Welcome to the new Gyroscope Food XRAY!
Now you have the ability to take photos of all your food in the app, and they will be automatically analyzed for you. At the end of the day or when you receive your daily report the next morning, you can review your data to see how you did and make adjustments to your diet.
Tips for taking food photos
You can take the photos directly in the app if you want to upload everything quickly, or take the photos on your phone and upload them later when you have time. There are a variety of food upload options, from uploading them at the end of each day to doing batch uploads. You can even get to the food camera by force-pressing the Gyroscope icon on your home screen.
We suggest trying all the options and seeing what works best for you. Once you know, you can choose that as your default in the Food Settings to make it your primary option. Then a large shortcut icon will show at the top of your reports tab.
Labeling your meals
Remember, on the other side of Food XRAY are smart humans so you can collaborate with them in different ways to get the best data quality. How much time and energy you want to spend is up to you — some people just do a big batch of unlabeled photos and hope they get figured out, while others may meticulously weigh every ingredient and put them in the labels. For most people, there’s something in between.
Labeling your photos is not essential but helps a lot with accuracy and speed. If you are able to, we suggest the following format: Food Name - amount (extra details). For example, “pizza, 2 slices (didn’t eat crust)" or "salad with 2 cups spinach (olive oil dressing)"
This helps the team as well as the algorithmic views match up similar foods, as well as keeps your data clean if you ever want to look back through it later.
If you forgot a photo
That’s ok, you can just enter in the text of what you ate and that will work as well. Try to get photos since those are a lot more detailed — they contain the time you ate, plus provide much more nuance in portion size — but it is natural to forget sometimes.
If you captured one part of the meal but not another (like a missing drink or dessert) you can also just note it in the label for one of the other photos.
Meet your Metabolic Coach
For every meal, you’ll get a grade with details about the quality of the meal. The amount of calories (energy balance) is the most popular metric but not only thing you should look at.
Powered by First Principles
There are 6 principles that add up to Meal Quality. These are determined by how the human body works, and each meal is judged solely from those principles.
Instead of memorizing the rating for every possible food combination, here is a checklist of 6 variables that will add up to a high quality meal.
Your energy balance (calories in a surplus or deficit) is the first and most well known, but there are 5 others that are equally important to get right:
- Not being in too high calorie surplus or deficit
- Mostly whole foods, not processed foods
- High protein for muscle synthesis
- Density and variety of vitamins & minerals
- Balanced hormone levels to resolve hunger
- Avoiding unhealthy glucose spikes
Each factor is important to your body’s proper function for different reasons. Optimizing all 6 should be your goal in finding successful meals to repeat daily. For each meal, you can see the specific distribution of scores. These all are combined and explained in the total grade.
Once you are on the right track, most of these variables will help balance each other. For example, eating more whole foods could help improve nutrient density and keep your glucose levels stable. Eating high protein and correct fats will make you feel full, preventing a significant calorie surplus. Often when someone is gaining bodyfat, their meals will be failing across all these categories at the same time.
These tips in this welcome guide are just to give you a quick overview of the Food XRAY featureset, and preview of what is to come. They are not something you need to memorize. Rather, we have composed all the best practices and scientific insights into a section of the app called The Academy. You can find it on the website or in the app under the “Academy” tab.
The food section of the academy has multiple chapters. We suggest starting with Food Quality which covers all of these topics in more detail. In addition to just reading the guides, each week you’ll get a new insight to practice and make into a habit.
Behind the Scenes
Values & principles
Just like places, sleep tracking, etc. our goal is to set up a system that you can use for the rest of your life with very minimal effort — and the effort you DO have can be retroactive so it doesn’t interfere with your day to day
This industry has SO many superstitions, myths and inconsistencies from pop culture over the years. We had to throw out the entire slate and start from scratch to build the nutrition algorithms.
How the human body works is our primary roadmap and decision making tool. How our tools work end up shaping our habits and even our perception of reality. For this reason, how our food tracking works can have significant effects on our daily habits.
For example, if barcode scanning is easy to do then we will prioritize more foods with barcodes.
