Dear Prudence

Help! My Spouse Wants to Use Diet-Tracking Apps, but It’s Triggering My Past Body Issues.

Dear Prudence answers more of your questions—only for Slate Plus members.

A woman looks between her phone in one hand and a burger in the other.
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Every week, Daniel Mallory Ortberg answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.

Q. Not appy: My husband, who is practically perfect in all things, is a computer scientist and loves measuring things and striving for efficiency. He has spreadsheets for calculating how we manage our time, etc. I am completely on board with these and love them. We are also both into healthy eating and fitness. So far, so good. As there are many apps now that track and analyze your diet, my husband would like for us to use one of them in order to make sure we are getting enough protein, vitamins, etc. I think this is a good idea, in theory.

The issue is that my mother had/has body image issues, which she projected onto me as soon as I hit puberty. From the ages of about 12 to about 16, I was perpetually on diets and constantly body-shamed, due to my perceived pudginess. (When I looked at the photos of my teenaged self years later, I was shocked to realize that I had been a perfectly healthy weight all along.) There would be explosions if I were spotted snacking or even picking at fallen crumbs. At one point, when I was 14 or 15, my mother made me download one of those apps in order to stick to a 1,200 or 1,500 calorie per day diet. I did not develop a full-blown eating disorder (my younger sister was not so lucky, but she is thankfully over it), but I did have a very unhealthy relationship to food and my body.

This is mostly past, in large part thanks to my husband and his support. However, I find the idea of using such an app distressing and keep avoiding it. The conversation generally goes like this: My husband suggests using an app, I say that I don’t want to because it causes bad memories, my husband says, “That’s fine, we should just get some data on how much protein is in pork, etc., and keep track of it manually.” I say, “Oh, that’s too much work, I’ll use the app.” I then use the app for half a day, or don’t at all, and feel guilty. Repeat a few months later. I genuinely think it’s a good idea to track our diets (I like health and fitness!). I also think that the apps are great tools to use and want to get past my aversion. What would you recommend?

A: I wonder if your husband really is “practically perfect in all things” or if he, in fact, has a couple of flaws! While I don’t doubt that he’s a lovely man, it certainly sounds like he’s metrics-obsessed to the point of being unwilling to listen to you. If you’re eating a reasonably balanced diet and feel active enough to exercise regularly (and see a doctor once in a while), I’m sure you are getting enough protein (you’d know if you weren’t!) and vitamins (again, if you’re truly worried that you’re deficient in something, you can always ask your doctor to order a blood panel and get some medical advice). You do not need to enter everything you eat on a daily basis into an app in order to prioritize your health and fitness, and in fact you know that this would be detrimental to your mental health. And mental health is a pretty significant component of overall health! You don’t say that you have trouble eating a balanced diet, that you struggle to get enough fiber or vitamin C, or that your meals vary wildly in consistency/health/size throughout the day, so I just don’t think you have much to gain by starting a food-tracking app, but plenty to lose. 

To answer your husband’s question: There’s a significant amount of protein in pork. Most Americans eat double the amount of protein they need every day. You are probably getting more than enough protein on a daily basis; again, if you’re really concerned about something, talk to your doctor. But it sounds like the only reason you’re even considering these apps is because your husband has an idée fixe and you can’t get him to stop bugging you about it—not because you’re interested in them or would learn much that you don’t already know about your own habits. I do not think you should try to get past your aversion; you’ve worked hard to achieve a reasonable sense of balance in your life, you know that you’ve been pushed in the direction of disordered eating before and don’t want to bring up painful memories, and you’re already healthy and active. Tell your husband that food journaling isn’t for you and that he needs to let the subject drop. Not everything needs to be maximized for efficiency, not everything needs to be measured, and even if you mostly love his data-processing ways, it’s fine for you to set a limit every once in a while and ask him to listen to you, not just record your input and output.