Why You Should Record your Food with a Weight Loss Diary
Can you record a three-day log of your diet and bring it back to me?
Often, they come to me with complaints saying they “eat well but aren’t seeing results,” or “weekdays are good but weekends really mess things up,” or even the blunt, “yeah, I have a terrible diet.”
So I usually recommend they record their intake for at least three days, one of them being a weekend day, before they see me again.
It is incredibly important to be more aware of what you are eating on a regular basis. If you don’t believe me take a look at this study explaining those who kept a food diary more than doubled their weight loss.
It’s hard to accurately report what we eat, and often times we think we’re eating better, less, more, etc. than we actually are.
Through a food log or weight loss diary, I can get a good look at what they’re eating, when they’re eating it, what their macros are, and how things differ across days (“It was a cheat day, I swear!”). Then, we can make better recommendations for constructive change. This week, I found myself uttering those words again to an eager client. Immediately as they left my lips, I realized—why did I stop food logging?
I’ve used food logs extensively myself when preparing for elite competitions, and I’ve seen wondrous results from just general awareness. (Mindless eating is real for all of us.) But gradually, life caught up to me, other things took priority and writing down my intake faded away into oblivion.
Therefore, I decided to put myself in the shoes of my clients. After all, when they come back to me a week later empty-handed without a log, there’s always a very valid excuse. Whether it’s just “I forgot” or “my car broke down and there was a hurricane and my boss kept me slammed with work all week,” these are real and very okay reasons. But still, life will always be happening.
If it’s important to you, you can find a way. I took up the challenge myself to better prepare you, and here is what I realized:
1 – Inputting Everything is Annoying but Worth It
It will always take more work to record a weight loss diary or food journal than to sit on your butt and watch Netflix. Luckily we have this wonderful thing called technology which has made this process a little bit easier. For the last number of years we have been able to input our food intake using our smart phones. I use MyFitnessPal (that has apparently been purchased by UnderArmor, which tells you how long it’s been since I used it) because it’s 2016 and everything is done via apps.
Fortunately, I’ve eaten the same thing for breakfast every day for almost five years now, so that information was already stored and easy to input. With the exception of a few very rare brunches, I’ve eaten a spinach, mushroom, onion, and tomato omelet with no cheese, three egg whites, and one egg and one-half cup of oats every single day. I’m a big believer in consistency.
The other things, however, were much more annoying to input. I don’t have a ton of spare time between clients, training, rugby, writing, coaching, and taking care of my dog, so taking the extra three minutes to find exactly the right item was not my favorite part. Especially because I drink a lot of super shakes. And super shakes have about a million (rough estimate) vegetables, fruits, proteins, fats, and add-ons in them. It felt a little tedious inputting things like “5 baby carrots” and “10 blueberries” when I easily could have skipped the details. BUT I didn’t, because details add up.
And lo and behold, those little items really did add up at the end of the day. For someone like me who loves a big salad with lots of colors, each vegetable, fruit, or meat brings a different caloric and nutrient profile.
Don’t skimp on the details. It’s easy to say “well, this tablespoon of barbecue sauce won’t hurt” or “just half of a chocolate bar doesn’t count” or whatever. But it does. That’s not to say you can’t enjoy those things, but be aware of how many times you’re doing that. Because little things pile on quickly.
2 – Portion Sizes Don’t Need to be Measured Perfectly
Look, I do this for a living and it’s hard for even me to eyeball exactly four ounces of chicken. Or one cup of cottage cheese. Or a cup of spinach, which looks totally different when it’s not in an actual cup. Is this apple medium-sized or small?
It’s really confusing. And I don’t have the patience or time to measure everything out, and neither do 95% of my clients. If you do, that’s awesome and please continue, but for the rest of us…
Do your best to estimate. These apps, and even the calories written on a box, aren’t perfectly accurate. How food is prepared, how it was grown, and the food you eat along with it can totally change the metabolism of what you’re eating. It’s all about falling within a reasonable range of your goal—and more importantly—how your body feels.
Your body is smart and if you pay attention to it, it’ll tell you what it needs. Food logging isn’t about calorie counting and obsessing over every single thing. It’s about generating awareness about what you’re eating and how it makes you feel.
3 – Pay Attention to What You Eat as Well as The Amount
I have to admit: this one really surprised me. Due to the nature of a work day, I’m often advising clients to shift their calories to earlier in the day, when they’re active, rather than stacking them all in at night right before they go to bed. So I really thought this wouldn’t be a problem for me.
As it turns out I was eating way less during the day than I realized. Now, this would normally result in me being in a caloric deficit rather than stuffing my face at night. But for me, that’s not a great thing. As an athlete, it’s really important that I eat enough to support all the training that I do, and not doing so just causes a breakdown in performance, lethargy, and me just being in a bad mood—which isn’t pretty.
The same goes for anyone who has started a new training program or works out regularly. During exercise, you’re actually breaking yourself down. It’s only after exercise that you can rest, recover, and rebuild. But in order to rebuild, you have to give your body something to rebuild with.
That’s why what you eat is so important just like the amounts that you eat. You wouldn’t rebuild a house out of paper. You’d give it a foundation of concrete and some steel reinforcements. And then you need enough materials to actually build the whole thing.
By food logging, however, I was able to notice what I was missing, target specific macros, and tailor my dinner towards what I was missing earlier in the day. And as the days progressed, I got a better awareness of what I WASN’T getting during the day and could stack my lunches and snacks with those (breakfast still stays the same, of course).
Don’t solely concern yourself with calories. Pay attention to macro-nutrients as well. Try to build up a profile of your regular habits and slowly adjust. Can you add in an extra avocado at lunch? Are you even eating breakfast? What about whipping up one of those super shakes? Learn your habits and set realistic adaptations along the way.
4 – It’s Easy to Forget and Fall Off the Wagon but Don’t Give Up
Two days in a row, I forgot to record in my “weight loss diary” aka Myfitnesspal. I meant to do it every day, and two days in a row, I just did not do it. I was pretty annoyed with myself, as I have high expectations for every challenge that I take on. But I dug deep into the archives and remembered the advice I got from one of my clients. She called it the “break your phone” analogy (shout out to SB for this one).
If you drop your phone, like we all do from time to time, and it cracks, and that’s frustrating. It’s messed up, and now you’ve got this crack right through your text messages. But you don’t say “that’s it—this phone is useless now” and proceed to shatter your phone with a hammer. No, you take a deep breath, brush it off, and maybe buy a new case. Or at the least, you become more careful with how you handle it. If it gets really bad, you may even take it in to get fixed. But you don’t just give up immediately just because of one little crack.
With this in mind, after two days without logging, this morning at 5 a.m. I made myself sit down and record everything I ate yesterday. It was late, but I still fell within my goals, became more aware of how I’m eating when I’m not logging, and was able to get back on track. That’s the same mentality you can apply to your diet, your exercise, or your life. If things don’t go quite as planned, don’t just give up and say “I can’t.” Take a step back and figure it out rather than continue to make excuses.
Just make yourself do it, even if it’s late or not perfect or you feel super guilty. Just do it anyway. You’ll get over that initial hump, and eventually it’ll all be good again. And sure, you might miss a day or two here and there, but that’s okay. No one is perfect.
Consistency over perfection. Constantly showing up and doing your best will get you much farther than doing nothing at all. So stay classy, my friends, and keep up the good work.