Why You Should Be Tracking Your Food If You Want To Make Improvements
I get it.
I’ve heard (and used) the excuses against tracking food, counting calories, etc. It’s time consuming, frustrating when you can’t find the exact food, it becomes obsessive and stressful, and you just want to be able to eat healthy without counting calories, right?!
I hear ya, but look, there’s really no way around it— if you want to learn how to eat optimally for your goals without tracking or counting, you need to learn to track or count first. Why? Because not taking time to truly LEARN and UNDERSTAND how much is too much or how little is too little is like saying you just want to be able to bake homemade cookies without measuring cups.
You totally can bake cookies without measuring, but will they taste right? Maybe?
You can totally eat "healthy" foods without counting or tracking, but will you see the results you want to see? Maybe. And what's actually time consuming, frustrating, obsessive and stressful is staying right where you are any our weight or overall health because you aren't willing to do what it takes on the front end to get to where you want to be.
I’m all about getting to the point in your nutrition where counting and tracking isn’t necessary, but I also think everyone needs to start there to gain a basic understanding of what they’re ingesting and how it’s affecting them.
For me, it’s very simple: If you don’t understand what’s in food and how much you need to be eating, you can’t manipulate food in a way that’s optimal for you and your goals. Period.
If you don’t start baking with measuring cups and the recipe laid out in front of you, you’ll end up frustrated with nasty cookies all because you were too stubborn to take the time to learn how to do it.
That’s all tracking or counting calories is: learning. It’s not obsessive or overboard. It’s not a waste of time or too meticulous, (unless you think having knowledge is a waste of time.) Tracking my food has taught me SO much about what I’m eating— especially when I choose not to track or am unable to track (eating out, special recipes, etc.)
I can eyeball a 4 oz serving of chicken. I can feel 40 grams of oatmeal in my fist when I grab it out of the container. I know what 1 serving of cheese is and how many carbs I need to do all of the activities I want to do on a daily basis.
Like with anything you’re new to, there’s a learning curve, but also like anything you’re new to— you eventually master it. I highly recommend MyFitnessPal because the learning curve is super short and you will master it in a week or less easily.
It remembers EVERYTHING you ever enter, making searching for foods you’ve already eaten super easy. If you have a go-to breakfast, you can simply click “Yesterday’s Breakfast” and be done with it. If you don’t feel like typing something in, there’s a barcode scanner that pulls up the exact product information after you scan the label. And if you’re like me and enjoy a good Pinterest recipe, you can input all the ingredients with their amounts and the number of servings and it will calculate the nutritional info for you!
Another tool I highly recommend in addition to MyFitnessPal to learn more about what and how you’re eating is a food scale. When a package of chicken breasts says “4 oz” is a serving, do you automatically assume that’s 1 breast? It’s usually not. A food scale is your best friend when it comes to serving size, and you’d probably be surprised on both how much you’re eating and how little you’re eating.
For example, I used to avoid cheese like the plague because of it’s high fat content. I would sprinkle barely any 2% shredded cheese on my salad and be sad about the lack of flavor. When I got a food scale, I realized what “1 serving” (28 g) of cheese was and was like, “Hallelujah I was wrong!” It’s actually way more cheese than I was using! On the flip side, measuring out “1 serving” of chips was a little disappointing, but it also made me learn to reach for something else.
I’d also like to point out that I am not necessarily counting calories with MyFitnessPal but macronutrients. Macronutrients (“macros” for short) are protein, carbs, and fats. The theory behind this is that 1800 calories of chips, candy bars and maybe a cup of fruit with your Chick-Fil-A sandwich is a lot different than 1800 calories of lean meat, vegetables, healthy fats and maybe a couple squares of a Hershey’s bar.
Once you understand where the calories in foods are coming from, you are able to much more optimally and effectively manipulate your nutrition and your body! This is why programs like Weight Watchers (which is much more calorie-counting based) has most meats free— because they want to encourage users to consume more protein (meat) and discourage the intake of things like candy and fatty foods.
Calorie-wise, there’s no difference in 4 oz of chicken and 1/2 a snickers bar, but in WW, chicken is free and a 1/2 snickers bar is probably 6+ points. This is because of the macronutrient breakdown. There is probably 1g of protein in a snickers bar, along with 20g of fat and 20+ g of sugary carbs. Do you see the difference between strictly calorie counting and macronutrient tracking? Don’t get me wrong, the formula for weight loss doesn’t change no matter what you count: more out than in = weight loss, but if you’re also interested in internal health and encouraging your body to burn and build appropriately, macronutrients are a more effective focus than strictly calories.
If you want to get started tracking but are still afraid to dive all the way in, start with the biggest overarching theory behind counting macros and calories: awareness. Start to become aware of exactly what you eat. Read a food label. Keep a note in your phone of what you’re eating. Awareness is the key to even desiring to make a change.
Next week, I’m continuing my MyFitnessPal fangirl-ing and teaching you the ins and outs of using my favorite little health tool. Stay tuned!