I want to start with a disclaimer that I don’t think you HAVE to track your food to successfully get healthy, or to lead a healthy life once you’ve gotten to your version of healthy that you’re aspiring to get to.
My use of the word ‘tracking’ versus ‘limiting’ is also worth noting because I do not think you have to immediately begin limiting calories to be on your way to healthy. If you are considering limiting caloric intake, I recommend consulting a nutrition professional to ensure you’re doing it safely and in a manner that’s conducive to your lifestyle.
Tracking in and of itself (rather than resorting to limiting calories) can often lead to realizations about what you’re eating, and in what quantities, that can result in altering your eating habits over time to reflect the healthier lifestyle you’re aiming for.
Having said that, tracking your food can be a powerful tool to help get you to your goals faster. First, the method I’m referring to has you plan out your food for the day (which I’ve mentioned before how our brains are good at rehearsing things when we have a plan) and that plan can then serve as mini promises to yourself, or even a keystone habit for you. Plus you can see how much you’re really eating because it’s a thing we often underestimate.
Planning It Out
As I mentioned above, I’m referring to tracking food as a way to plan what you eat as well. There are other methods where you just log everything you eat right when you eat it, with little thought given to it beforehand.
However, because having a plan can be such a powerful brain hack, I recommend it if you’re going to track your food.
At the beginning of the day, or even the night before if you’re so inclined, log everything you’re going to eat that day. And I mean even the little snack(s) that doesn’t amount to much.
This plan serves as your dress rehearsal for what you’re going to eat throughout the day so when you’re absolutely famished, you don’t resort to eating half a bag of chips while looking through the refrigerator for something to eat. You already know what you’re going to eat.
And make it realistic – don’t plan to eat a salad for lunch if you don’t have the fixin’s for a salad! Log whatever you’re actually going to eat, no matter how healthy or unhealthy you perceive it to be. Again, the plan is the important part here, especially because by having a plan, we’re less likely to cave when Karen brings in donuts for the third time this month.
At first you can be strict with this, but later on you’ll get into the groove and know where you can and can’t have some flexibility.
By planning your food, it’s akin to having made these little promises throughout your day to yourself to stick to your plan. It’s making it easier on yourself when Karen asks for the second time if you want a donut (dammit, Karen! Still no). You already ‘promised’ yourself what you were going to eat today, and that wasn’t in there.
Not only does it leave your monkey brain less likely to take over, but you also get a sense of accomplishment and a confidence boost by keeping those promises to yourself for an entire day, then an entire week, and so on. When you learn to trust yourself by keeping your promises, you’ll see all the magic of the plan coming together.
Also, you might even find that this plan and these little promises end up turning into a keystone habit and thus trickle down into other areas of your life. Resisting that donut a second time may give you the extra boost you needed to get to the gym that day or fire up the grill even though you were thinking about takeout.
Speaking of Takeout…
Not that long ago I wrote on portion sizes and how we’re out of our freaking minds when it comes to portion control (a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much).
Well, it just so happens that tracking your food can be a game changer for ensuring you’re eating how much you think you’re eating.
Study after study has shown how much we tend to underestimate what we eat – research differs on amount, but I’ve seen it ranging from 10% to 46% underestimations! That’s HUGE!
In real numbers, you may be thinking you’re eating the recommended 2,000 calories but in reality you could be eating anywhere from 2,200 calories to nearly 3,000 calories!
Tracking (again, not limiting) can open our eyes to the real amounts that we’re eating and then if we decide a change is necessary, we’ll be equipped with the correct data (aka real amount of food) and know where to start.
So whether you write it down in a notebook or use an app (my preferred food tracking app is MyFitnessPal), tracking your food can be of great value on your journey to getting healthy!