October 2, 2013 by mybattlebuddyfitness
Right now, wherever you are, whatever time of day it is, try the following: write down EVERYTHING you ate / drank in the last 24 hours. It’s ok, I’ll wait . . . all done? OK, now, I want you to write a calorie number right next to each item on your list. NO CHEATING, you are not allowed to look anything up on the internet. I mean, you ate it right? Surely you know how many calories were in each and every item you ate. Last steps, are you still with me? Write down the fat (in grams) and carbs (in grams) for each item on your list. This may take a couple of minutes, so don’t rush yourself.
For fun, now go out and look up the calorie counts for what you ate along with the fat and carbs in each item. Make some new columns so you can compare your thoughts about what you ate to reality.
I’m willing to bet on the following:
1) You forgot to write down some of the things you ate in the last 24 hour period
2) You couldn’t tell me how many servings you had of each of the items on your list
3) You were probably wrong about the calories (as in, you under-estimated)
4) You were probably wrong about the fat and carbs (as in, you under-estimated)
Now imagine that I asked you to write everything down for the ENTIRE week from memory. How do you think you would do? My guess is probably not very well.
The point is, weight maintenance, weight loss, and even healthy living comes down to some very important numbers: calories, fat, carbs, sugar, and protein (yes, there are other items like salt and cholesterol, etc. but for the sake of argument we are going to focus on those big 4). You want to lose weight? Well, you have to eat 3500 less calories in any given week to lose that pound. And unless you are some sort of Rainman, the chances that you can properly keep track in your head are pretty low.
Which brings me to food journaling. If you are reading this blog, then you have access to the internet. The internet is good for more things than email and Facebook and Twitter and catching up on what celebrities are doing. It can HELP you keep track of what you eat. There are any number of free tools where you can document what you eat, and get the corresponding nutritional information about what you ate. And these tools will track your progress and your exercise and a whole heck of a lot of information.
Remember this: weight loss is 20% exercise, 80% nutrition. 80%!!!!! That means that no matter how much you exercise, if you are not keeping a tight grip on your eating habits, you are never going to get to where you want to go. And I know we all love to think that we know how much we eat and we have an idea of how many calories we eat in a day, but every study out there shows that we always underestimate. ALL OF US. If I didn’t track, I know I would do it all the time. Almost every fitness professional I know maintains a food journal.
Food journaling keeps you accountable because there is no guess work. Every time you open your mouth, you enter it into the food journal. And if you have to write it down, the chances of you doing something totally off of the reservation is pretty low. It stinks when I have to put: Chocolate Chip Cookie – 350 calories, 12g of fat into my food journal. But I write it all down. Every. Last. Morsel. I’m not fooling anyone by not writing it down, and it can’t be a surprise when I get to the end of a week and realize that I gained a pound because I can go back and look at what I did wrong.
Keeping a food journal can also tell you when you do things right. Like the week where you lose 2 pounds? It isn’t a surprise. You exercised more (which you wrote down), you ate less (which you wrote down, and it was probably 7000 calories less as a matter of fact). Now you know what you did when you had a good week, down to the last blueberry you ate. So you can take those facts and repeat them again and again to keep on getting the results you want.
Lastly, besides from calories, food journals tell you when you are getting more than your daily recommended allowance of fat, carbs, and sugar. Just because you keep your calories in check doesn’t mean you are all done. You want to make sure you are not getting all of your calories from fat, or getting too many calories from sugar (which you’ll store as fat if you can’t use them all up). If you are at risk for diabetes, then tracking what you eat will help you learn about where you are going overboard on sugar. Or say you have high cholesterol / high fat, well tracking your food will allow you to see where you go wrong with foods that are high in fat so you can eliminate them from your diet, or at least cut back on them.
Look, I am not going to tell you that keeping a food journal is fun. Nor am I going to tell you that I do it perfectly every day, 365 days a year. But I try. And it helps keep me from going off the rails. If you are wondering why you are not losing weight, take a 30 day food journal challenge. Write everything down for a month, and try to stay within your guidelines. I am positive that you will notice a weight change immediately.
Oh, and for the record, I use MyFitnessPal. It is free, it has an incredible database full of every possible food you could eat, and it is available online, on my iPad, and on my iPhone.