I spend a lot of time on this blog and in my coaching practice talking about tracking food intake. I also am accustomed to hearing people complain, protest, and essentially roll their eyes at me. Yeah, yeah, they say. I know I’m supposed to track my food intake but….
Then the list of why they can’t or aren’t able to track food intake follows. I understand. I really do. I’m not always awesome at tracking my intake either. It requires you to pay attention. It requires you to follow through. And it requires you to create some type of a system. I believe that there are two essential keys to food tracking success.
#1 Understanding and having faith in the “why”. By this I mean that you believe that tracking your food intake will provide benefit and you’re willing to take the steps necessary to gain the benefits. It also helps to know that tracking your food intake doesn’t have to be a lifelong commitment.
Track for a week to set a baseline. If you have specific and measurable goals and tracking will support those goals, then track. And if you want an occasional check in to make sure you’re on the right path, then track.
Personally, I track when I have a goal to reach, when I am trying something new, like Keto, or when I feel like I might have detoured a bit far from my normal eating habits and I need to check in.
#2 You Have a System that Supports You. Some people will be very successful using an online app like Chronometer. Some people do better with a post it note. There’s really no right or wrong way to track. The system you create just needs to support you to be able to consistently follow through. I actually had a coaching client that took pictures of her food and sent them to me.
The remainder of this post is a brainstorm session on how you might track your food intake.
#1 The Post It Note – With this method you can either….write down what you eat as the day goes by. Or if you’re tracking macros, you can start with the number of macros you’re supposed to eat in the day and subtract your macros as you eat. For example, if you’re going to eat, let’s say 800 grams of carbs (by weight) and you eat an apple, you can then subtract 200 grams on your post-it.
#2 Spreadsheet – Some folks like a good spreadsheet and with smartphone capability, it’s a nice way to create a tracking system that works for you. With a spreadsheet you can track what you eat, calorie count, macros, grams by weight and so on. Whatever information you need, you can collect and calculate as you need.
#3 Food Journal – I know this may sound a little wooey but a food journal can be an exceptional way to learn what foods are working for you and what foods are working against you. For example, in my late 20’s and early 30’s I started suffering from debilitating migraines. I had them intermittently as a child but they got really bad after the birth of my first kiddo. It got so bad that I was having migraines 2-3x a week and they made me vomit. I was miserable.
I started keeping a food journal. Writing down what I ate every day and any side effects or symptoms I experienced. It was important to be consistent because I was able to look back and see that I usually developed a migraine within 24 hours of eating dairy. Voila! A food diary can be kept online in a journaling app like https://dayoneapp.com. You can also use a pen and paper or dictate to your phone.
#4 Photos – Did you know there are food tracking apps that you can simply upload a photo of your meal? Pretty awesome, right? YouAte is one example, https://youate.com/. See How You Eat and Meal Logger are two other options.
#5 Food Tracking Apps – I use Cronometer. It tracks calories, macros, pretty much whatever you want or need to track. It supports keto, low carb, paleo, zone and just about any nutrition approach you might want to track. You can scan the barcode of a food if it’s not in the directory and all of that is in the free version. The paid version removed ads. MyFitnessPal is another popular and quite useful food tracking app that many of my clients like to use.
I’m sure there are other ways to track what you eat. The key is to find a system that is simple and easy for you to use. You may have to try a few different methods to see what best suits you. Keep in mind that tracking for a week is the best, and only real way to set a baseline and to get an understanding of how and what you eat. Then you can begin to make highly informed decisions about the steps you take to improve your nutrition and health.