Keeping a food journal can be really helpful in understanding (and changing) your eating habits.
Due to the obscenely large portions served in this country, and a lack of awareness about what makes a food “healthy” or not, it can be difficult to eat well without some type of guide. For those looking to make healthier food choices, lose weight, or even just up your protein intake, keeping track of what you eat via food tracking is an effective way to accomplish that. Nutritionists always ask their clients to keep a food journal, and that’s because it’s the only way to truly know what you’re eating and how to improve.
That being said, tracking is not for everybody. If you feel yourself counting calories or becoming obsessed with tracking, stop tracking and contact a professional who can help. If you have a history of disordered eating, consult your nutritionist before jumping into anything. Be wary of your food tracking getting out of control.
But as long as you’re balanced about it, it can really help; so here are five tricks and tips to get you tracking:
1. Find the method that works for you.
There are probably hundreds of food tracking options. MyFitnessPal, Lose It!, and SparkPeople are three of the most popular apps, and each have their own strengths and weaknesses. If you’re more old fashioned, a specially designed food journal or plain notebook works as well. Keep experimenting and trying them out till you find something that you feel comfortable enough to use every day.
2. Pre-track your day.
By planning out your food before you eat it, you can see where you’re flexible and where you’re going to splurge.
Additionally, if you’ve already tracked your intake, you’ll be less likely to make unexpected choices. A great example? If you’ve already tracked your sandwich with a side salad and it fits perfectly into your day, you’re much less likely to make a game-time decision and order the fries. Conversely, if you’ve pre-tracked your day and fries fit within your intake goals, you’ll be able to tell and then enjoy them!
That being said, if you had one plan and then something unexpected comes up, don’t feel like you can’t go ahead and eat something you really want to. For example, if your friend bakes some cookies and brings them to class, it’s okay to eat one even if it’s not pre-tracked in your day. Go ahead and log the cookie, if you want – it’s okay to eat more or differently than you’d planned. Tracking is just there as a guide and to help you be more aware of your choices – tracking may help you mindfully eat that cookie and making an informed decision, instead of just grabbing three on your way out of class just because.
3. Be honest.
When we aren’t tracking our food, it’s really easy to forget or trick ourselves into believing we didn’t eat something, or we didn’t eat that much of the food. When you have all of your food tracked, it takes the guess work and the guessing games out of the equation. You will know exactly how you are eating. Maybe you’re eating more than your body needs, maybe you’re not giving your body the amount of food that it really needs – either way, think of it as objective feedback to inspire positive change in the future.
4. Be accurate.
Pay attention to your portion sizes. Did you write down “some almonds” and then eat a cupful? Try and be mindful of serving sizes, and write down the number of servings you had. “Two handfuls of almonds”, for example, might be a more appropriate measure.
Many restaurants have their nutrition info online, so before you go out, maybe check and see which options fit within your goals. Additionally, track all of the “extras” that slowly add up: things like oil when cooking, butter on your toast or that drink at the end of the night. Again, these tips are not meant to make you obsess over the little things. Rather, the knowledge of knowing what you’re eating just helps you be more aware of what you’re putting in your body.
5. Learn from your habits.
When I started tracking my food, patterns in my eating became clear and thereby solvable. For instance, I learned that I needed to eat more protein at dinner because I was getting hungry right before bed. With so much else to worry about during college, most of us don’t have the hindsight to connect the dots ourselves. A food tracker gives you quantifiable data. The act of acknowledgment is the most important piece of the puzzle. You don’t want to be tracking your food forever but taking some time to learn from the data you collect may help you create healthier habits in the future.
As reminder, tracking is not for everybody. If you feel yourself counting calories or becoming obsessed with tracking, stop tracking and contact a professional who can help. If you have a history of disordered eating, consult your nutritionist before jumping into anything. Be wary of your food tracking getting out of control.
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