Tip 5: Track Your Food Intake
Tip 5: Track Your Food Intake
Without knowing what you're eating, how can you be sure you're either losing fat or building muscle?
How to Start Tracking Your Own Food
Here’s the thing: tracking your food is a bit of a hassle at first. But remember that food tracking is yet just another skill (like knowing what to do at the gym or learning how to cook) to develop and turn into a habit. Here’s how to get started:
- Choose your food tracker: Use old-fashioned pen and paper or a mobile app like MyFitnessPal or Cron-o-meter (the latter costs money). A study in Eating Behavior suggests that your preferred food diary method is important for sticking to this practice. Personally, I find apps to be more convenient because I can easily copy over the same foods and pull up nutritional data on the fly (though make sure the data are verified because some inputs will have completely wrong information).
- When you’re starting out, ignore the amounts: For the first weeks, work on reflecting upon what you ate, without thinking about how much. Just focus on the foods themselves to get you logging all foods that touch your mouth (yes, even those few peanut M&Ms) in order to build you up to regularly tracking intake and also help you be more mindful of your eating behavior.
- Invest in a digital kitchen scale: Once you feel more comfortable about consistently tracking your food, get a food scale to be able to accurately determine your portion size. Try to weigh all your items with the same measurement (grams is easiest). This is important since real food items often vary in size, and nutritional data aren’t always accurate.
- Get your spouse or family involved: If your family doesn’t understand what you’re doing, you’re likely to be discouraged. This study by Burke et al observed that supportive spouses helped participants integrate self-monitoring into everyday life and positively impacted weight loss efforts.
- Log foods you have already eaten after the meal: Eventually, though, you want to graduate to anticipating and logging the foods you will eat (also called planning ahead), once you understand your preferences and habits better.
- Weigh foods and log ahead of time: Once you feel comfortable with all of the above and plan to do this long-term, it’s time to streamline the process so you devote as little energy as possible to this. Plan all your meals a week or a few days ahead of time and just dedicate five or so minutes to logging them in at the end of the day.
You don’t have to track or weigh things forever; just enough until you start understanding your intake, how to meet your needs on a daily basis, and train yourself to be more mindful of food composition especially your protein intake. Make sure to count your whey protein and vegan protein shakes.
While all this is good and well for serious weight loss efforts, you should still enjoy yourself whenever possible. That means not being that person who pulls out a digital scale during dinner with friends and proceeding to weigh your portion of lasagna. Now that’s being obsessive.