How to Track Your Food to Achieve Weight Loss
Many fitness and diet fads tout their ability to help you shed large amounts of weight in as little time as possible. However, the real success lies in maintaining weight loss, which is where many fads fall short. It may sound too good to be true, but the simple act of tracking your food intake — also called dietary self-management — may be the key to achieving sustainable weight loss. This is an easy, yet essential start to your weight loss journey.
Stated simply, if you eat more calories than you lose, you will gain weight. Conversely, if you burn more calories than you consume, you will lose weight. Of course, this concept is not that straightforward, as countless factors, such as genetics, hormones, hydration levels, and stress play a pivotal role.
However, if your goal is to lose weight, create a caloric deficit. This means that you need to focus on burning more calories than you consume while while following a nutrition plan for weight loss.
How to track your food for weight loss?
There are various tips to track your food intake for weight loss. Many techniques help in food tracking. The most common one is the use of smartphone apps that feature barcode scanners and other tools that simplify the process. When using an app to achieve or maintain weight loss, pay attention to consistency and frequency.
You can track your food intake by counting calories or points or monitoring macros, which is the balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat, in a nutrition-related mobile app. Do note that some of the calorie values used on these apps are estimates and may not exactly match what you are actually consuming. Such apps can be powerful and motivational tools in your weight loss journey, but you cannot depend on them for precise measurements.
For some people, particularly those who have waged a long-term battle with their weight, a more comprehensive food diary or log may lead to greater success. Also, if you are more interested in taking a big-picture look at your diet habits and trends, but not particularly interested in crunching data, a food diary or log may be a better way to track your food for weight loss.
What to include in your food diary
First, follow the basics related to nutrition for weight loss. Use a food weighing scale, measuring cups, and measuring spoons when preparing your food. This holds true whether you are using an app or a food diary. Otherwise, there would be no way of accurately knowing what you are consuming, as people often underestimate their intake when guessing at measurements or looking back on an already eaten meal.
When it comes to food for weight loss, you need to be very particular. For example, recording chicken is not enough; you need to specify whether it was skinless, light meat, organ meat, baked, or fried. If you ate a salad, mention how much dressing was used. Also, state if nuts or cheese were added to it along with the specified quantity.
To ensure the best nutrition for weight loss, you must be aware of how and when you are weighing or measuring the foods you eat. For example, the nutritional value of foods like rice and pasta is usually listed on the package in terms of the uncooked weight. So, you would have to measure them before cooking. Also, 100g of raw chicken may contain 115 calories and 23g of protein, while 100g of cooked chicken may contain 165 calories and 31g of protein. This may not seem like a huge difference. However, if you underestimate the calorie counts in the foods, even by a small amount, they can add up over time.
You may also consider recording your hunger level. Analyze whether you ate because you were genuinely hungry, or just to take a break from work. You can record your mood and thoughts just before eating. Introspect whether you had a piece of cake because you were stressed and upset, or you made a conscious decision to have a treat and then truly savor every bite. Finally, record where you were and who you were with when you ate that piece of cake.
Your food diary may have columns that may include details, such as:
- Amount (or calories)
- Hunger level
- Who were you with?
Benefits of tracking your food intake
Food tracking is all about creating awareness and accountability. It may seem simplistic, but there is great value in taking a breath before eating. With effective food tracking, you can be mindful of what you are consuming. Then, you can record the food items in your food log before you eat them. This process makes you more accountable to yourself and your goals.
Food tracking also reveals your habits and allows you to address areas of concern and build on strengths. Recognizing, celebrating, and reinforcing healthy habits can be just as valuable as focusing on the ones that you want to change.
Finally, recording when, where, and with whom you eat may reveal patterns and triggers that are sabotaging your weight loss efforts. Whether it is a friend who always opts for fast food or a stressful meeting that results in poor decision-making, identifying your patterns and triggers is the first step toward making an adjustment.
Also Read: Healthy Eating Habits: How to Get Them Right
What can you do after recording your food-related details?
You may uncover some interesting patterns as you revisit your food diary; so, keep checking it regularly. For example, you may find that you choose unhealthy snacks late in the workday, or skip lunch during busy days and end up over-indulging later. Finding these trouble spots and making plans to address them is an essential part of changing your behavior.
The true value of recording your intake lies in the possibility to go back and evaluate your diet. After a few weeks of frequently logging your food, spend some time asking yourself these questions:
- How healthy is my diet?
- Am I eating a wide variety of and sufficient fruits and vegetables?
- Are there enough whole grains in my diet?
- Am I choosing lean sources of protein?
- Am I eating healthy fats?
- How is my mood affecting my choices, and how is my diet influencing my mood?
- Are there any patterns I can identify or habits I can break?
- Can I create new habits that will support my weight loss efforts?
- What is the one small step I can take toward eating healthier?
- What can I start doing today to make healthier choices?
- On which day did I eat best and what can I learn from that?
Answering these questions openly and honestly may unlock the key to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.
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