I feel like it’s important to discuss tracking food today. Not because I need to vent, but because I don’t think a lot of people do it, simply because it seems to be too daunting of a task.
I started tracking my food (caloric and nutritional intake) back in 2004 or so. I was newly overweight and trying to get back into my ‘old shape’. At that time, I was using the Body Sculpting Bible for Women, and they book was pretty adamant in its suggestion that you know exactly how much you are putting in and out, every day.
I was completely new to food tracking, and felt like just keeping a running, written list would work. It did, initially, but it was a HUGE waste of paper and the remaining files that I kept (in order to compare) were cumbersome after week one. Who wants to carry around a binder of food notes all day, every day, to everything? Not me.
It was then that I stumbled upon the Sparkpeople website. I found it accidentally while looking up the caloric values of something I had been eating and wanted to record in my food diary. It was then that I learned that one could track their dietary intake digitally, on the web. I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t thought of it sooner!
What started as a search for calories ended up in full-fledged daily use. The SP website became a site I visited more often than my email account, and once tabbed internet browsing was the norm, it was always an open tab (as it is, again, today).
When we think about tracking what we eat, we normally think of the basics: fat, protein, carbs, calories. That’s exactly what we should start with. It’s important to have an idea of what you SHOULD be taking in on a daily basis as well, and the SP website gives you the recommended amounts based on your input: weight, weight-loss goals, height, age, etc. But you can also track OTHER things, like iron, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, etc.
I’m not here to advertise the SP website. But I do want to talk about common issues associated with food tracking, such as perceived time wasted and dealing with other people’s entries.
~ Food tracking, when you’re new to it, seems like it is going to be a HUGE waste of time. Not that it’s not beneficial, but we think immediately of how long it might take us to enter in that Cobb Salad and all of the ingredients, if the one from our restaurant of choice isn’t easily available on the internet. And we’re right about that, for the most part: the other day, I wanted to enter that I ate a Spinach Strudel at a café. Of course, the café’s offerings weren’t already entered by someone else on the site, so I had to enter it myself. I have no idea what other ingredients went into it, but I did my best to track the amount of spinach, cheese and Phylo bread that existed on my plate.
Sometimes that’s all we can do, and that’s ok. But the good news is that if you come from and are eating out in America, the chain restaurant you’ve just eaten at might have all of that information right on the menu or listed on the website (websites are still a new idea here in Germany for restaurants). Such is the case for McDonald’s. Thank goodness. So our entering time is cut down by the availability of that information.
Another thing that saves time is eating the same things. What I mean by this is that I generally always buy the same box of Müsli for breakfast. I only have to enter that nutritional info ONCE, and then save it, and it’s there and ready for me from now until I decided to delete it. If you always eat Kraft Miracle Whip, you only have to enter that info once (if someone hasn’t already) and then save it as a favorite, and it’s there for every time you eat a baloney sandwich. Excellent.
~ Speaking of other people entering items… If you’re like me, then you think that no one in the world can do things as correctly as you can. ‘If you want something done right…’, right? It’s been a nice change, working with the ladies on this blog: they are all accountable and do the things that need to be done, and I love and appreciate them so much for it!!
But back to other people entering nutritional info: on a site like SP, everything you enter can be seen by the site’s users. This doesn’t mean that they all know exactly what you ate for lunch (thank goodness they don’t unless they search!), but it means that if I enter Kraft Miracle Whip, then anyone else is able to see and use that option when tracking THEIR baloney sandwich’s ingredients.
This is tricky for some people. How do you know that everyone is being as honest with themselves as you are, and how do you know that every other user on the site has perfect reading comprehension when it comes to reading the label of the mayo? The truth is that you don’t. Thankfully, there is an option to ‘see nutritional info’ before you decide to use the entry, where you can check the entered information against your own jar of mayo, just to make sure it’s accurate before hitting ‘use’ or ‘add to favorites’. This is also a major time-saver.
But maybe there’s another issue to food tracking, and it’s deeper than just not wanting to take the time. I knew a guy once whose modus operandi for life was that if it wasn’t said, then it didn’t happen. He never went to the doctor, because he was afraid to hear that he might have high cholesterol or blood pressure, etc. So he just kept not going and thinking he was healthy.
Maybe a lot of us feel like that guy when we think of tracking our food. Maybe we don’t WANT to know that we’re over-eating, or we don’t want to know by HOW MUCH. All I can say to that is that if you’re reading this, then it’s time to stop that negative thought cycle and hold yourself accountable. You don’t need to track your eating for the rest of your life, but you SHOULD track until you can tell without the calculations how much you need to eat in a day, and learn how that amount feels or should feel.
Tracking food IS time-consuming, at first. But after you’ve gotten used to it, it’s majorly simple and takes far less time than, say, a day’s worth of visits to Pinterest. Don’t act like you don’t blow an hour without even thinking about it on that site!!!