I, like 90% of Canadians I know, gained a few pounds during the strict COVID-19 lockdowns and social distancing regulations that were applied here in Ontario. Unlike many others, I actually increased my activity level during COVID-19. I increased my weekly step count by 10%, largely due to the social walks I would often go on with friends. Since there wasn’t much going on from an entertainment perspective, I rarely missed one of the five weekly strength training workouts I had planned in my calendar. So it wasn’t my activity levels that were lacking, it was the fact that I increased my calorie consumption too much. The increased calories I consumed over the past one and a half years, led me to a 7 pound weight gain. I knew I had to take a hard look at a few of my eating habits in order to lose these extra pounds. And I knew just what tool I had to implement into my life, to do this…a food tracker. I starting tracking my food daily, in July.
Here’s Why I Love Tracking my Food
1. It gets you reading labels and comparing foods.
When you track the calories you consume, you have to read food labels more. When you start the tracking, you may not have any idea how many calories a food you’re commonly eating contains. For example, for my morning snack, I would often grab a banana, that’s 105 calories. After a quick search, I realized that a half cup of blueberries is only 43 calories. That may not seem like a big difference, but over the course of one month, making this one small switch could add up to a half pound weight loss!
Food tracking gets you making product comparisons in the grocery store before you even bring anything home. You will quickly start making better decisions about what to load your grocery cart and plate with. As an example, I realized that sour cream, which rings in at a whopping 50 calories in 2 tablespoons, has to be measured and used more sparingly versus what I was used to. If not, a big ‘dollop’ of it could quickly add up to the calories I was consuming in my whole piece of chicken!
2. It forces you to figure out what’s worth it.
This healthy habit forces you to make decisions about your consumption. For example, if I want to grab an appetizer and a drink with friends one evening, I eat really healthy meals and snacks throughout the day. This gives me a little more leeway to enjoy the evening. And let’s face it, eating is social. We should have days when we’re eating well above our calorie goals, but just recognize that if these days become consistent, weight loss won’t happen.
3. Food tracking brings awareness to what you’re consuming in a day.
Food tracking has shown me that the biggest place I was adding extra calories was through cooking with oils and sauces. Writing your food down helps bring awareness to everything you’re consuming. It helps you figure out patterns. Do you eat more on weekends due to social events, or because you don’t have a routine? Do you eat more when you’re stressed, sad or bored? Once you see the patterns, you’ll be able to troubleshoot them either on your own, or with a coach.
Did you know that a tablespoon of honey contains a whopping 60 calories!?! This is equivalent to 1 cup of raspberries! Now I know you’re not going to use berries to sweeten your coffee, but if you can even shrink your honey usage down to one teaspoon per coffee, this could lead to a 2 – 3 pound weight loss per month!!
3 Tips to Effectively and Quickly Track Your Food
Here are a few tips that I used, to make food tracking effective, yet quicker for me:
1. Accuracy counts, but consistency is most important.
Food tracking should be as accurate as possible, but it doesn’t have to be perfect. I track the foods I eat along with the calories. Now I know I have told you guys in the past that calorie counting isn’t the way to go and that there are problems with it. I don’t believe calorie counting is 100% accurate by any means, but tracking your calories will show you directionally how much you’re consuming.
To build your awareness and to get you to start changing your eating habits, you do have to be consistent with your food tracking. At least until you start gaining some traction with the scale, or how your clothes are fitting. I track my caloric intake, even while on holidays at the cottage. My little tracking book is easy to pack along with me. I chose to use a written tracker versus an app, because I can get more accurate this way. I read the labels of all foods where it’s available, versus trying to find my exact brand in an app. This is completely up to you, if you are more likely to track your food intake via an app, use it instead.
2. Food tracking shouldn’t be a rigorous process.
After you’ve tracked your food for about a month, it shouldn’t take more than 3 minutes daily. You’ll soon see that you regularly rotate between 3-4 breakfasts, 4-6 lunches and maybe 15-20 dinners (+ occasional eating out meals). I use short forms wherever possible when writing out my foods to speed things up even more. If you make a big batch of something like a chili, just roughly calculate the calories as you go. Figure out roughly how many portions the total batch makes to confirm the calories in each meal .
3. Use your food tracker for guidance, not for judgement.
Food trackers should be used to guide your future decisions, not to judge your past ones. Trackers can help clarify why you may not be making the progress on the scale that you feel you should be making. I roughly figured out the calories I should be consuming, using ‘The Diet Fix calorie calculator’. There have been some weeks when I can clearly see that even with my high activity levels, I’m not coming close to burning the calories I’m consuming. It’s during these weeks I see a stall in my weight loss journey. I wouldn’t have noticed or understood the weight swings as well, before tracking my food.
Does a Food Tracker Need to be Used Forever?
I know some of you will be asking, “Do I have to use a food tracker forever?”. I will answer this in detail in a future blog. Just know that for now, I am going to keep going with it. I’m only spending 15 minutes a week on my food tracker, so to me, the time spent is worth the healthier habits I’ve been sticking to. My weight loss with the food tracker hasn’t been dramatic, I still have a couple of COVID pounds to shed, but I can see I’ve already been making some healthy eating changes that will stick with me forever. This can do nothing but help me over the long term.
To Sum it up…Use Food Tracking to Build Healthier Habits
Food tracking gets you reading labels and comparing foods. When you track your food, you are forced to decide when it’s worth it to eat a more calorie dense meal. You are more aware of what you’re actually consuming; you understand more about why your weight loss may be stalled.
When you do start tracking your food, remember that consistency is most important. Once you get the hang of it, it shouldn’t take you more than 3 minutes a day to complete. Remember to use your tracker to help guide you into healthier eating, don’t use it at a judgement tool. I’d love to hear your thoughts about food tracking after you’ve tried it for a month or so.