Honesty time! Do you really know what you are eating, how much and how many beers you had last week? Its super common for people to believe they know what they are eating and in what quantities but if you aren’t making progress on your weight loss (or gain) goals perhaps you are missing a trick, or those 5 beers last Thursday night?!
And this is where you get it twisted, “I just don’t understand, I’m not eating that much but I’m not losing any weight”.
So you don’t understand, thats fine you are here to learn. But in that statement is one phrase with so much wrong with it
“I’m not eating that much”
Lets cut the b$ here, you are eating what you are eating and the calories in that food and drink are contributing to your energy intake. So whether its a lot of food or not, no one cares, its the calorie content of that food that matters. That determines the “how much”. And if you aren’t losing weight as you’d like, then its too many calories.
Fortunately there is an answer, a way forward, although many might not like it. And at this point you might cut and run. I’m sure you would prefer to hear that I’ve got this great method, which is super easy and will take 2 minutes of your day, right? Uh oh, no can do people. You want something, you are going to have to work for it. You are here because you want to make better progress, you are here because what you are doing today isn’t working, you are asking questions because you are unhappy with where you are today. You aren’t happy with your body, the way you feel or how you look naked.
So if you are ready to accept that, whiling to own this problem, and whiling to invest a little time and effort I’ll guide you by first breaking down that phrase;
First up its around the wrong way, you are thinking in terms of the things you are “NOT” eating, where as you’d be better off accounting for and knowing what you are eating. So we need to turn the “I’m not eating….” into “I am eating……”. We need, what you are doing, what food you are shoveling down daily. And ideally everything, the licks, bites, slurps and nibbles. Without knowing this we cant begin having a discussion around how your diet, your intake and consumption is contributing to your current physical (and mental) state.
Second what does “that much” even mean? Well that’s an interpretation of your intake based on what you think, or perhaps would like it to be (but we will get there in a minute). We care about how much and we need some facts. If you’ve captured what, and also in what quantities we are golden, we can actually quantify the “how much”.
The hidden part of that statement? I’m not eating that much and I don’t really want to tell you about the extra butter I put on my croissant, the 5 beers I had this weekend and it was a small coffee honestly! Ultimately I don’t care if you want to hide things away, but make no mistake nothing is free, not the calories and not the results you want. So if you ate it we need to record it!
But its not all shaming and calling you out, its pretty instructive too because you can be unknowingly consuming more thank you think. Is it 1 or 2? Or is 4 or 5? The how much you think isn’t always enough. You might discover that the 1 or 2 you tell me about turns out to be 2 or 3. Yeah no big deal right? Well depends on how often that occurs, because if its everyday we could be talking about 200 Kcal every single day. That potentially is the difference between successfully losing weight and failing to make any in roads on your goal.
So is it too much intake, too many calories? Well the act of recording alone doesn’t tell you that, but this is quite simple to answer. Its too many calories if your measurements aren’t changing as you would like. If your weight isn’t going down, your waist not shrinking or your body-fat reducing then its “too much”. But if we have the moving parts of this problem we can take some action. If you recorded what you ate, how much of it and didn’t lie, then there is hope.
Still with me?
Excellent, I like your style, you see some sense and aren’t worried about investing a little time and effort in your goals. Perfect! Lets go…
What follows is a hierarchy of approaches to capture or track and hence know what you are eating on a daily basis
1 – Strap a goPro to your head!
It sounds stupid but in this way we capture every single morsel of food and drink you shove down your pipe. I’m sure there is someone special enough to carry this off, and if thats you get in touch (I’ll coach you for free!). For the rest of us lets move on.
2 – Weighing and measuring.
Oh yes you read that right, weight and measure what you eat if its not obvious from the packet. Scales, a set of cups, tea and tablespoons are your friend. Its a little neurotic and works just fine at home, although you can get micro scales you could potentially take to a restaurant with you, yup! This requires you to decide beforehand what you are eating and in what quantities. Obviously you can see this gets rid of the “what” and “how much” question, assuming you stick to it.
3 – Tracking using an app on your phone
This is probably the most practical approach to tracking your daily intake. It requires some investment up front but typically gets easier with time because you can save meals, copy from day to day and you’ll just quicker. I prefer MyFitnessPal but there are others (e.g. ‘Lose it, lose it’, MyMacros).
In MFP we can set our calorie goal (dont let MFP do this for you), use their extensive database to locate and log food. One diet saver is that you can record as you go and if you blow through most of you calories early in the day its possible to adjust for the evening.
This is a brilliant example of how tracking educates you, keeps you honest about “how much” and probably throws a few surprises about what your favorite meals are packing calorie wise.
4 – Pictures of what you eat and drink
This works quite well if you are sharing this information with someone else but of course isn’t particularly accurate, doesn’t help with knowing the calorie content. I like this when we need to build awareness because the very act of snapping your meal or snack slows you down.
5 – Piece of paper or a form
If you aren’t keen on spending more time on your phone and typically eat your meals in a small number of places simply using a form or piece of paper to record what you eat can be helpful. You can then checkout the calorie content later, share with a coach or just review for some easy wins (e.g. dropping the bag of crisps from lunch)
These all have different levels of accuracy, but each can be suitable depending on you, your circumstances, access to technology or a coach.
When not to do it? – not everyone wants to track their food and of course not everyone wants results. I could say if you want the results you’ll do the necessary process and steps to get there and I’d be right. BUT, there are some cases where tracking isn’t appropriate and going with a habit based diet change approach is far more suitable.
Access to technology or ability to use it aside, if you have in the past had problems with food dependency, addiction or some sort of disordered eating then you should be careful about tracking food intake because it could very well lead you down the rabbit hole again. This is a word of caution and I’d happily discuss more on a 1 to 1 basis but there isn’t a “general” set of guidelines for moving forward.
How to do it? – the next article and associated video will you practical guidance and actual examples of how to track using MyFitnessPal – (watch this space!).
Do I need to do this forever? – nope. Tracking primarily builds awareness and educates you on what your diet looks like on any given day. From this you can make better choices which get you to your goals.
I’d highly recommend committing to it for at least 4 weeks though initially. This is more than enough time to see what you are eating but its also sufficient time to experiment with how to fit tracking into your life. Perhaps you like to plan out your day first, record everything at night or input as you go. The better you can integrate it into daily life the more useful the tool is.
As for when you can stop. The easiest answer is when you reach your goals but honestly once you start using it as a tool you can put it down and pick it up. So perhaps you haven’t got the capacity to track in detail or you just need a diet break.
Once learnt you can return to tracking pretty easily.