Over the years I've dabbled with MyFitnessPal.com, a food-tracking site. Of course, I never took it seriously and would log my meals on and off for only a few days at a time.
Since the beginning of this year, however, I've been making more of an effort to track my daily food and drink intake, and I've learned three things by doing so:
1. Calories: Not too high, not too low. My dietician, Heather Wallace, has set some goals for me to ensure I get enough fat, protein, and carbs without my calories spiking too high or too low. The insight has been pretty revealing.
For example, Heather reminds me that because I've been very active lately I need to eat more, especially protein, and ensure that I am eating quality foods like veggies and protein with every meal. My goals aren't to limit anything, but rather to choose healthy foods while staying within a range so my body doesn't gain weight or, the other extreme, think it's starving and hang on to fat.
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One of the first things I noticed was my calorie intake fluctuated from day to day—by a lot! One day I would have 975 calories (usually these are busy days that I'm out of the house) and other days I could be well over 2,000 calories. Heather gave me a range between 1,500 and 1,800 calories with the possibility of topping out at 2,000 calories if I'm having an especially active week. This goal has kept me consistent and comfortable.
2. Track before I eat or drink(!). As you may know, I've made a real effort to leave the alcohol off the menu, but once in a while I like a little spurge. Last month my family had been out running errands all day and stopped into our local Mexican restaurant for dinner. "Doesn't a margarita sound good?” I said. I knew this wasn't the greatest choice, but how bad could it be?
A big margarita, a few handfuls of chips, and a couple of veggie fajitas later, I logged in online to add up my dinner stats. The results were astounding. I'm almost embarrassed to share them, but I will: The meal was almost 1,300 calories! I sure learned from that experience. Next time I'll stick with the veggie fajitas and pass on the chips and cocktail.
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3. Accountability is key. This is the most important things tracking has taught me. When I indulge in a piece of chocolate, a handful of crackers, or a glass of wine, I don't forget about it but rather track it and try to make better choices next time.
Knowing that I have to log my food and drink also makes me think twice before I reach for something. As I learned from Darren Hardy's book The Compound Effect, it's the little choices that add up to big results, and that is exactly what I'm aiming for.