, client-centered, and sustainable approach to health. I love watching clients’ eyes light up when I tell them, ‘no, I’m not going to ask you for your weight, have you track your macros, or give you a list of food rules.’ For many clients, this is the first time in their lives that they’ve had a conversation with a healthcare professional about food that extends past numbers! That fact alone is so freeing and empowering for them. Throughout the coaching process, we work as a team to establish healthy, uplifting behaviors around food, movement, self-care, and self-talk. This process is one of unlearning and relearning. It’s not always easy, and it’s ​definitely f​ar from the messages we’re sold by diet culture, but it’s necessary to finally find peace with food and our bodies. This approach provides a framework through which I can help clients find ways to honor their physical, mental, ​and social health…and I don’t think it gets much better than that.” – Claire Chewning, Registered Dietitian and member of the I Believe Mentorship

Cons of IE

Firstly, intuitive eating may not be the best choice for individuals with very little nutritional knowledge and skills. Being able to understand food, portion sizes, calorie density, etc., is important for clients to understand when learning about IE. In addition, some clients do better on a program with more structure and guidelines to follow, especially for beginners whose goal is to lose weight. This does not necessarily mean the client should count calories instead, but that, again, they may need more education on nutrition and weight loss. However, once a client understands the basics of nutrition, not having guidelines may be seen as a great pro!

Overall…

Nutrition coaches should focus on helping their clients feel confident and comfortable around food and weight management without having to track calories, and this is exactly what IE does. IE allows clients to take their time, listen to their bodies, and trust themself, which should be included within every sustainable nutrition program.

So….Which One is Better?

Well, we’ve reached the answer to the big question, is intuitive eating or tracking a better strategy for client success?

Drumroll, please!

The answer is: neither!! Whichever form of coaching suits your client the best is what will be the most successful for them. Nutrition coaching is NOT one size fits all, what works for one person may not work for someone else.

Are you a Registered Dietitian looking to take your online business to the next level? For more information about the I Believe Mastermind for Dietitians visit https://ibelievementorship.com