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A few weeks ago, I started logging my food. Not just saying “Oh, okay, here’s the medium sweet potato in the database,” actually weighing and inputting exactly what I eat. Don’t give me an eye roll yet! Let me explain why I started logging my food, how it’s helped me, and why I think you should start logging your food, too.
The first time someone talked to me about logging my food, an eye roll is exactly what I wanted to do. As you know, I don’t really track my own weight, felt that I was eating well enough, and didn’t want to loose weight or anything. How could food tracking possibly be for me?
Long story short, I finally decided to start tracking my food a week ahead of a ‘nutrition clinic’ at the gym. Honestly, I kind of gave in to peer pressure and figured “why not?” I downloaded the free version of My Fitness Pal and started logging. My coach recommended simply logging what I ate for the first week without trying to change it so I would have a clear picture of where I was, nutritionally speaking.
I was absolutely shocked by what this first week of logging my meals showed me. I already knew it’s difficult for me to have real meals while my husband is away, but I didn’t know just how far I was falling short of my nutritional needs. Multiple days during that first week I ate 400+ calories fewer than what I need, and I had as little as 18% of my needed protein. It was a total eye opener. No wonder I kept feeling tired and un-energetic. Of course I felt like hadn’t made progress at the gym lately – how could I when my body didn’t have enough fuel? Sure, it’s nice I was already eating pretty healthy foods, but I quickly learned that’s only part of the story.
After tracking my food for about a week, I attended the nutrition clinic at the gym and had a talk with the coaches. They’re big fans of something called “flexible dieting.” The basic idea is that your body needs a certain amount of calories each day, depending on your weight, gender, activity level, etc. Your calories either come from carbs, fat, or protein, and you need a certain amount of each macro nutrient (again, depending on things like your activity level) each day. The “dieting” part of the name seems like a bit of a misnomer to me. It’s more of a framework for balanced eating than a diet. Your goal is simply to have enough calories from each macro nutrient each day. In all honesty, you pretty much have to eat mostly healthy, “whole” foods to reach your macro goals, but there is also flexibility. You can totally eat a couple cookies or french fries or whatever and still end up on track for the day. Since you’re not restricting yourself and disallowing groups of foods, it’s a much more sustainable plan than most “diets.” The numbers MFP came up with for me were pretty close to what I calculated myself using the flexible dieting numbers, but I did change my goals in the app to match my calculations.
Tracking my food and paying attention to my macros made me realize that I needed to eat a lot more for breakfast, and I needed to make sure I had protein in my breakfast. My breakfast before was usually under 200 calories, but now I make these protein pancakes every morning and it’s 429 calories with 49 grams of carbs and 37 grams of protein. (I plan to share my no-protein-powder protein pancakes recipe soon!) I’ve had so much more energy in the mornings! I’ve been getting up super early and heading out for sunrise photography and have also really seen improvements at the gym. A month ago I probably would have been horrified if someone suggested I have over 400 calories for breakfast every day, but now I have no desire to return to my old breakfast and haven’t bought a box of cereal in a month. Or finished the open box that is doubtlessly a soggy mess in the cupboard by now.
I do not have any weightless goals, but still find tracking my meals very beneficial. Breakfast isn’t the only meal I’ve changed! I check my log and macros before each meal to see what I need to eat, then I log my food either immediately after eating it or before I even put anything in my mouth. Getting the correct nutrients has absolutely helped my energy level throughout the day, not just at the gym. I do not have any weight-loss goals, but tracking my food and actively working to meet my goals is absolutely worth the effort for me.
Logging/tracking your food (and taking action to meet your daily caloric and macro goals) can help you whether you’re looking to maintain your weight and simply have more energy/eat better or loose weight. Or, I suppose, it could help you gain weight, but I only know one person with that “problem!”
If you’re happy with your weight and simply want to perform better, feel more energetic, etc., tracking your food will help you in exactly the same ways it’s helped me. There’s a great piece on Active about how you may be underrating if your normal routine leaves you feeling wiped out and tired. It perfectly describes my situation, and if you’re not paying attention to your calories and macros, it may very well be yours.
If you want to loose body fat, logging your food can help you in a very surprising way. You may assume that it will help you restrict your calories and ensure you’re not eating too much, but first it will help you make sure you’re eating enough. Let me explain:
From talking to friends at the gym, I’ve learned that a lot of people who started tracking their food realized they weren’t getting enough calories. One friend, whose goal is to loose weight, worked her way up to the calories she actually needs to eat and, while the scale hasn’t moved for her yet, her clothes are fitting more loosely. I know that sounds backwards, but she has increased the amount she eats and has lost fat doing so. Now that she’s meeting her current nutritional needs for weight maintenance, she can begin cutting calories to create that calorie deficit necessary for weight loss. I’m not a nutritionist, but there are plenty of articles available online for you to read about how eating too little can prevent weight loss (or even cause weight gain as your metabolism slows down and tries to hold onto fat!). It makes sense when you think about it; if you’re eating 1200 calories a day but your body needs 1400 and you cut, say, 200 calories to only eat 1000 a day, your body will basically shut down your metabolism. It’s a survival mechanism – your body thinks it’s a crisis out there! For more authoritative/in depth explanations, there’s a Jillian Michaels piece about eating enough to loose weight, You’re Not Eating Enough Calories to Loose Weight on CalorieCoach.com, and a great explanation of why people can begin endurance training and gain weight (they’re not eating enough!) on Outdoors Online. Taking the time to meet your macros for maintaining your current weight helps get your metabolism back on track so you can then cut calories responsibly.
Tracking my food and modifying my diet to actually meet my nutritional needs has literally helped me run faster and jump higher. Okay, so I don’t know about the jumping part, so let’s say run faster and lift heavier! I believe if you track your food and then actually use this information to modify your food intake to meet your nutritional needs, you will see personal improvements that make it completely worthwhile.
Getting started logging your food and accurately tracking what you eat isn’t that difficult, but it can take a little getting used to. To keep this post from becoming a book, I’m have an entire post planned on how to log your food and what you need to do it accurately! Be sure to check back tomorrow to learn the best ways to ensure what you’re logging is accurate and what tools you need to get started.
Have you ever tracked your macro nutrients, not just your overall calories? Did you find it difficult to meet your macros each day?
Natasha is a former classroom teacher turned WAHM. She also is a registered yoga teacher and certified life coach. She shares her passion for education with craft tutorials and free printables. She also shares her experience moving through grief after losing a parent and passion for positive parenting. Learn more about Natasha and where she’s been featured.