Track your way to Healthy Eating

As busy parents, who wants yet another thing to be responsible for on a daily basis/ But adding this little “list’ to your daily life, can help keep your eating and health on track.

Anyone who has ever spent a day with me knows I’m always writing notes to myself. Whether it’s stuff I need at the grocery store, appointments, directions or reminders of things to do, there are always random scraps of paper around my house and in my purse.

For years, I’ve kept my food diary in the same way; scraps of paper with my daily calories, fat, and protein combinations, cross-outs and recalculations, time of day and portion sizes. As scattered and chaotic as this might sound, I still always have a good idea of what I eat and how and when I exercise.

So it amazes me that most people, even those who know exactly what they spend and exactly how much money they have in the bank, have absolutely no idea of the amount or type of nourishment they put into their bodies!

Over the years. I’ve graduated from scraps of paper, to a spiral notebook, and now, with a smart phone, a food diary app to keep track of my food habits and exercise on a daily basis. And if you’re brutally honest, you can learn a whole lot about why those last 10 pounds just won’t go away. After a few weeks of tracking, you can see what negative patterns emerge and that awareness can help change your habits.

The American Journal of Preventive Medicine did a study on over 2000 overweight adults and found that those who kept food records six days a week — jotting down everything they ate and drank on those days — lost about twice as much weight as those who kept food records one day a week or less.

If  you use the food diary in the right way, you get answers that just won’t come out of a diet book.  My weight has been pretty consistent over the past 25 years within about a 5-6 pound range. So when the scale started creeping up 7,8,and then 9 pounds last winter, I first chocked it up to getting older. But when I finally spent three weeks tracking EVERY  morsel I ate, the problem was clear. Too much “invisible” food; a bite here, a spoonful there, a handful of high-fat nuts, an overflowing “1/2 cup” serving of Slow Churned ice cream! All helped to pack on an additional 600-800 calories a day!

So, using the food diary as my conscience, I traded exact portions, switching to pre-portioned packs of the foods I tended to “over-eyeball”, substituted fresh fruit for high-sugar dried fruit, and replaced half the bowl of almonds with popcorn. The two “small” glasses of wine I’d been drinking were actually 6-8 oz glasses, so measuring and recording  that helped too.

The food journal can act like a mirror by revealing to you what goes into your body, but you have to have to be honest for it to be effective:

Make sure you account for all those ‘little extras”:

Many people eat healthily at mealtimes, but snack poorly in between. If you’re aiming to lose a pound a week, just a few extras (eg. a can of Coke, a cookie and a packet of crisps) during the day prevents you from seeing results on the scales. Writing down everything you eat demonstrates the cost of those ‘occasional’ nibbles…

Know when you can afford to treat yourself:

On the other hand, keeping track of your food intake over the course of a day or a week gives you the freedom to enjoy a treat once in a while – guilt-free. If you know you’ve got calories to spare for the day, and no ice cream has passed your lips for six days, you can indulge yourself! (But record it)

Be aware of when you’re eating:

Keeping a food diary highlights patterns, showing if you overeat at particular times. Maybe you binge late at night, because you’ve been eating too little all day? Or perhaps you graze constantly? If you don’t keep a food diary because you have no hope of remembering everything you eat … you may need to change your habits.

Fight ‘portion creep”:

If you’ve been dieting or maintaining for a long time, you get used to “eyeballing” portions rather than weighing everything out. But if your weight loss has plateaued, or if those pounds are edging back on, keeping a diary means you need to weigh your foods.

See your habits changing:

It can be motivational to look back on a food diary from a few months or even years ago and see how your nutritional choices have changed. Perhaps you’ve curbed your chocolate habit, or maybe you now eat proper meals instead of junk-food snacks. And if you’re having a bad day, flicking back to a “perfect” week in your diary is encouraging: if you did it once, you can do it again! What you include in your food diary depends on which area concerns you the most.


-If your problem is portions: focus on weighing and measuring everything you eat.

-If you want to focus on a nutritious diet: record the nutritional components (fat, sugar, salt, etc).

-If your problem is habitual eating patterns: Focus on recording time of day, where, with whom, and activity.

-Emotional eating issues? Log your moods and their connections to eating patterns.

If you have a Smart phone, there are Food Diary apps galore. Some are diet specific like <i>Weight Watchers</i> or <i>NutriSystem</i>, but most work no matter what program or plan you follow. The majority have large food databases, and most of them are free or low cost, so you can just type in a food, and it will calculate all of the nutritional facts.

But, no matter how tech-savvy your app is, you still have to be vigilant about entering your food and exercise.

-Write as you go. Don’t wait until the end of the day to record what you ate and drank.

-Use whatever type of food diary works for you. It doesn’t matter whether you use scrap paper, a phone app or a       notebook. What matters is that you use it

-Don’t skip your indulgent days.  Keep records, especially on days when you’re tempted to eat. (Vacations, parties, family gatherings) The AJM study found that, “What gets measured tends to get changed.”

-Focus on portion size. Practice at home with measuring cups, measuring spoons, or food scales. And be aware that people tend to underestimate how much food they’re served.

-Record physical activity. The new dietary guidelines recommend 60-90 minutes of moderate activity daily to sustain weight loss. Keep track of what type of activity you did for the day, and how much time it took you to do it.

Now, if I could only track my spending as well as I track my food, I’d make my husband very happy!