With this in mind, there are a few commonly requested features that we intentionally don’t have:
- Entering “Snacks” or “Late night food” separate from meals. In Gyroscope, food is simply stored based on the time the photo was taken, so you don’t need any additional mental effort to think about what “name” the meal has. From a biological perspective, whether you label your meal breakfast or “snack“ or “ontbijt“ has no effect on what is happening in your body. However, it is a useful part of the English language and how we communicate with each other, so we haven’t gotten rid of that label entirely and will still use it in a few places.
- Whether you eat just one or two meals or many snacks, you can easily track them all without needing to stop and think about what name they are. Taking the photo with your food camera will skip all those decisions and let you just do one thing: add a food photo. Eating only balanced meals and avoiding unhealthy snacks or junk food during the day is one of the first and most powerful changes to make. Therefore, the meal storing experience is built around this and we try not to normalize these habits by having a dedicated label for it.
- Reducing processed foods. Barcode scanning is another popular feature but the unfortunate reality here is that if it has a barcode and is a processed food then you should probably start trying to have less of it rather than make that a daily part of your Gyroscope routine. Making it easier to track proceed foods than not-processed foods would create habits that go in the opposite direction of good health. Of course this is not a blanket statement, some things like whey protein could be processed and still a great part of your diet.
The goal here is not just to stockpile data, but to change your behavior and daily habits for the better. These should result in measurable improvements quite quickly when done correctly. There are many components of the XRAY and Coach experience that all add up.
- Just capturing the photo allows for more mindfulness about what you’re putting into your body. If a meal isn’t good enough to even have on your camera roll, then you may want to think twice about having it become the building blocks for your future self.
- Grades for every meal are both informative (teaching you what is in each meal) and motivational (with reinforcement of great meals to repeat). Sometimes you know when a meal is good or bad already, but often it can be surprising since we are looking at many aspects of a meal you may not have been aware of — for example, how processed it is or spikes in glucose levels. When you get an unexpected grade, it can be a powerful signal to look deeper into what you’re eating. It can be motivating to get good grades, and a wake up call to change if you are getting bad grades. You can adjust the strictness with the “Tough Love” setting in Customization depending on how strongly the grades affect you. New users may want to start with strict mode off and then turn it on when ready after the basic optimizations.
- Long term trends are the most important thing to look at. Whether one or two meals are good or bad have little effect on your life, but habits that are repeated for many years in a row end up shaping everything about you. With XRAY, you can use your trends to make longer term decisions about what to do and follow up to make sure they actually happen. If you’ve already been using Gyroscope, you may already be familiar with these features for your steps, sleep, heart rate and other parts of your life — and now those same tools apply to your diet.
- Adding a coach for more guidance and accountability is always an option. Some people may enjoy doing it themselves, while others may prefer to have a whole support team and lack the willpower or experience to do it themselves. Both options are available to you! In either case, you can use the support chat or comment on a meal if you ever have any questions about why it was graded a certain way or would like to learn more.
Tips & habits to make the most of your experience
Common Food Swaps
Instead of simply using the calorie counts to eat less food, we suggest starting with a focus of improving your meal quality. Often this includes swapping foods you often eat with higher quality versions. In some cases, just two or three changes to frequent meals can get you to your goals.
Sugar and processed foods are often the worst offenders, both adding empty calories as well as reducing the percent of important protein or healthy fats.
These include drinks, but also many common meal items.
Sometimes foods that people think are healthy and helpful may not actually be as great as imagined.
Processed foods like orange juice for example are a common example of people eating something they thought was a health food, but then getting a low meal score. If a product comes in a package or was made in a factory, even if it is marketed as a salad or fruit, it may be considered a processed food and receive a lower grade. On the other hand, eating whole foods and minimally processed items (like fresh vegetables or a salad made from fresh ingredients) will often result in good results.
In this case of an orange juice, the amount of sugar compared to fiber, as well as how processed the item is, all can contribute to changes in the grade.
We don’t have a specific database of "good" or "bad" foods, but rather look at the properties of the meal to generate a unique grade for every time you eat. For this reason, taking a new photo of the exact meal and amounts you ate, including the time of day you ate, is useful rather than simply repeating the data from another day.
Looking at how processed a food through the food processing grade is a detailed and actionable metric that can help you optimize your meals.
Balancing your plate
Having a balanced plate is also one of the most fundamental aspects of nutrition. This means drinking an orange juice on its own is very different than having it as a part of a balanced meal, eating all the items in the correct proportion and order.
