Do I Need to Log Everything I Eat and Drink to Have an Accurate Expenditure and Use MacroFactor's Coaching Features?

Not necessarily, but there are some caveats

MacroFactor has the fastest food logging workflows on the market, but food logging can still be somewhat time-consuming. That’s especially true if you frequently prepare meals with a ton of ingredients that you measure or weigh individually. There are also plenty of instances where you might eat or drink a little bit of something that would be difficult to log accurately – for example, you might taste a sauce you’re preparing, or try a sip of someone’s drink.

So, that prompts some people to wonder whether they actually need to log every single thing they eat in order to take full advantage of MacroFactor’s coaching features, and for MacroFactor to accurately calculate their expenditure.

How Expenditure is Calculated

I’ll start by discussing expenditure, since MacroFactor’s coaching adjustments are based on expenditure changes.

In short, you do need to log everything for MacroFactor to accurately calculate your expenditure, but you don’t necessarily need to log everything for MacroFactor to provide a useful expenditure estimate.

Your expenditure is calculated based on your logged energy intake and your weight trendEnergy balance is determined by the energy you consume (“Calories in”) and the energy you expend (“Calories out”). Changes in body weight are driven by changes in that stored chemical energy.

From that basic relationship, we get the common equation: Calories In - Calories out = Change in body weight. We can rearrange that basic equation to calculate “Calories out” (your expenditure) based on changes in body weight (your weight trend) and “Calories in” (your logged energy intake).

For a simple illustration, if you’re losing a pound per week, that implies you’re in an energy deficit of approximately 500 Calories per day – that’s the change in stored chemical energy implied by that rate of weight loss. If we also know you’re eating 2000 Calories per day, we can estimate your energy expenditure to be 2000 + 500 = 2500 Calories per day. In other words, you’d need to be burning about 2500 Calories per day in order to simultaneously be eating 2000 Calories per day while losing one pound per week.

Since energy intake is literally half of the equation, it must be absolutely critical to perfectly log your energy intake, right?

Not really. Or, at minimum, it’s not critical for most functional applications.

Ultimately, most MacroFactor users are primarily interested in logging their food with a functional goal in mind: gaining, losing, or maintaining weight, improving their body composition, etc.

For the purpose of pursuing those functional outcomes, perfectly thorough and accurate food logging actually isn’t necessary.

Accounting for Food Logging Idiosyncracies

Let’s continue with the simple illustration above: You burn 2500 Calories per day, and you’re trying to lose a pound per week. Given those assumptions, MacroFactor would recommend that you should aim to consume about 2000 Calories per day.

But, let’s assume that you don’t log absolutely everything you consume in a day. Maybe you don’t log the splash of creamer you put in your morning coffee, the small handful of calories in a couple cough drops, little licks and tastes of the foods you’re preparing for dinner, the handful of shredded lettuce you added to a sandwich, and a few other small things throughout the day.

Overall, when you log 2000 Calories throughout the day, let’s assume you actually consume 2200 Calories, because there were 200 unlogged Calories.

As a result, you’d lose weight a bit slower than intended, so MacroFactor would gradually reduce your energy intake target until you were losing a pound per week. That would still coincide with an actual intake of 2000 Calories per day, but since you under-log your energy intake by 200 Calories per day, you’d finally start losing a pound per week when you were logging 1800 Calories per day.

Given a logged intake of 1800 calories per day, and a rate of weight loss of one pound per week, MacroFactor would estimate that your expenditure is 1800 + 500 = 2300 Calories per day.

So, if you’d like to keep losing a pound per week, MacroFactor’s coaching algorithms would continue recommending that you consume 1800 Calories per day.

Technically, the 200 Calories per day of food logging “error” has propagated through the system – your expenditure is underestimated by 200 Calories per day, and your nutrition recommendations are 200 Calories per day lower than they “should” be. But functionally, it all comes out in the wash, because your nutrition recommendations now reflect your personal food logging idiosyncrasies.

In other words, you still need to consume 2000 calories per day to lose a pound per week. But, since you under-log your energy intake by 200 Calories per day, you actually end up consuming 2000 calories per day when you aim for 1800 Calories per day. So, when MacroFactor recommends that you consume 1800 Calories per day, that’s the perfect intake target for you, given your food logging preferences and idiosyncrasies. In effect, any reasonably consistent directional errors are priced into your recommendations.

Long story short: Most of the time, you don’t actually need to log every little thing you consume for MacroFactor’s coaching algorithms to work as intended, and for your expenditure to be functionally useful. If you don’t want to log some low-calorie items, or small amounts of foods or beverages that would be difficult to track (green leafy vegetables, herbs and spices, little licks and tastes while you’re cooking, etc.), you don’t have to.

The one caveat is that, if you’re not logging absolutely everything you consume, you should interpret your expenditure in the proper context. If you’re consuming 300 calories per day that you’re not logging, your actual daily energy expenditure will probably be about 300 calories higher than your estimated expenditure in MacroFactor. So, if you’re concerned that MacroFactor is underestimating your energy expenditure, remember that your expenditure in MacroFactor is the functional outcome of the data you log – if you’re under-reporting your energy intake, MacroFactor will underestimate your energy expenditure. If you want the most accurate expenditure possible, you do need to accurately log everything you consume

But, by the same token, remember that a functionally useful expenditure estimate (that accounts for your food logging idiosyncrasies) is typically more helpful for pursuing your goals than a perfectly accurate expenditure estimate.

Accuracy vs. Usefulness

Going back to the prior illustration, let’s assume that you knew with perfect certainty that your energy expenditure was exactly 2500 Calories per day, and you used that perfectly accurate figure to determine your energy intake targets. You’re trying to lose a pound per week, so you aim to eat 2000 Calories per day. But, since you under-log your energy intake by about 200 Calories per day, you’d actually be consuming 2200 Calories per day. As a result, you would lose weight slower than desired, in spite of the fact that you knew your energy expenditure with perfect accuracy, and you had the perfect energy intake target for your goal. To make such a system “work” as intended to help you lose a pound per week, you would actually need to log everything you ate and drank with perfect accuracy. Or, you’d need to do what MacroFactor already does – set an energy intake target for yourself that’s 200 calories “too low” to account for your food logging preferences and idiosyncrasies.

So, if you want to have the most accurate expenditure estimate in MacroFactor, you do need to accurately log every calorie-containing food or beverage you consume. However, a perfectly accurate expenditure estimate isn’t always the more useful expenditure estimate, and you don’t need to accurately log absolutely everything you consume for MacroFactor’s recommendations to be useful and accurate for you, because MacroFactor’s recommendations will inherently account for your individual food logging quirks – including the things you consistently don’t log.

Final Recommendations

Of note, this principle applies to relatively low-calorie foods or beverages you consume regularly, and is distinct from partially logging a day of food. If you don’t log the splash of coffee creamer you have every morning, that’s not a problem, but occasionally not logging dinner altogether can be.

In general, we’d recommend logging all of the “big things” you consume in a day – anything with more than about 50 calories or so. But, whether or not you want to log things with very low energy density (for example, lettuce, spinach, herbs, spices, pickles, low-calorie condiments like mustard or hot sauce, etc.), or things you consume in very small quantities (licks, tastes, sips, splashes of coffee creamer, your daily fish oil pills, etc.) is entirely up to you.

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