By Tara Daye, PTS/FIS
Tracking your food can be invaluable in your journey to a healthy, balanced lifestyle. In many cases, we think we eat well, but when we track our food to see the whole picture and understand what it means, we are more likely to have success. With technology these days it makes it very easy to track and understand our food consumption. Studies have shown that just the act of writing your exercise and food intake down significantly improves your habits.
We learn how to control our calories by tracking our foods. The average male needs 2000 – 3000 calories daily and women should consume between 1800 and 2400 daily calories. To figure out your caloric needs and to track your intake, talk to your doctor or use one of the many easy and free apps or websites that does the math for you such as mynetdiary or myfitnesspal. Once you know your daily needs, you can figure out your calorie sources. Divide the calories up into protein, carbs and fat categories. For a sustainable weight-loss plan, the average percentages should be approximately 30% carbohydrates, 30% fats, and 40% protein. If trying to build muscle, you’ll need a higher percentage of carbs in the ratio. Finding the right ratio of calories is just as important as the type of calories we are consuming. Always keep in mind that each person’s individual needs differ and activity levels, deficiencies, medications or medical conditions may require these average numbers to change to suit the specific needs. The best answer if you are going to get technical about your calories, is to consult your family doctor a registered dietician or holistic nutritionist.
We learn portion control with calorie monitoring. Tracking your food and calories quickly shows that humans tend to over-portion. This is especially important when we dine out at restaurants, gatherings and social events. Being able to eye your portion sizes and ensure you are consuming as close as possible to your ratio of calorie sources will keep your eating consistent.
Consistency in our meals and timing of when we eat can make a difference to our weight management as well. Eating every 2.5 – 3 hours when we are awake and stopping at least 4-5 hours before bed will allow our bodies the adequate fuel to confront our day and also the appropriate amount of fast time for our bodies to repair. If we eat too close to sleep, our bodies take energy to digest and store nutrients as opposed to using the nutrients already stored for repair and regeneration.
When tracking our food and intake we also become aware of situations in which we binge. Binging on your favorite comfort food, salty snack or sweet treat usually stems from a few different causes. These can include being too hungry by not eating every 2.5-3 hours, stress, sadness, anger, old habits and temptation. Identifying these situations allows us to put a plan of action in place whereby we can acknowledge the potential situation and trigger and use countermeasures to prevent it. For example, you’ve eaten well all week and want a treat on the weekend. Good enough, but have you ever brought the whole bag of potato chips to the couch for a movie then seemingly only moments later feel the bottom of the bag with your fingers and realize you ate the whole thing!? Instead acknowledge that chips are a craving but you are allowing yourself a well-earned treat, get a small portion-controlled bowl, eat that and no more. Not only will you be proud of your willpower, you won’t have the empty-bag regret and your body will thank you too!! What about at restaurants? They are infamous for giving very large portions. If it is in front of you, you are more likely to eat more than you really need. Ask the waiter for an empty doggy-bag container with your meal so you can knowingly portion out your servings accordingly. Not only will your belt-buckle thank you, so will your wallet, plus you’ll go home with another meal and save yourself the cooking! There are many things that can be quick, easy and painless changes we can make successfully if we take the time to observe.
Tasting the rainbow is how we can ensure we are getting all of our vitamins and nutrients we need to support healthy function. Our plates should include a variety of colors especially from our vegetables. Track your variety of veggies and see where you can add some color to your plate. Studies show that the more vegetarian and organic our diets are, the more decreased risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and some forms of cancer. As always be sure to consult a professional to monitor vitamin and mineral levels as with any restrictive diet regime.
Water, as always, tops the chart as a must-have for a healthy system. Our bodies are 70% water, and the benefits of drinking at the very least 8 glasses of water per day are numerous and positive. The first signs of dehydration are dry mouth and headaches and can lead to major problems even total confusion and death. The only precaution of drinking water is drinking too much or drinking contaminated water. Be sure to drink only clean filtered or bottled water and to track your intake here as well. If you have a hard time remembering to get your water in daily, set a reminder on your phone – your whole body will thank you!
Logging your food can at first seem tedious and a bit time consuming. As with any other good habit, it takes repeating it often to make it part of your day. The only downfalls to tracking your food is that it takes up a little time and makes you look your choices in the face – that can sometimes seem a scary venture but could turn out to be a really positive move towards self-discovery. The benefits to your health, function and self-esteem far outweigh the negatives in the case of food tracking. Try tracking everything you eat for at least a week. After the week is done sit down and analyze your records. Notice where you excelled, where you had a slip, whether you were prepared for your day or ended up eating out, and where you can make easy healthy changes or choices. You may just impress yourself!