Three Reasons Why Tracking Your Food is Better Than Dieting
I love numbers and data.
Numbers allow me to put tangible measures to my progress and keep myself accountable. They help me figure out what works and what does not work. Numbers also enable me to improve over time and stay focused.
Depending on a goal I'm pursuing, it can take some time to see specific results. Identifying and tracking some concrete actions I need to take to achieve my goal gives me immediate feedback on my progress.
Over the years I tracked my budget, goals, habits, workouts, weight, level of stress, dating, sleep, allocation of my time and growth metrics for my business, just to name a few.
As I'm currently studying for a nutritionist certification, I've decided to track my food for several weeks.
There are different ways to keep track of your food. You can write it down in a food journal or on a piece of paper; you can keep notes on your phone or your computer; or you can use one of the numerous food tracking apps.
You can track various metrics related to food. Depending on your goal, you may decide to track the specific foods you eat, portion sizes, the times you eat, calories or macros. You can also keep notes on how you feel after certain foods, including fullness, emotional state, energy level and how you feel several hours after a meal.
Logging your food right after you eat (as opposed to waiting until the end of the day) helps you ensure that all data is accurately recorded. Additionally, this creates more awareness of how much food you have consumed during the day.
While you want to record your food truthfully, it does not need to be precise. You do not need to track every single gram and every single calorie. When you start tracking, you can just record the food description and approximate quantity. Even this limited data can give you huge insights into your eating habits.
For my food tracking experiment, I decided to use MyFitnessPal. It's one of the more popular apps that allows to track the calories you consume, the calories you burn, nutrients (carbohydrates, fat, protein, fiber, sugar and vitamins) and macros (percentages of carbs, fat and protein intake). The app allows you to search for a specific food, add a food by scanning a barcode and set your serving size.
You can also log your exercise routine into MyFitnessPal (or connect it with your fitness tracker), enter your current weight and set a weight goal. The app will give you an estimate of how many calories you should consume each day to achieve that goal. As your record your food and activity throughout the day, MyFitnessPal recalculates your remaining calories.
Tracking food can be a helpful tool for weight control, improving your nutrition and creating healthy eating habits.
Tracking my food made me pay more attention to what food I eat, when/how often I eat and how food impacts my body and energy level.
Below are three main reasons why I believe that food tracking is more beneficial and effective than dieting.
Create greater awareness and mindfulness about your food
When you start tracking food, you can create greater awareness of what you eat, when you eat it and how much food you consume.
People tend to forget what they eat throughout the day. Sometimes we eat mindlessly, without being aware of quantity of food we devour. Mindless eating can often take place while we watch TV, have a bowl of candy nearby or walk by snacks sitting on a kitchen counter.
Emotional eating is driven by our emotions rather than physical hunger. Some people eat in response to negative emotions, when they feel stressed, angry, disappointed, tired or bored and use "comfort food" to feel better.
Tracking food can help you cut down on mindless and emotional eating because it makes you more aware of the quantity and timing of food intake.
As you gain more food awareness, you also become more conscious of hunger signals and become better at identifying the times you are eating even though you are not hungry.
Interestingly, greater food awareness alone can lead to better food choices and weight loss as it can stop you from overeating. There are numerous studies that show that people who kept daily food records lost twice as much weight than those who did not track their food.
When I started tracking my food, I discovered several bad eating habits, including grabbing small candy snacks throughout the day and eating late in the evenings.
Once I had a complete picture of my meals and the times when I ate, it was easy to identify what I wanted to change. The awareness that comes from keeping track of everything is one of the best motivators for keeping up with making the necessary changes.
Learn about nutritional value of your food
Tracking can also give you a better picture of whether anything is missing from your diet and how you can improve your nutrition.
For example, as you look at your food logs over several days, you may realize that you eat far less fruits and vegetables and far more candies than you expected.
The food you eat provides you with nutrients you need to survive. There are two main types of nutrients: macronutrients and micronutrients.
The three main categories of macronutrients include carbohydrates, protein, and fat. The two types of micronutrients are vitamins and minerals. Water is also considered a very important nutrient as about 60% of human body is made up of water.
MyFitnessPal app shows nutritional facts of each food entry, including different kinds of fat (saturated, trans, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated), cholesterol, sodium, sugar, added sugars, carbs, protein and different vitamins. It also gives you the daily guideline for each of the nutrients.
At the end of each day, I can see the split of total daily calories by carbohydrates, protein and fat as well as the foods that contributed most calories in each of these categories.
This information allows me to make necessary adjustments to rebalance my nutrition. For example, currently I focus on reducing daily calories from fat, while increasing calories from carbs and protein.
Get the most from your food
The number of calories in food tells you how much potential energy food contains. However, it is not only calories that are important, but also the substance from which the calories are taken.
"Empty calories" come from solid fats (bacon, hot dogs, sausages, pizza) and added sugars (cookies, donuts, ice cream) that provide energy but very little nutritional value.
Each food has a certain nutrient density, or nutrients per amount of food. While eating the right amount of food for your energy needs, you want to make sure that that food is loaded with nutrients.
Some of the examples of foods with high-nutrient density are vegetables, fruits, fish, lean meats, eggs, nuts, seeds and whole grains. Some foods with low-nutrient density are deli meats, refined grains, sugar products, potato chips, pizza and soft drinks.
When you fill your body mostly with nutrient-dense foods, you will get a maximum dose of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other nutrients that keep your body healthy.
On the other hand, if you eat a lot of foods that are low in nutrients and high in calories, your body could get inflamed. These foods could lead to weight gain and chronic medical conditions.
"Food is an important part of a balanced diet."
Creating more awareness about your food empowers you to make healthier food choices without starving or eliminating the foods you love. Therefore, food tracking is a more effective approach to manage your weight than strict dieting that often results in the diet/binge cycle and can cause emotional and physical stress.