Foods like salads can be one way to do this, but almost any combination of foods could be composed into a healthy plate. Those on a ketogenic or low carb diet could replace the grains category with even more fats and proteins, while athletes could prioritize more grains for carbohydrates.
On the other hand, many “healthy” foods could still be combined in ratios or quantities that makes the whole meal unhealthy. For example, if carbohydrates end up being a majority of the meal, even if they are from “whole“ sources like brown rice or oatmeal, it is likely to cause an unhealthy glucose spike as well as result in deficiencies of protein or vitamins. Similarly, a meal that is purely protein but lacking any healthy fats or fiber could be considered imbalanced and cause issues if repeated constantly.
Note that the grade is essentially a rating of how often to repeat a particular meal rather than a judgement of you as a person. You and your coach can decide what level of quality to sustain for your typical meals, as well as what could be done on special occasions.
Bad habits XRAY can help you stop
Undoing years or decades of bad habits will not be easy, but we are here to help you in the process. In your first few weeks, as you start to see the actual data for your meals you will start to notice patterns or warnings in the app.
Judging specific ingredients rather than meals
The most common mindset of “Is this a healthy food?” is not always a useful perspective. For example, olive oil could be “healthy” but if you drink a bottle of it for lunch that will most definitely not be a good meal. Lettuce is great, but if that is your only ingredient without a sufficient protein source or healthy fats, then it will also be an incomplete meal and could be rated badly.
Using XRAY successfully will require starting to move away from thinking of single ingredients or items as good or bad, or in terms of only total calorie counts. Instead, you will start looking at meals as a variety of foods put together. The individual items matter, but also their ratios and even timing have significance, and are the main unit of reporting.
If your health has not been perfect, it is likely that you are doing SOMETHING wrong. Finding and fixing these incorrect ideas should be a high priority, and is one of the primary features in XRAY (as opposed to simply stockpiling data but not making any changes).
It is likely that a large percent of the things you (and all humans) currently believe about food, just based on popular culture or marketing, or are using for your daily decision making are wrong. The challenge is knowing WHICH ones...
This may be a scary thought at first, but is also exciting. It means if you are able to fix those then your life could get 2x or even 10x better!
Thinking in categories rather than particular items
Some people get confused why something they thought was healthy gets a bad grade. This can often be caused by following incorrect marketing, or thinking in terms of ingredients rather than correct meals. Starting from first principles when composing your meals should help you avoid these.
XRAY Looks at the ACTUAL nutrients and data, while humans can often get tricked. No category on its own is “good” or “bad” but the quality of the meal depends on the actual meal you ate and its composition of physical molecules.
Some common examples are whether something is vegetarian or gluten-free or keto or any other label, which is only one part of health. If it was highly processed to get into that state, it is still a processed food and may be unhealthy as a meal. In some cases it could even be a generally regarded good thing like a “salad” but if made as a processed food could end up being just a large amount of saturated fat or canola oil and croutons, etc could lower the score further. In other cases it could be possible to have a commonly regarded as “unhealthy” food like a burger and make it into a healthy meal with some simple modifications.
Whether something was shaped like a burrito or a salad or sandwich or something else doesn’t always matter — what matters is the actual molecules and composition of the meal — so it can be helpful to think of it deconstructed into its base ingredients. For example, a “salad” could have a variety of ranges from being essentially a plate of croutons with a few greens and a high fat processed dressing (the worst case scenario), to an ultra-optimized blend of vegetables with only whole and unprocessed ingredients and an added protein source (probably an A+ meal).
Looking at the macronutrient breakdown in Gyroscope can help visualize this better, for example seeing if it a meal ended up being 10% protein or 40% protein can be a big difference.
Not balancing the plate correctly
The food grade looks at not just the presence of something, but the amount and ratio in the total meal. Often there could be a token amount of protein — almost every ingredient, even bread, has some protein. However, if the plate ends up being 90% carbs and sugar, that still results in a low grade and would show warnings about needing protein.
The same exact “meal“ could be composed very differently, with a very different distribution.
For example — a pizza and a salad together… could easily be an A or an F depending on how much of each there was. If you had one bite of lettuce and then an entire pizza, it will be a very different experience than a whole salad with protein, and then a single slice of pizza.
