Want to know the secret to losing weight, changing your body composition and becoming a svelte athlete? It’s so simple it’s stupid. In a study of over 1,700 people, the number one predictor that a person would lose weight and improve their health was doing this one thing. This one simple idiotic thing? Documenting their food. There are about a thousand different ways now to document your food, from old school pen and paper (even better if you document in the same place you document your workouts) to some really comprehensive apps like Myfitnesspal, LoseIt, Cronometer, and Macrostax just to name a few. How on earth can such a simple step have so much power over how we eat? Well let’s take a look at a few reasons on how a little thing like tracking your food can make such a big difference.
- Informs you how nutrient dense your food is. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in if a food is just “good” or “bad,” but by logging our food we can make more informed decisions about how our food affects us. Like, “Wow that carb heavy breakfast (even if they were healthy carbs) without any protein or fat really left me starving two hours later.” Now that you know that, next time you will probably incorporate some more protein and fat into your breakfast. It can also help you take a look at if you are eating enough foods that are micronutrient dense. It’s easy to choose a 100 calorie pack snack of some processed food because it is low calorie and tasty, but when you go back and look at your log at the end of the day, could there have been a better choice? An apple perhaps? Still just as convenient and you would have avoided the processed and refined carbohydrates and added to your nutrition by eating something full of fiber, enzymes, vitamins and minerals instead, a much bigger win for your body. By tracking, you will have that awareness, therefore creating the desire to choose differently.
- Can give you a sense of satisfaction and “completeness”– for those who like “checking” off tasks, completing a food log at the end of the day is a nice to-do that can be completed, no matter how or what you ate. Just documenting your food is a step in the right direction. Sometimes when we are trying to improve our diets we can feel defeated by things that have too much variation (like the number on the scale), but tracking our food is a daily actionable step we can take, regardless of what the scale or any other outside source says.
- Gives you the ability to have options and plan– the nice thing about documenting your food, especially if you go in with a plan, like knowing you have a work party this week or some other social event, is that you can weigh your choices, look at your options and decide if that wine/beer or cake is something you want to work into your diet. You might decide it’s not worth it, or you might decide it’s worth a slice or a glass or two. There’s no restriction saying you can’t have something, just you choosing if you want to or not. It’s all about choice and empowering yourself. One of the most powerful things we can tell ourselves is not “I can’t eat that,” (making you feel like a deprived child) it’s “I don’t eat that, because I choose not to,” (making you the adult decision maker) and not a victim of your food choices.
- Creates accountability and honesty– ever hear someone say they eat really healthy but can’t seem to lose weight? And then you see what they eat and you realize maybe they’re not being totally honest with themselves? A donut for breakfast, fast food for lunch and a salad for dinner doesn’t really equal a healthy diet if you know what I mean. Writing down what we eat forces us to acknowledge what we’re putting in our bodies and creates another layer of awareness. In fact, this honesty can often help us decide to choose the healthier option if we are tracking what we eat.
- Creates mindfulness– do you avoid food because you don’t want too many calories, but you’re truly hungry? Or do you eat when you’re not hungry, but some outside external cue, like the smell of baked goods, or a food advertisement has triggered your appetite? Do you eat fearfully? I know I did, as one of nine hungry kids, I was always afraid there wouldn’t be access to more food later, so I ate even when I wasn’t hungry or when I was already full. Do you give your food enough time to settle before you get seconds? Do you feel pressured to eat/drink in social situations? Documenting your food can raise important questions and help you realize why you choose to eat what you do, the way you eat, and whether or not you are making choices that are the healthiest for you and no one else.
- Creates awareness about how you eat and how you perform– as BK states in the video, a question athletes should be asking themselves over and over again is, “what did you eat?,” “how did you feel?” Rinse and repeat. Our food impacts us not only physically but also psychologically. We all want to go into our ‘A’ race knowing what we ate is going to help us perform optimally.
- Can help create balance– are you getting enough protein in your diet? Are you eating too many processed carbs? Do you only eat low-fat or no-fat foods? Without sufficient fat in your diet your system can’t work correctly. In fact, vitamins A, D, K and E are all vitamins that require fat in the diet in order to be absorbed correctly. By tracking your food you can see what areas you might want to adjust in order to achieve optimum health.
While we don’t expect you to track your food everyday for the rest of your life, we do recommend doing it for a set period of time and learning about yourself and what works and what doesn’t. So I’ll leave you with this story from the interwebs about food tracking and being totally honest. A lady at a support meeting for dieters was bemoaning her lack of will-power. She had made her family’s favorite cake over the weekend, she explained, and they’d eaten half of it. The next day, however, the uneaten half beckoned. She cut herself a slice. Then another, and another (we’ve all been there, right?). By the time she’d polished off the cake, she knew her husband would be disappointed. “What did he say when he found out?” one club member asked. “He never found out,” she said. “I made another cake and ate half.”