I am not gonna lie: I LOVE food and I love eating a lot of it. That was why I was never really keen on tracking my food. I thought if I track my food it would take the enjoyment out of it. But while training for my Marathons I faced some unexpected weight gain. I obviously was indulging more than what I should have. And as you know, every gram counts when you have to run for 42km. So for Berlin Marathon I decided to be a bit stricter with my diet. I decided not to eat sweets and junk food and not drink any alcohol. Around the same time runtastic was working on it’s new food tracking app, which I was able to test before the launch. During the testing phase, I tracked my food and learned a lot about my diet, my cravings and my overall habits. Here is what I learned:
1) You learn calories and portion control
Have you ever wondered why you are not losing or gaining weight how you think you should? Probably it is because you are still eating too much or too little unconsciously. You might just don’t know how many calories your food contains, or how much a serving actually is. By tracking your food you will learn that you favorite coffee shop beverage with syrup and whipped cream will have double the calories that you expected, and that one serving of almonds is actually just 8 individual nuts. These things will help you later to make smarter decisions when it comes to diet and nutrition.
2) You learn about your macronutrient and micronutrient intake
There are three main macronutrients that our body can metabolize: protein, carbohydrates an fats. How much of these you should consume is a big debate right now. Depending on your exercise habits and overall goals, a different amount of each of these macronutrients is required. For example endurance athletes will need more carbohydrates than strength athletes. Recently a lot of other diets have become popular: the low fat diet, the low carb diet, the Atkins diet, a ketogenic diet etc. All of these require fairly fixed ration or amounts of macronutrients. I will not go into detail of any of these diets, or why or why not you should follow them. But once you decide to follow one of them, tracking your food will actually tell you if you really do. In addition to telling you about your macronutrients tracking your food will tell you about your micronutrient intake. With that I mean minerals, vitamins and other substances that are essential for your body. A food diary to track your food can help you to discover unbalanced diets and potential nutrient deficiencies before they manifest.
3) It increases your awareness when and how you eat
Yes we all have these moments when we feels stressed, tired, angry, sad or bored, and the thing we automatically do is to grab something to eat. Tracking your food will make you aware of these situations where you are just mindlessly shoving food down your throat. It will make you aware when and why they happen. And this gives you the chance to react to these triggers, or even make sure they don’t even come up.
4) To track your food keeps you accountable
When you are working towards a goal that includes nutrition, no matter if it is weight loss, muscle gain, or better performance, it can only be achieved one bite at the time. And sometimes you might fall off track and have a wrong bite or two. When keeping a food journal and track your food you will actually think before you eat something, if it contributes positively or negatively towards your goals. In the end, you will have it on paper (or in an app) what you ate and can’t make excuses any more why you are not reaching your goals. In the end it is just you working against or with yourself.
5) To track your food keeps you motivated
Sometimes things don’t go as planned. A food journal where you track your food can keep you motivated when you had a bad day, or when it seems like you are not making any progress. Achieving your nutrition goals the next day provides a small but important achievement. Meeting your goals several times in a row will be even more motivating. Even when you are not making any obvious progress a solid food tracking history can prove that you are still on track. Some apps provide you also with rewards that you can get when you reach a certain goal. Or you can reward yourself when you reach your nutrition goals for X days in a row.
I personally benefited a lot from tracking my food and I learned a lot about my dieting habits. But I will not keep a food journal every single day. This has three main reasons:
- I learnt a lot about nutrition so far that I feel comfortable that I eat a healthy diet most of the time without tracking it. I know my portion sizes and the calorie contents of my usual foods.
- My body has the amazing ability of telling me exactly how much food it needs. The more I work out, the hungrier I get. It more or less sticks to the same weight if I just leave it naturally. (extreme Marathon training excluded)
- As with always in life I believe in balance. There are times where you need to be more disciplined with your diet, keep a food journal and track your food (Like Marathon season). And there are times where you should just eat, indulge, have fun and enjoy your food guilt free. This is not bad, it is important for your body and mind to reset.
You just need to know how to find the balance.