I have this conversation with new 1:1 nutrition coaching clients on a regular basis, so I've given this question a lot of thought! My perspective on food tracking is like that of a lot of other things: there's a lot of gray area. When a client or prospect asks, "Should I track?" my answer is usually, "Well, that depends..."
Situations where I'd encourage tracking:
You are about to start a nutrition coaching or counseling relationship with a nutritionist, dietitian, or doctor and want to give them a picture of your current/beginning eating patterns.
You are experiencing pain, physical discomfort, headaches, allergies, digestive distress, etc. and are trying to determine triggers.
You are learning about your own patterns and need something concrete to look at and reflect on realistically (for a short amount of time)
Writing things down or otherwise logging them makes you feel good. It's part of your routine or system, just like you write down every task and activity in your planner, and it does not disrupt you from eating enough/choices you enjoy.
Situations where I'd discourage tracking:
Being hyper-aware makes you self-critical in a way that doesn't serve you.
You aren't able to just eat and enjoy a meal in a social setting.
You are beginning to measure your fruits & vegetables.
You are fixated on a (probably arbitrary) calorie or macro goal.
Tracking feels annoying, cumbersome, or negative.
If you'd like to try tracking or logging your food, or if a doctor or nutritionist asks you to do so, here are a few suggestions I'd make:
Use a format that feels easiest to you. You can use the notes section on your phone, a blank notebook, or the sidebar of your planner. You don't need an app or specific log; these can feel restrictive or annoying to use and may prevent you from actually doing the data collection.
Try to look at it as just that - data collection! You're like a scientist or researcher. You're simply jotting down notes so that you'll be able to reflect on them at a later date. Logging your food can be a helpful learning tool, so it can be helpful to look at it that way. You're not micromanaging yourself; you're learning. Once you have notes, remember to take the time to look back and reflect on them. Tracking isn't the end goal; using what you learn to help you adjust to healthier patterns is.
Be careful NOT to micromanage yourself! It's not necessary to know how many grapes you ate or how many cups of lettuce were in your salad or what your sweet potato weighed. You'll drive yourself nuts! We don't want to start looking at our food as just numbers or amounts, either. Instead, we're focusing on food selection, patterns, etc,
While you're at it, it's often helpful to jot down other things, too. Consider noting if you slept well or poorly, exercise habits, water intake, how your digestion feels, and what your mood is like. Factors usually affect one another; what we eat is intertwined with SO much of how we feel! When we say we're learning to "listen to our bodies," that partially means paying attention to how our mood, energy levels, and physical bodies feel, and how we may be able to change things up.
If it becomes too much, abandon ship. If keeping a log is annoying or cumbersome, and no one is asking you to do it/you're not trying to solve a health problem, there's no need to keep going! You are not automatically healthier because you kept a log. If you find logging taking the joy out of food, or if you're starting to measure & count instead of paying attention to when you're full/hungry, then it's time to take a break.
Want someone to guide you through taking note of your current habits, reflecting on your patterns, and finding ways to grow in your healthy eating? Let's chat! Discovery Calls are free & an awesome way to share what you're working on. We can see if my coaching services might be a good fit for your goals. :)