Can writing down what you eat help you or is it a waste of time?
Written by Kaleigh McElfresh, Dietetic Intern
Co-author Monica Salafia MS RD CPT
April 5, 2020
At one point or another, you've likely been part of a conversation that starts with "I have been eating healthy and haven't seen any results!"
After recalling what you're eating, it's obvious that you should be seeing results, right? You're eating salad and chicken breast, you've sworn off sugar and alcohol, and you're drinking enough water to hydrate an entire village. So what gives?
Food choices are rarely the reason, it's mostly portions. This is why tracking your food can be super helpful in reaching any kind of health or fitness goal you have.
1. Tracking Gives You Insight Into What, and How Much, You're Truly Eating
Tracking your food is keeping track of how much you eat and what you eat and drink each day. Doing this will give you an inside look on the amount of the 6 essential nutrients you must eat to survive.
Those 6 essential nutrients are: carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins, minerals and water.
No matter what your goals are, whether it's weight loss, muscle gain, or maintenance, for must of us it is largely due to the amount of energy we take in and burn. There are some instances that change that basic "energy in energy out" theory, but for a majority of us, it can just be that simple (and that's a great thing).
Are you in a surplus, but trying to lose weight?
Are you looking to gain muscle, but you're not eating enough?
Are you an endurance runner that isn't getting enough carbohydrates, and your runs are suffering?
Having a snapshot of your entire day using a tracking app can help answer these questions, and get you on the right track for success.
According to an article published by Katherine McManus, MS, RD, LDN in Harvard Medical School Journal, "In one weight loss study of nearly 1,700 participants, those who kept daily food records lost twice as much weight as those who kept no records." This is likely true for those with any aesthetic or athletic goal who aren't aware of their caloric intake, whether it be weight loss, muscle gain, or athletic performance.
2. It Can Help You Identify True Hunger Versus Emotional Eating
In addition to seeing what and how much you're consuming, tracking gives you an insight into when you are feeling hungry and if it changes with stress level, activity level, or schedule changes.
For example, you may notice that on a day you go out for a run with your partner, you are hungrier than usual and tend to eat more carbohydrate dense foods. This may help to plan in advance for your next run, knowing you need to eat a little more in the form of carbs before your run.
Or, you may see a trend on days you work versus days you spend at home. You may find that you're grazing more throughout the day when you're home, causing you to over eat.
3. Tracking Can Help You Build Your Meal Plan
One of the best reasons to track your food is it can help you meal plan.
Meal Planning is step 2 in my Meal Prep Blueprint. After taking inventory of your kitchen, which is when you categorize the foods you have in your kitchen, it' easy to take those categories and build a healthy meal.
For example, if you know you have oatmeal, eggs, peanut butter, salmon in your fridge, plugging each food into an app can help you plan a meal (or 2) for that day or the next.
4. It Can Help You Make Healthier, More Balanced Choices
When you track your food, you are collecting data. You're collecting data on the nutrients you nourish and fuel your body with and how much. Also, people feel optimal when eating their macronutrients inc certain percentages and when they are "well-balanced" for their bodies.
The "Plate-method" below shows an example of a well-balanced meal. (The fat is often found within the protein or used to cook the carbohydrate--i.e., oil, butter, etc.)
5. Tracking Your Food Can Help Your Digestion
All macronutrients have the ability to inflict pain or sensation to our guts. A basic example is lactose-intolerance. The lactose in milk is a carbohydrate that doesn't digest well in about 65% of the human population, but meanwhile you know you have plenty of people in your life who can drink milk, eat yogurt, cheese or ice cream no problem.
Fiber is another type of carbohydrate that can cause someones gut to feel gas, bloating, or pain. Collectively they are referred to as FODMAPs. The Low FODMAPs diet is one of the common nutrition interventions for people with sensitive guts. When working with clients, a Low FODMAPs meal plan is helpful to get started.
Protein and fats both have their impact on some people's guts. It just depends on who and how much, sometimes even when a person eat it. Lying down after a high-fat meal can really bother some people, others won't know a difference.
If you track your food you can pick up on these very trends. (This is how I found out about my intolerance to a serving of almonds and an apple for a snack, that's a no bueno for me (Monica).)
While it can all seem overwhelming at first, it doesn't take long to get into the swing of things. Tracking will help create awareness in your nutrition, help you see where you need to improve, and help you identify triggers and potentially avoid pain if you're feeling it.
Tracking your food takes time, practice, and is best with a coach for accountability and answer questions.
To help you get started, download this freebie Beginner's Guide To Tracking Your Food! At Mind on Nutrition we use the Nutritionix app for tracking your food intake when we want macro data. But the steps in the freebie are general enough to apply in other apps.