Tracking as you go throughout the day brings mindfulness to your eating, and that mindfulness is usually the number one reason that I recommend nutrition tracking…Research shows that people who track their intake are more successful at losing weight than those who don’t track.
Neal and I spend a lot of time dispensing nutrition and fitness advice. We want you to know that we seldom ask people to do or try things that we’re not doing or have not done ourselves. So, inspired by the Montana Meals April Challenge of the Month, I recently tracked my dietary intake for 10 days straight. Here’s what I discovered:
- I’m good at eating vegetables, but not so good at eating fruit.
- My meals are generally well-balanced, but my snacks could use some work.
- And finally, I love dark chocolate. (But of course I already knew that!)
Nutrition tracking has become much easier with the advent of online trackers and smart phone apps. Pen and paper work just fine too, but with today’s online tools, it’s much easier to keep track of what you eat and then instantly see a nutritional analysis including number of calories, grams of protein/carbs/fat, milligrams of sodium, etc. It’s heaven for dietitians and for those of us more number-oriented. Most online trackers also provide you with an estimated calorie budget for the day based on weight, gender, activity level, and weight goal, an ability to connect with other people for support and accountability, plus a way to track your exercise as well.
I’ve been asked several times in the past few weeks for my recommendations regarding the best online nutrition tracker. In my opinion, the quality of a nutrition tracker boils down to two things: 1. the number of foods in its database (it’s frustrating to have to enter a food that only kinda, sorta resembles what you ate), and 2. its user friendliness. So here are my recommendations, in order, based on these two criteria:
- My Fitness Pal www.myfitnesspal.com
- LiveStrong www.livestrong.com
- Lose It! www.loseit.com
The above trackers provide detailed self-reports, allow you to enter custom foods for your favorite recipes or foods not in the database, and MyFitnessPal and Lose It apps can scan a barcode on a food package to let you easily enter foods without having to search the database. All three trackers are available both online and as a smartphone app. The smartphone apps are nice because they make it easier to track as you go. Tracking as you go throughout the day brings mindfulness to your eating, and that mindfulness is usually the number one reason that I recommend nutrition tracking. Rather than thoughtlessly eating your way through a box of cookies while you sit on the couch and watch TV, tracking requires that you pay attention to your portion size and what you are putting in your mouth. It limits those little bites here-and-there that can add up to a significant amount of calories by the end of the day. Research shows that people who track their intake are more successful at losing weight than those who don’t track.
Even if you’re not trying to lose weight, tracking is a good nutrition “check-in”. Recording what you eat and drink, even if just for a day, often reveals some surprises – both good and bad. For example, you might be pleasantly surprised that you meet the recommendations for 5+ servings of fruits and vegetables, but shocked at the amount of sugar you get from beverages throughout the day. That awareness can help motivate you to make better nutrition choices in the future.
For instance, as a result of my recent tracking, I am conscious about including fruit with breakfast and as a morning snack. I’ve also been giving more thought and effort to my snacks so that those nutritionally empty foods like chips don’t sneak in as easily. And I still love dark chocolate.
The challenge is still on the table (no pun intended). Can you track your food intake for a day? Three days? A week? I promise it will be insightful, and maybe even a little fun. Try it and give me your feedback. Also, if you have a favorite nutrition tracker that didn’t make it into my recommendations, leave a comment, tell me the name of the app, and why you like it!