Food tracking. I’ll be the first to admit, this can get tedious. But bear with me. Have you ever heard the saying “knowing is half the battle”? Well that certainly applies here. We may think we know every calorie we’re putting into our mouths, but study after study, such as this one, show that we tend to underestimate how much we’re eating and overestimate how many calories we’re burning. This can be frustrating when we think we’re doing everything right and don’t know why we aren’t seeing results.
Why Do We Track?
Tracking the number of calories and type of calories (which foods) we’re choosing is the best way to begin to understand what’s going on with our bodies and nutrition now as well as where we can make changes to achieve our goals, better gut health, weight loss, etc.
Food tracking will show total calories. It will also show nutrients and vitamins, macros (carbs vs fats vs proteins). All important! Beyond this, tracking also uncovers the secrets to our successes and also our downfalls.
Maybe you’re a nutrition diva from 7 am – 4 pm, then the afternoon hunger pangs hit along with a wave of exhaustion, and from 4 pm – 10 pm you’re diving into the snack drawer, loading up on carbs, sugars, and fats that aren’t really doing anything for your body. Or perhaps, you’re not aware of just how often you walk to the fridge and sneak a little something, in between meetings, after irritating work emails, or child meltdowns, or during every other episode in your nightly binge-watch sessions.
Whatever your patterns are, tracking is the best way to uncover them. This is NOT meant to be a shaming exercise. I always try to drive that message home with my clients. There will be no judgment from me, and I encourage you to do your best not to harshly criticize yourself either. Just pretend you’re an objective observer watching someone else’s daily noshings. That’s the best way to get the most accurate data and uncover what’s really going on behind what you eat, when you eat it, and why.
I also recommend that my clients add a word or a sentence about how they are feeling before and after they eat.
Example: 2:30 pm coffee with chocolate mix and two cookies. Feeling before – exhausted and hungry. Thirty minutes after – jazzed up and a little nauseous.
This is the true secret to getting ahold of the sometimes uncomfortable aspects of why we eat for reasons other than hunger. I encourage you to be brave and face a little discomfort. It will generate greater and longer-term success in the long run.
How long do we track?
I have my clients do at least a week so we have something to use to build our nutrition plan and know what other areas to focus on to work toward their goals. In this world, longer is better. I started diligently tracking my food in January of 2020, I hit my goals and I still do it. Yes, there are days I’ve skipped, but for the most part, it’s just part of my day.
Why so long? For me it’s threefold. First, it is rewarding to see change in all realms. Not just in how your skinny jeans fit, or how much energy you have, which are clear winning indicators of success. It can also be rewarding to see how much you’re rocking your nutrients and how many grams of fiber you’re getting from whole foods and plants. You can really start to geek out on this stuff, in a good way!! Data really is beautiful.
Secondly, it helps you work around life and stay on track. This is a lifestyle change, not a crash diet. And you’re a human living a life, where circumstances change. Long term tracking can give you trends over time and help you plan going into and coming back out of situations that may lead you off your regular healthy eating habits, such as a vacation, extended travel for work, or event and family packed holidays. When you know what you are regularly consuming, it’s easier to plan ahead and say, eat lighter in the morning before a big night out. There is no reason to sacrifice the enjoyment of the situation or the moment. You can still eat grandma’s mac n cheese and stay on track with your goals. You can also learn to recognize that you ate 2 bags of chips yesterday because you were overwhelmed with a crazy work project, and not beat yourself up because you also got all your fiber and vitamins in during other meals and the rest of your week was on track.
Thirdly, you become a portion, nutrient, and calorie expert!! After awhile, you’ll just know by looking how much 1/2 a cup of rice is, or one serving of chicken breast, etc. It will make meal prepping and planning faster and easier, almost effortless (you still have to do dishes…sorry) You’ll also know what types of extras add up fast, like extra cheese on your pizza, which will enable you to make smarter decisions when dining out without extra effort. Knowledge is power friends!!
What’s the best way to track?
Short answer, the method that you’ll stick to! Personally, I use the MyFitnessPal app. It’s free, easy to use, and has a very extensive, crowdsourced database of food. It lets you scan bar codes on packages for less manual data entry. You can also build recipes and meals you eat often.
We also have a scale that has food codes that show you calories and nutrients matched with the weight it measures. One of my clients used a little notebook she kept at the table. Another dictated into her Evernote app on her phone so she didn’t have to type. Again, it is going to take some effort but there are many options and we can find one together that works for you.
So yes, food tracking takes some effort and time. you might feel it’s a necessary evil (or just evil) when you start, but in time, like anything else worth doing for your well-being, you might not mind it so much.