This is a radical shift from how most people think of food in blanket statements of good or bad, but is very exciting since it gives you a lot of flexibility to compose meals that are still great as long as you maintain a balance. You could still choose between pizza, dessert or a beer for example, depending on what you enjoyed the most.
Having all 3 together daily would probably push you over the edge in a meal and not be recommended.
You could decide to have dessert knowing it pushes your meal down from an A to a B, but since your Health Score is high you can afford a slight drop in exchange for the experience. Someone else who is at the verge of diabetes may not want to make the same decision at that time. The role of Food XRAY is to simply give you all of the information you need to then make informed decisions about your health.
Often people associate things tasting bad or being unpleasant with being healthy, and anything that must be good or pleasurable is unhealthy. Some things that taste great are actually very good for you — especially if you stick to whole and unprocessed foods, then flavor and experience is actually a built-in human mechanism to judge food quality.
One of the main premises of food tracking is that all food needs to be measured. Otherwise, the dataset has limited use. Nutrient density can still have meaning, but metrics like total calories can become useless. It’s not uncommon to see someone eating 500 calories a day but then gaining weight — this means there are thousands of calories per day not being logged.
If only lunch is tracked but dinner is skipped, many of the metrics for the day can become incorrect. It is hard to know if you actually only ate 500 calories, or if another 2,000 were eaten for dinner and just not stored, and all the trends and grades may not be correct.
It is estimated that almost all current usage of manual tracking apps solutions (like myfitnesspal for example) can be off by over 50% due to these types of issues and gaps.
Often people get hung up on the precision accuracy of a particular food item — is it 80 grams or 85. Slight errors in precision generally even out and may just skew the data by a few percent.
In reality, it is only missing entire meals that will damage your dataset to a noticeable amount.
Therefore, if accurate data is your concern then the main thing to worry about is simply taking photos of every single thing that you eat without missing small snacks or skipping any meals.
With incorrect data, then measuring surplus or deficit becomes nearly impossible and the weight seems like a mysterious number unrelated to food.
“Hey I was only eating 1000 calories but I gained weight!” almost always means a few thousand got skipped in measurement rather than there being some genetic anomaly where you gain weight very easily without calories.
Especially with alcohol (which provides 7 calories per gram), it is very possible for some meals to be many thousands of calories, but get ignored in your mind as “just one meal” or “a few snacks” if not actually tracked in the app.
Thinking in absolute values not percentages
Food tracking even done by experts with our maximum accuracy is always going to be imprecise. Instead of lamenting over that, we need to move forward with our lives and still find a way to make use of what we have. One of the primary ways to do that is by looking at ratios and percentages rather than absolute values.
Even if you wrote out the exact contents on the packages, those can be off by ~10% and the real answer is simply unknowable to exact precision. Even if you weighed every single ingredient, the actual nutrients in that particular apple for example could depend on things like what it was fertilized with, how much sun it got, and many other factors. However, that doesn’t mean there is no benefit to tracking your food or at least estimating what an average apple has and using those numbers.
What we look at in many cases is density or ratios of nutrients.
Nutrient density is measured as the amount of different vitamins and minerals per calorie.
For example if a meal is 90% carb and 10% protein, we can know it is imbalanced without even needing to weigh it on a scale. Therefore, many of the meal grades from XRAY are fully accurate despite our limitations in using the camera as a measurement tool.
Another complex but insightful metric is nutrient density. Nutrient density can be a tricky concept for new members to learn, but a powerful one to rely on to take your nutrition to the next level. It is not simply enough to eat a vegetable or have a few healthy items in a meal, but they must make up a significant portion of the meal.
While the common macros are well known energy sources, there are many other chemicals that the body needs for function that cannot be produced internally and need to be eaten.
These are known as essential vitamins and minerals. Even with trace amounts you would survive and stay alive for a long time, but having the full amount helps your body function much better. Again, vitamins and minerals are essential for important features like breathing, thinking, producing cells, etc. and not just optional things for people who are trying to be healthy.
DENSITY PER CALORIE
To decide if a food is nutrient dense, we look at how many vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients were present per calorie. This is a ratio, rather than just checking if they exist. In a salad with some lettuce, this may be a small but useful amount. Adding other different colors of vegetables or fruits could boost that by fulfilling other nutrients. However, adding a sugary soda or a side of bread could then DECREASE the nutrient density by adding a lot of empty calories and “watering down” the amount.
