How Accurately Do I Need To Log My Food?

Fairly accurately, but consistency is far more important than perfect accuracy

When people are introduced to macro counting and food logging, they’re often told that they need to log everything they eat with near-perfect accuracy and precision. This can lead to unnecessary stress (high levels of concern when you can’t log a meal with perfect accuracy) and friction associated with the learning curve of weighing or measuring everything you eat and drink.

Fortunately, perfect food logging accuracy isn’t necessary to attain the outcomes most people are interested in (weight loss, muscle gain, and improved body composition). In fact, an excessive concern with perfect food logging accuracy can sometimes be counterproductive.

Why It's Often Assumed that Perfect Logging is Necessary

When people insist that perfect food logging accuracy is necessary to achieve the results you want, this recommendation is typically given in the context of a dietary approach that can’t adequately adapt to reasonable food logging inaccuracies. Typically, you’re provided with a static estimate of your energy expenditure, which is assumed to be perfectly accurate (more-or-less). Your calorie and macro targets are calculated based on this static value. Since your intake targets are calculated in relation to a static value, you need to log your food with extreme accuracy to know how close your intake is to a static target.

However, we know that any static estimate of energy needs will have the potential for considerable error. Furthermore, as your metabolism adapts to being in a caloric surplus or deficit, energy needs will change. That’s why MacroFactor’s dynamic expenditure algorithm and coaching recommendations adapt based on your weight trend and nutrition intake in the first place. And, as an added bonus, such a system negates the need for perfectly accurate food logging.

To illustrate, let’s assume that your actual energy expenditure is known to be 2500 Calories per day, and you’re aiming to lose a pound per week, so your energy intake target is 2000 Calories per day. But, let’s further assume that you don’t log your food with perfect accuracy, so you end up underestimating your energy intake by about 300 calories per day: when you log 2000 Calories, you’re actually consuming 2300 Calories. So, you end up losing weight slower than intended.

If your dietary targets were calculated in reference to a static value (2500 Calories per day), you’d only have one option: make sure you started logging food with absolutely perfect accuracy.

Why Perfectly Accurate Logging isn't Necessary with MacroFactor

However, with MacroFactor, your calculated expenditure and dietary targets would just trend down in response to your slower-than-intended weight loss. Your expenditure would settle at around 2200 Calories per day, and so your energy intake target would settle at around 1700 Calories per day. Through this process, your recommended intake targets fully account for your food logging inaccuracies. Since you underestimate your energy intake by 300 calories per day, when you log 1700 Calories, you’re actually consuming the 2000 Calories that are perfectly appropriate for your goal. In short, this process accounts for and corrects for consistent food logging inaccuracies of any reasonable magnitude.

Of note, this process is beneficial even when you do try to log your food with perfect accuracy. For a variety of reasons, even people who track meticulously will under- or overestimate their energy intake to some degree: plenty of foods have small labeling errors, fruits and vegetables can differ in terms of their sugar vs. water content, different cooking, preparation, and processing methods can affect how much energy your body can actually extract from a food, etc. Even if you think you’re logging with perfect accuracy, you might still be consuming 5-10% more or less energy than you end up logging. A system like MacroFactor’s accounts and corrects for those inadvertent and unavoidable logging errors as well.

How Accurately Do You Need to Log Your Food?

So, how accurately do you need to log your food? In general, you should try to consistently log with as much accuracy as is convenient, feasible, and tolerable for you.

If you don’t mind weighing everything you cook or eat, then absolutely do so – trying to be incredibly accurate certainly isn’t a bad thing, after all.

If you prefer measuring cups to food scales, that’s also perfectly fine – volumetric measurements are slightly less accurate than weight-based measurements, but they’re certainly accurate enough for MacroFactor’s purposes.

If you just want to eyeball portion sizes for some foods, that’s also perfectly fine. Your estimation errors will likely tend to err in approximately the same direction and to approximately the same degree most of the time, which is also something MacroFactor handles well.

When you’re in a situation where accurate food logging isn’t possible, it’s perfectly fine (preferable, even), to simply estimate your energy intake for the meal.

In fact, it’s even fine to not log relatively low-calorie items you consistently consume. For example, if you have a splash of cream in your coffee every morning, and you don’t log that splash of cream, that’s perfectly alright. Your intake recommendations will essentially tell you, “here’s how much you should consume per day, other than the splash of cream you consume every morning” – the fact that you don’t log the cream in your morning coffee is baked into the rest of your recommendations. The same applies to dietary supplements you consume daily that have relatively few calories (for example, fish oil, amino acid supplements, etc.).

The one warning we’d give is to not get so lax with your food logging that your logging habits start to verge on partial logging – not logging snacks, meals, and foods or beverages that do actually have quite a bit of energy. For more on this distinction, we’d recommend checking out this article from the Knowledge Base.

In short, consistency trumps accuracy. If a method of logging your food works for you and you stick with it, the errors resulting from that method will tend to be similar in terms of direction and magnitude. So, MacroFactor will have no issue dealing with those errors, and providing you with appropriate dietary recommendations that account for and correct for those errors. If pursuing perfect logging accuracy made it more difficult for you to log consistently, then the pursuit of perfect accuracy would ultimately do more harm than good. Just make a good-faith effort to log as accurately as you can with whatever method is convenient and feasible for you to apply consistently, and you’ll be in good shape.

Caveat: Expenditure Accuracy vs. Usefulness

However, we should mention one caveat before closing. MacroFactor can deal with food logging inaccuracies because those inaccuracies will be reflected in your calculated expenditure, which informs your energy intake targets. This process corrects for your food logging inaccuracies and leaves you with appropriate intake targets, but an inaccurate expenditure estimate. For functional outcomes (i.e. knowing how much to eat to maintain weight, or to gain or lose weight at your desired rate), that’s not a problem whatsoever. However, if your primary goal is to attain the most accurate estimate of your energy expenditure, you will need to log your food and beverage intake as accurately as possible.

Otherwise, just keep in mind that your estimated energy expenditure reflects both your actual energy expenditure, and the direction and magnitude of your food logging inaccuracies (for instance, if your expenditure is calculated to be 2200 Calories per day, but you under-count your energy intake by about 300 Calories per day, your actual energy expenditure is likely closer to 2500 Calories per day). Though, to reiterate, unless you just want to know your energy expenditure for the sake of knowing your energy expenditure, this isn’t something you need to worry about.

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