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One Key to A Better Diet: Write It Down

I think we can all agree that, for the most part, it’s hard to eat healthy in the U.S. We can throw blame at the abundance of processed food, huge portion sizes, or preponderance of desk lunches (that sad sandwich or take out you eat as you answer emails around mid-day) among other things, but the overall point is most of us want to eat better but find it challenging. Fortunately, there is a pretty good (and not to difficult) solution – keep a food log.

Writing down what you eat may sound simple, but it works, for a few reasons.

  • Logging your food (and calories) enables you to see exactly how and what you’re eating day to day, and can help you identify areas for improvement
  • Keeping track of intake also tends to inhibit “mindless snacking”. Since you have to count and report everything, it makes you think more about those mindless hand-in-the-chip-bag or “just a few almonds here and there” situations, and can ultimately help cut down on that behavior
  • Food logging also helps you understand portion size and calorie content, which pretty much everyone is notoriously bad at estimating

A great example of the benefits of food logging is craft beer. I’m a big fan, and if I head out to dinner – or to watch football – I generally have one or two. You don’t really think about it – back when I last tracked calories I was either not drinking (during college track season) or drinking Bud Lite (again, college/grad school). So I always just had “100 calories, 3 grams of carbs” in my head as the information for “beer”. But…

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It turns out the average craft beer has 150 – 200 calories (or more for some of those quadruple IPAs) and 15 grams of carbs per 12 ounce serving. Shipyard Pumpkinhead weights in at 185 and Harpoon IPA at 170, more if you get the pint.

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Going out to dinner is already typically a higher calorie, less nutritious endeavor, and now we’ve added 300-400 calories for the booze. This is of course just one example of how enlightening food logging can be – I’ve had similar realizations with the calories in some salad dressings, causing me to change brands, and carb/sugar content of a bowls of oatmeal with some add-ins, causing me to adjust portions and toppings.

Another bonus is that food logging can both motivate and facilitate positive habit changes. One you see how your daily intake adds up, you can start making changes to improve it.  And, in my favorite logging app (see below) you can set your own macronutrient and calorie goals to best suit your needs. Food logging can also be a planning tool – I often log an entire day’s meals at breakfast so I know if I have room for a snack or glass of wine throughout the day (well, the snack throughout, the wine obviously at the end) – and it helps me stick to limiting calories during the day when I know I’ll be eating out later.

How To Log

Now that you’re completely convinced I’m right, onto the “how” portion. My favorite tracking app is My Fitness Pal. It’s pretty easy to use, has a huge database, and allows you to enter recipes so you don’t have to give up combined foods (like chili) in order to track accurately.There’s a mobile app and web version so you can use it on the go or at your desk. It also has an exercise log so if you’re trying to lose or gain weight it makes calorie budgeting easy. Pro tip: there is no “entry” for CrossFit so I tend to use “circuit training”  for CrossFit. You can download the app on iTunes or go to www.myfitnesspal.com.

I’m sure there are other apps that work, but this is my favorite. If you have a go-to, please share in the comments.

Image 1 c/o Tiago Pereira

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