Several studies have shown that people who keep food journals are more likely to be successful in losing weight and keeping it off. Keeping track of your food can help hold you accountable to your healthy eating goals. By writing down everything you eat, you'll be more mindful about the nutritional choices you are making. The goal isn't to track your food for the rest of your life, but tracking your food over and over will teach you how to gauge what and how much you're eating.
Most people track their food to help them lose weight, but tracking your food is beneficial no matter what your goals, as most results cannot be achieved without proper nutrition. Whether you're just starting out on your healthy journey and need to learn and monitor portion sizes or you need to track macronutrients like carbs or protein, tracking your food will better ensure your success because everything is written out in front of you, in black and white, and numbers do not lie. If you aren't hitting your goals as fast as you'd like, or want to see how well you've been doing eating intuitively, food tracking eliminates any and all excuses.
1. Keep a Journal
Some people prefer apps, some people prefer old-fashioned pen and paper, but track your food in one designated place instead jotting down notes on scraps of paper so you can go back and analyze any developing patterns or changes you may need to make.
2. Log Your Food Immediately
For the most accurate data, write down what you eat right after you eat it. Don't wait until the end of the day and try to remember everything you ate and in what portion size. That's hard to do!
3. Record Everything
When I say everything, I mean everything: every bite, taste and sip. Those little taste tests when cooking dinner, little nibbles off your friend's plates—those add up. Beverages, like juice and coffee, are easy to forget about, but they're often loaded with as many calories as a snack or even a meal. Even if you have a bad day, and binged all day long, try to figure out exactly what you had and log it. Trust me, once you do that a few times, you'll think twice before you eat with abandon again.
4. Check the Labels
Nutrition labels do a lot of the work for you. You can find out portion sizes, calories, and other nutrients like protein, carbs and fat. A lot of foods don't have nutrition labels—which is actually a sign it's probably a pretty healthy choice—so you'll have to do the work yourself. Here's where google is your friend.
5. Watch Your Portions
If your food comes packaged, check the serving size. Just because it looks like it's one serving doesn't mean it is, and if you consume the whole package you could be eating 2 or 3 times the calories you think you are. Same goes for foods without labels. Even healthy foods like chicken breasts and pieces of fruit can contain multiple servings, and things like pasta can be impossible to eyeball. Weighing and measuring your food will keep you from under estimating your portions, and doing it over and over again will teach you how to better eyeball portions when you're away from home.
6. Set Goals
Setting goals in your workouts gives you purpose every single time you step in the gym. Setting daily nutritional goals will give you the same motivation to stick to them, giving purpose to every bite you put in your mouth. Pick a calorie range you'd like to stick within each day, so you'll always have guidance and purpose. Your goals can range from sticking within a certain calorie range, to getting 5 servings of fruits and veggies a day, to not drinking alcohol on the weekdays. Whatever your goals, write them down to stick to them.
7. Weekly Reviews
At the end of the week, do a little review and see how you did. How many days did you track your food? How many days did you stick to your goals? What did you do well? What can you improve on next week? This is one more step to being accountable to your goals and recognizing areas for improvement.
8. Have "Cheat Days"
Cheat days don't mean eat whatever you want, but give yourself a day each week where your goals are a little more lax. Make room for an extra snack, or an extra 300 calories, to avoid binges or feeling too restricted.
9. Keep it in Perspective
Food tracking is a learning experience. It's about seeing the whole ugly truth, and that includes the bad days. Don't beat yourself up and don't throw your food journal out the window because you don't want to write down that huge brunch buffet you just devoured. One donut, or even one binge, won't ruin your weight loss efforts, but if you find yourself doing it every day, for a number of days, that's when the pounds start to pile on. When you get too caught up in tracking your food, or hitting your goals, you can start to develop and unhealthy relationship with food. If you find yourself feeling too guilty, too restricted, too boxed in, remember that food tracking is just to see where you are and where you can make improvements, it's not anything to obsess about.
10. Track Your Thoughts, too
Food has an emotional component, and just as important as what you're eating is how you're feeling about what you're eating. Take some time to truly journal in your food journal, either daily or weekly. Jot down things you noticed, how you're feeling, and outside variables that may have affected your choices. Soon, you'll be able to see how your mood, stress level and emotions effect you're eating, and you'll be better able to stay in touch with what keeps you motivated, encouraging positive self talk, and commitment to your goals.