If a meal has a lot of one vitamin but not the rest, that is a low score. For example, eating 50 oranges would get a high vitamin C score but the meal would be missing vitamin D and K and many other vitamins and minerals, therefore the nutrient density would still be low. Having a diverse set of fruits and vegetables — a few blueberries, some spinach, some tomatoes, a few nuts, etc. — in every single meal will help to boost your nutrient density scores and check the boxes on the things your body is looking for every day.
There are dozens of important vitamins and minerals, and they are not interchangeable by your body, which is why they are all considered essential. Having some but not others can cause inefficiencies or even bottlenecks. For example, if you were trying to make a pizza and had a lot of sauce but ran out of dough, you would end up with 0 pizzas because the dough is the bottleneck in the equation.
This is similar to what could happen in your body when you are deficient in certain essential vitamins or minerals. Many vitamins and minerals act together, for example Vitamin D and Magnesium or Zinc are all related and a deficiency in one could affect production of the others. However, that doesn’t mean you need to get 50 ingredients in every single meal. Getting a good variety across the day or week is generally enough for your body to function smoothly.
XRAY can help you figure out the micronutrients in your meals, but there is an important shortcut you should learn so you’re not dependent on opening the app every time you make a meal.
That shortcut is simply looking at the items and their colors. Simply getting a variety of WHOLE FOOD ingredients — 5 or 10 different vegetables rather than 1 or 2 —can provide a better distribution. For example, a salad with many different vegetables rather than just a lot of greens. This is possibly how cooking and recipes originally evolved, blending ingredients and flavors not just for a better experience but to keep our bodies properly fueled.
On the other hand, if you are eating the same exact thing for every meal, no matter how great it is you can probably assume the distribution of nutrients will not be as varied as it could be.
Eating empty calories
As the opposite to eating nutrient dense food, any food you eat that is processed or junk food will take a big chunk out of your potential nutrients. If more than 10-20% of your diet is from those foods, then you will either need to over consume total calories to reach your micronutrients, or end up being deficient over time.
Taking supplemental vitamins can help to fill this gap slightly, but they should be considered more of a supplement to boost your levels rather than a primary source. This is partly because of a concept of bioavailability. Though your body does soak up pretty much all energy from macronutrients, absorption of micronutrients is more complex and variable, partly because they are smaller.
For these reasons, you could log photos of your vitamins if you take them but they are not generally counted as food or contribute to the nutrient metrics, which are focused on measuring your food intake. For example, Vitamin D can also come from sunlight but the Vitamin D measurement in XRAY is only looking at the vitamin levels in the food you ate.
Not getting enough protein
This can be measured in a few ways: total grams per day, total grams per meal, and percentage of meal that is from protein.
There are a few ways to increase this amount: adding more protein (increases your amount for the meal and the day), and removing other calorie sources that are not protein, like junk food or especially sugars.
We’ve put together a specific guide for this topic since it is such a challenge for most. You can read it at protein.guide
If you are on the average American diet, it is likely you are getting far too little protein. This is common with a diet high in sugar, carbs and processed foods. This does end up being cheaper and easier to source, easy to pick up at any market, keep on the shelves, etc. It is also the most profitable for companies to produce since they can be mass produced, stored, shipped, etc. The whole foods (not the store, but just the idea of not-processed foods) that are ideal for you are unfortunately often more expensive and perishable.
However, the cost and time savings of eating processed foods and a high-sugar diet are not necessarily free. You end up paying with your health and even lifespan.
Your grades will show more personalized and curated advice, but it is very likely you are not getting enough protein. Boosting that is often the first challenge for people.
As you get older, the amount needed to sustain muscle increases, so this becomes more important over time. While you could have gotten away with a lower amount in your 20s, the same deficiency in your 40s could reduce in severe sarcopenia (loss of muscle tissue). However, it’s never too late to start changing.
For vegetarians or vegans, getting sufficient protein without ending up in an extreme calorie surplus can be challenging, but is not insurmountable. It just requires more focus, tracking and planning in the early phases until it becomes a habit.
We’re always here to help!
If you have any questions or need advice, you can use the chat in the app or comment directly on a recent meal to reference it.