How To Start Tracking Your Food
Last week on the blog, we talked about why I think everyone should track their food (caloric & macronutrient) intake for at least a brief time period. Check out that post here before you dive into this week's post about HOW to actually start tracking!
Okay, so you understand the value of tracking, but, like, what do you do now?
Before we get too deep, it's best to go into this (as with anything new) with an anticipation for the learning curve! For the first few days or week, yes, it's going to take an extra 5 minutes at each meal time, but once you've input a food once, MyFitnessPal remembers it! Not to mention, like with any new app or software, after a couple uses, everything starts looking familiar and you actually know what you're doing. So, if you find yourself taking a little longer than you want to input your food, be patient! You'll get the hang of it!
To start, you'll want a food scale (this is the one I use) and, of course, the MyFitnessPal app (free.) You can also use the web version of MyFitnessPal.
Start getting in the habit of reading the nutrition labels of the foods you're eating so you can get an idea of serving size and basic nutrient amounts. If you're like most people, you eat relatively the same several meals and foods, so after a week or so of inputting, serving sizes will be engrained in your head-- which is another great tool for long-term nutrition in general!
FOR MEALS AT HOME
Let's say you have a bowl of oatmeal and a cup of yogurt for breakfast. Tap "breakfast" (or "meal 1," whatever you want to name your meals) and you can either a) search for your specific brand of oatmeal or b) use the barcode scanner to scan the container of oatmeal and input that way. )The barcode scanning feature on MFP is one of my favorite tools!)
Either by reading the container of oats or looking in MFP, you should see the serving size (usually 40g.) Next, place a bowl on top of your scale and make sure it reads "0 g" before you begin pouring the oats in the bowl. Measure out the appropriate serving and voila. You can use the barcode scanner to scan your yogurt, and just like that, breakfast is inputted.
Let's say you have the same breakfast tomorrow morning. You can tap "breakfast" like usual, and then click "yesterday's breakfast" for a quick add!
FOR EATING OUT
Tracking while eating out is a bit more complicated, but there are several options when eating outside of your house.
1) Guesstimate. After you've been tracking for a while, you will know what a serving of bread, salad dressing, cheese, etc. looks like. You can guesstimate and input that way or...
2) Manually add calories. Lots of restaurants nowadays have their nutrition info online or even just the calories on the menu. With the free version of MFP, you can manually entire calories (not macros.) So let's say you know your Subway sandwich is 550 calories, you would just type that in for lunch and have to mentally be aware of the macros throughout the remainder of the day.
3) Plan for it. If you know you're going out to dinner one night and want to make an effort to stay on track, eat accordingly throughout the day. Most meals out are high fat and high carb, which means throughout the day, you should try to consume less fat and carbohydrates than normal to a lot for greater intake at your dinner out. Protein portions at restaurants are usually fine, however, if you don't plan on having any protein at dinner, try to eat your daily allotment before dinner!
4) Don't track. You don't have to be 100% strict all the time. Go enjoy a meal out every now and then and just practice being conscious of what you're eating. The greatest thing about MFP (besides helping you achieve your health goals) is what it teaches you. After consistent tracking, you will learn so much and thus be able to enjoy untracked meals with the knowledge of what you're consuming.
If you want to be strict and serious about seeing results, I would recommend shying away from eating out too often as these meals are harder to track, especially in the beginning!
MFP has an amazing recipes feature in my opinion. You can entire in all the ingredients and quantities along with the number of portions, and it will do all the calculating for you. You can even save the recipes and share them between friends who also use MFP!
Let's say you're making a chicken & pasta casserole. You would simply find "recipes" by clicking the "other" button in the bottom left and begin creating a new recipe.
If the recipe calls for 4 chicken breasts, 1 box of spaghetti, chopped onions, 1 cup of shredded cheese, etc. etc., you can just scan all the barcodes of those ingredients and adjust the portions as necessary.
Finally, if this is a recipe meant for 6 servings, specific that as well when prompted, hit save, and then MFP calculates all the macronutrients for each serving!
Obviously, I am a huge fan of food tracking not because I'm obsessive or have a bad relationship with food, but because it works for me. If tracking your food makes you crazy, feel guilty, takes away from your enjoyment of eating, or just overall stresses you out: don't. do. it. However, if you're simply avoiding it because you don't know how or where to start, that's a different story.