I had a client start working with me this week.
With any client who signs on, I have them complete a food log for a couple of days—including the weekends. In this food log, they track their daily food and liquid intake.
And it’s always amazing how much is learned from that process alone.
Without me even doing my job!!
This client that just signed on texted me and said she forgot how amazing and helpful tracking was. It reminded her “hey, you’ve had no water today” or “instead of 8 beers on Friday, let’s have one or two today and another one or two on Friday instead.”
Tracking, when used for the RIGHT reasons, can be such an amazing tool in not only losing weight but building muscle, body recomp, building healthy and sustainable habits, improving biofeedback, and more.
It’s no wonder, then, why I have every single client start with food tracking and logging.
But a good 50% of the time, I’m often met with resistance around tracking.
Because it’s viewed as a means of restriction.
And yes! If you solely use tracking your food to limit your intake, cut out your favorite foods, eat 1200 calories, crush yourself in the gym, you ARE going to hate it and it isn’t going to be sustainable.
However, if you use tracking as a means of awareness and treat every day simply as just data, then it opens you to a whole new world, which I’ll teach you and share with you in today’s blog! Below are 4 reasons why I strongly encourage tracking and how you can apply it to achieve whatever “diet-based goal” you have.
The very first positive to come from tracking your intake is simply becoming aware
of how much you’re actually eating
of the quality of foods you’re eating
of your weekdays vs weekends
of how much water you’re drinking
of your fiber intake
of your macro composition (and how they relate to your biofeedback)
I recently shared a story in a recent blog, newsletter, and social media about an individual trying to lose weight. Based off of his eating plan and his biofeedback, I was suspecting he was eating 1600 calories at most and likely would need to eat more. Upon initially tracking a day of eating, we logged 1649 calories. I thought I was hot stuff predicting that. We kept talking though and he mentioned what goes into his coffee, the oils used to cook his meals, and some extra non-water liquids...and soon enough we were at 2700 calories.
All he needed was the awareness of what was causing him to continue to gain weight. He didn’t need to be told how to eat and fix his problems. He first needed to become aware of HIS current habits and how they either were or weren’t serving his goals.
Awareness precedes change.
Nutrition isn’t a one-size fits all approach. What you’re doing wrong (or even right) is different from me. We have different cravings, energy expenditure, favorite foods, biofeedback, etc. Most importantly, we have different habits that aren’t serving us. What works for me may not work for you. I don’t crave salty foods. When I first tracked, I became aware of how much I was limiting anything remotely sweet (even fruit) from my diet. I changed by including more sweet foods. IF you don’t crave sweet foods, you don’t need to do what I did.
Awareness is the first step, not only to change, but also to making the steps specific and individualized to YOU to achieving desired results.
Another pro that comes with tracking is that you can ensure you’re doing all you can and should to be seeing results. The problem with eye-balling, guessing, many fad diets, or portions-based diets is that they’re not exact. When it comes to seeing body composition changes. There are a couple things you need to know.
To lose weight, you need to be eating in a calorie deficit, burning more calories than you’re putting in.
To build muscle, you need to be eating in a calorie surplus.
To maintain and improve biofeedback, you need to be eating at maintenance calories.
You can’t do this with 100% accuracy without tracking.
**NOTE that this doesn’t mean you have to meticulously track and obsess. At the end, I’m going to show you HOW you can even loosely track to meet your mindset where it’s at and still see results.
All fad diets create a calorie deficit. It’s not the ketosis from your Keto diet. It’s not the lack of processed foods from your Paleo nutrition plan. It also isn’t the fasting window you created. All simply just inadvertently create a calorie deficit. The Keto and Paleo diet likely remove a lot of processed foods and replace them with whole food sources. Intermittent fasting reduces the time you eat. IF, however, you include allllll the Paleo or Keto baked goods you find online or in your eating window you go absolutely ham on some food, then you’re not going to lose weight because you’re no longer in that calorie deficit.
Eight years ago, I was told I was allergic to gluten...two weeks before moving into college. Unsure of what gluten even was and fear of getting sicker, I stuck to salads because the dining halls weren’t very equipped with “gluten free” eating. I lost 15lbs. THEN I found out how to avoid gluten and learned about gluten free baked goods and allllll the yummy stuff and those 15lbs came back. The gluten free diet wasn’t what caused me to lose that weight. It was the
Tracking lets you know exactly (or roughly) how many calories—and macros—you’re putting into your body. This lets you know if you’re on track to seeing results. Other methods are effective but do require more diligence and attention to your biofeedback, enduring a bit more hunger, likely a bit more restriction, and likely a bit more time because some days you will eat more food.
When you use tracking as a means to allow your cravings to be satisfied, you open a whole new world of tracking.
I almost always track on the weekends.
Not to make sure I don’t “eat too much” or “go off track” or “fall off the bandwagon”.
But actually so I (1) eat enough food and can use tracking to stay accountable to that and (2) to allow flexibility and to follow a more traditional “if it fits your macros” style of eating.
When you eat enough food (daily 2000+ calories like you should), you have SO much room for flexibility. Every Friday night, my group of friends goes to our favorite dive bar for cheap beer and wings. Every Friday, I log my 6 wings and 2 beers then use the rest of the day to meet my desired macros. And guess what? I still am eating a ton of yummy and nutritious foods that day. Instead of a bagel—which I usually have in the mornings—I usually swap it out for a piece of whole grain toast or some quinoa...but other than that, my day doesn’t change much.
Tracking your intake—when you don’t use it as a means to not eating above 1200 calories—lets you intentionally “deviate” from your nutrition plan.
