Whether your goals are to get rid of unwanted body fat, build muscle, increase endurance, or just to get healthier and feel better, keeping track of what you eat can help you get there. It took me until the second half of my freshman year of college to realize that what I put into my body actually affects how my body looks and feels. By cataloging when and what you eat, you can get some insight into the many ways your food impacts your body and mind.
To Eat Better
According to some studies, people who track their food actually end up eating better without changing anything else, which makes it a great place to start your fitness journey. When you’re forcing yourself to keep a record of everything you put in your body, you don’t want to end up embarrassed looking at it later. It may just inspire you to choose to eat slightly healthier foods, knowing that a list of it exists somewhere in the world.
To Remove Emotion
By writing down everything you eat, you can take away part of the emotional element of food. Cataloging your meals can help you start to think about food in terms of its components, nutritional value, and the effects it has on your body. Rather than thinking of eating as just a thing you do, it can become a tool for positive change. This takes away some of the negative power that food can have over your life.
As a result, tracking your meals can work to prevent accidental self-sabotage, enabling you reach your goals faster and easier. When you take the time to write everything down, you force yourself to really think about the impact what you eat has on you. It helps to ensure that you’re eating and drinking enough and according to your goals.
To Learn More
Meal tracking can also help you learn more about food science. Depending on how you track, you can find out the nutritional components of food, see the breakdown into Micro and Macro nutrients, as well as learn the calorie content of what you eat.
Through some easy analysis, and in collaboration with Tracking your Progress, you can see some pretty cool patterns in your eating habits. By comparing your Meal Tracking and your Mood Tracking guides, you can see how what you eat affects your state of mind. It can also help you see if you may have any dietary issues or intolerances if you consistently feel sick, slow, or just plain “off” after eating certain foods. Using your physical Progress Tracking methods, you can see how certain foods or amounts of food, affects how your body looks. By looking at your Exercise Tracking systems, you can see how your workouts and your eating habits work together to affect your overall progress. Playing around with these to discover patterns and connections can really be eye opening.
How to Track?
Don’t Go Crazy
Despite the many benefits, tracking too much can get overwhelming. If you get too deep too quickly, keeping a food log can be tedious and time consuming. The thought of tracking every meal for the rest of your life probably doesn’t sound appealing, and is definitely not recommended. Luckily, you’ll get a lot of benefit from just tracking for a few days. Start small and only track for short periods at a time, and your goals will determine how long you should track your meals. If you use the right system for you and your life, you can track and look at your data easily, without going crazy. Keep it light and fun!
One of the most basic systems for meal tracking is what I call the Instagram Diet, and what used to be the Camera Phone Diet. Just take a picture of everything you eat. And you’re done! You now have a photographic record of your meals, with day and time included. Posting to Instagram is optional, and may either annoy or inspire your friends and strangers around the world.
Another simple method is to keep a running list of what you eat each day. Recording the day and date, meal times, frequency, content and quantity are the basic metrics. You can use these to get a basic picture of your nutrition levels.
A more in-depth system for tracking what you eat is found through Choose My Plate, a website run by the USDA, Department of Agriculture. They’ve created a nutrition tracker they call SuperTracker, as well as other great tools that are all available at their website for free. These can help you help you see your nutritional breakdown, find out what and how much to eat, as well as set goals. It’s a solid system and a great resource.
My favorite option is to use some great apps on your phone, like MyFitnessPal or Fitbit. Tracking should be easy, and system you use should be quick and effective. These apps are with you as long as you have your phone handy, and simplify the process so much so that you can do it as you preparing, eating, or cleaning up. Some let you save your most common meals, see an in depth breakdown, and can also hook into other health and fitness apps to give you even more data.
Knowledge is power! By taking the time to keep track of what you eat, you can unlock amazing benefits and really take control of your health and fitness.