Should You Be Food Tracking?

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Food tracking refers to keeping track of what you eat and drink throughout the day. There are various ways to log your food. You can write down what you eat in a notebook or food journal. You can use a spreadsheet or notes section on your phone. Or you can use food tracking apps, such as My Fitness Pal, which will also calculate calorie and macronutrient intake. Food tracking can be a useful tool for making changes to your body composition and for overall health. However, food tracking may not be for everyone.

The Main Benefit of Food Tracking

The main benefit of food tracking is mindful eating and awareness. In healthy eating, the first step is being aware of what eating choices you are making. Canada’s Food Guide recommends being mindful of your eating habits. Food tracking can help us to be intentional about our eating choices and to develop good habits.

In many cases, detailed food tracking for a few days or weeks is helpful to gain an understanding of your eating patterns. The more routine the patterns, the shorter the tracking. In other words, once a pattern of eating is established, we often no longer need to track it.

Who May Benefit from Food Tracking?

Here are five examples of when food tracking may help.

1. You want to learn about your eating habits

As mentioned above, food tracking in the short term can be beneficial to bring awareness to one’s eating habits and patterns. The more routine, consistent, and structured your eating is, the easier it will be to see what results you are getting.

For some clients, food tracking shows me that their eating is all over the place: I see different times of the day, skipped meals, not eating enough, grazing throughout the day, little consistency, and forgetfulness to track. These clients need to work on some kind of consistency and structure. Food tracking can help bring about that consistency and routine.

If you are serious about improving your eating patterns, it has to become a priority in your life. This includes the effort it takes to track your food.

2. You eat when you are not hungry

Food tracking may help you become aware if you eat when you are stressed, bored, or for other emotional reasons, or if you tend to graze throughout the day. You can check in with why you are eating.

3. You tend not to eat or listen to your hunger / satiety cues

If you can go all day without eating, you probably should not depend on your appetite to nourish you. You may benefit from the structure of being intentional about eating healthy meals at fairly set times. Food tracking can help define your eating plan.

4. You want to hold yourself accountable

Another benefit to food tracking is accountability. There are two aspects to this. There is accountability to the coach, and accountability to yourself. I believe that being accountable to yourself is the most important. After all, you may choose or choose not to tell me what or how much you actually ate. But if you are accountable to yourself, then you really mean it. If you really want to be on top of your food choices, then you will hold yourself to accountability by writing it down.

5. You are close to your goals and not seeing progress

The closer you are to your goals, the more strict you may have to be with your food choices, amounts, calories and macronutrients. If you are not seeing the muscle gains you want, maybe you need to eat more. If you are not seeing the fat loss, you may need to be more particular about your macronutrient combinations (protein, fats, carbs).

Alternatives to Food Tracking

I want to make it easy for my clients to succeed.  Not everyone will want to or need to carry on with food tracking day in and day out. Here are some other methods of bringing about mindfulness and awareness:

Flexible / Loose Tracking

Flexible or loose tracking makes note of certain aspects of eating patterns such as number of meals, number of servings of protein, and number of servings of starchy carbs.

Plate Method

The plate method allows you to portion your macronutrients without having to measure and record them. Canada’s Food Guide recommends half the plate of vegetables and fruit, one quarter plate of protein foods, and one quarter plate of whole grain or starchy carbs.

80/20 Method

The 80/20 Method is a mindful approach to healthy eating, where 80 percent of the food you eat is from whole, unprocessed foods (vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, eggs, legumes, beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains), and the 20 percent is moderately processed (dairy) or highly processed foods.

Intuitive Eating

Intuitive Eating is a mindful approach to eating that involves respecting your hunger and fullness cues. Ideally, we should all listen to our hunger and fullness cues. However, if you have a history of ignoring these cues, you may require a more disciplined approach to food tracking and eating in the short term, with a goal of learning to pick up on your hunger and satiety cues in the long term.

Food Journal

A food journal can be helpful if you have a difficult history of eating for any other reason than physical hunger. In a food journal, you can record what you ate, along with how you felt (hungry, full, satisfied, stressed, bored, sad). It may help you to understand yourself if you have a history of emotional eating. Journaling can help you sit with your emotions rather than turn to food in unhealthy ways.

While food tracking in the short term can be beneficial to become aware of what you eat and get on track to reach your goals, I believe in the long run, a mindful approach to healthy eating will become second nature. You will be able to make healthy choices to maintain a healthy weight and feel good.

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