You can follow this flexible dieting approach and have the ease of mind that you’re enjoying yourself but not losing progress. Go back to “RESULTS”. To lose weight, you need to be in a calorie deficit. To build muscle, you need to be in a surplus. So if you’re able to include pizza or wings or cookies into your macros or your calorie-prescription every once in a while, you’re not going to skip a beat. In doing so, you make your nutrition plan 10000x more sustainable and enjoyable.
What do you think you could follow longer? A Keto plan that forces you to either NOT drink beer or drink weird Keto-safe beer OR a basic macro-based plan that lets YOU decide how you’re going to fit foods into your plan? The one that you have more autonomy over and the one that lets you enjoy life a bit more...without a doubt.
MEASURABLE [AND SMALL] CHANGES
The final benefit that tracking your intake provides is that you can make VERY small—almost negligible changes—to see results.
When I set up a deficit for a client. I am looking for the smallest amount of change I’m going to need to create to elicit a response.
I do this for a couple of reasons:
it makes the deficit easier to follow
it protects one’s metabolic and hormonal health
it doesn’t worsen gym performance
it encourages a slow rate of weight loss (what we want)
it saves room for potential plateaus and troubleshooting (see this blog)
You don’t need to create a 1000-calorie deficit. In fact, if you do, you’re not going to be following that plan for long. I recently took on a client who left their current coach/plan because they’re 1400-calorie deficit they’d created not only wasn’t working but was absolutely miserable. She’s at 1800-1900 calories now and seeing great results.
Tracking let’s you make 100-200 calorie changes. This is ideal in dieting because the hunger response isn’t too unbearable. This is also ideal in reverse diets because it doesn’t make a client feel like they’re force feeding themselves.
More isn’t always better. A larger deficit doesn’t guarantee better weight loss. A larger surplus doesn’t guarantee a ton of lean muscle gains and crazy PRs.
HOW TO TRACK
So you’re ready to track! Here’s how.
Step 1. Choose the app of choice
MyFitnessPal is my go-to app of choice. Chronometer, LoseIt, and FatSecret are other options. It’s important to note that there is a transition period with any tracking. The first 1-2 weeks tend to be more overwhelming because you haven’t put in any foods yet. As you get more comfortable with it and make more entries, these apps become much easier because the foods (and amounts) are already stored.
Decide how you want to measure your food. You can get a digital scale and weigh everything, but if you fear obsession and burnout, start smaller with standard measurements.
Don’t start with eyeballing. IF you haven’t taken a good 6 months if not even a year to practice and learn what an eyeballed measurement looks like, then you’re likely not too accurate. If you don’t believe me, go measure a tablespoon of peanut butter. I do a combination of both. I will weigh my protein and then use standard measurements for everything else. You’ve got to dish out the rice somehow, might as well use a cup measurement and kill two birds with one stone!
Step 2. Track everything
The first thing you want to do is track everything that goes into your mouth (food and water) for 4-7 days. Make sure you get at least one day on the weekend to assess how different your weekend habits and intake are.
You don’t have to track spices.
You can do this as you go through the day or at the start (or end).
Don’t make any associations or assumptions. This is just gaining awareness and is JUST data. Don’t assign any meaning to any of your habits yet.
At the end average your days.
Step 3. Assess your food log
There are a couple of things to consider with your food log.
your intake: How much are you eating? How does this compare with how much you should be eating? Is this intake higher or lower than your BMR? Are you eating way more than you expected?
quality/variety: Do you eat fruits and vegetables, high quality protein, and whole grains 60-80% of the time? 100% of the time? None of the time? What about the variety? Is it always chicken and broccoli and rice?
meal frequency: How many meals are you eating? Does this work for you? When are you hungriest during the day? IF you added a meal in your day, would that make a difference (the answer is likely yes)?
macros: Look at your macro split. What is it? How much is your protein?
consistency or backloading: Do you eat 500 calories from 7am-5pm then 2000 from 5pm-11pm? Or are you more consistent?
weekends: Are your weekends different? How so? Are your M-F SO restrictive that weekends are uncontrollable binges? Are weekends more social for you? Are you eating enough on the weekends?
biofeedback: Do you have cravings? Do you sleep throughout the night? How is your energy? IF you have cravings, poor sleep, and low energy, are you eating few meals and below 1700 calories? Are there days you feel better? What is different about your food that day?
So much to consider!! Which is why I LOVE what I do. It’s one big puzzle of awareness!!
Step 4. Create change
Now to create actionable steps towards reaching your goals, there are a couple of nuances of tracking to be aware of.
The BIGGEST factor going into tracking is mindset. When it comes to tracking, you need to find the line where YOU feel comfortable and still enjoy the process.
After the initial food log, we can taper down the rigidity of the tracking and get a bit more loose and flexible.
If you have obsessed thought patterns when it comes to tracking OR if you’re new to tracking, you don’t—and shouldn’t—be immediately right off the gate tracking all three macronutrients (protein, fats, and carbs) and calories. That’s going to get old, fast and you will likely burn out.
Instead, start small (if you’re not sure why, just go to the above section)! Start with either tracking protein and/or calories and simply staying consistent.
Don’t immediately go off the deep end changing a ton of stuff. Start with where you’re at now and just focus on making 1-3 changes. Increasing your protein, eating a consistent caloric intake daily, and finding ways to add flexibility are the first 3 I would start with. Hold for 2-3 weeks. IF you’re seeing results, DON’T CHANGE. Stay the course.
As you become more comfortable, you can start adding more changes to the mix or even more things to track.
Make sure to include free days, depending on your mindset, as well. I encourage at least one tracking-free day every single week, where you don’t change your routine or your habits—so it’s not a cheat day—you just get a bit of freedom in there.
Most importantly, HIRE A PROFESSIONAL who is equipped to doing this and guiding you along the way. Apply here.
Resources and Coaching:
Online Coaching here.
[Free] Nutrition Guide here.
Recipe & Macro Guide here.