The holiday season is winding down—cue the healthy goals and resolutions for the New Year! For many of us, these plans will include eating better. And there’s one thing that can really make the difference between fleeting inspiration and long-term, committed success: Tracking what you eat.
Keeping some kind of a food journal can help you succeed whether your goals are to:
- Lose weight
- Gain weight in a healthy way
- Eat in a more balanced way
Where To Keep Track
Lauren Self, D.O., with Carilion Clinic's Medical Weight Loss program, notes that apps like MyFitnessPal are popular and work well for many of her patients. Others prefer the classic notepad and pen, which Dr. Self says works just as well.
"And for those who worry about getting a little too obsessed over counting, I recommend apps like Daily Dozen, which guides you to check off healthy daily actions—exercising, drinking water and eating fruits and veggies—instead of having to worry about lots of numbers," she says.
You could also keep a similar healthy checklist in a notebook.
But, Dr. Self stresses, “ultimately, the specific app or journal and its features are not what’s important—it comes down to what you like using, so that you use it consistently.”
What To Track
It depends on your goals and how detailed you want to get, but to start out, you'll want to track:
- What you're eating. "Healthy eating isn't just about calories—it's also about what kind of foods those calories are coming from and if you're getting the nutrition you need," says Dr. Self.
- How much you're eating. Especially when first starting out, it's helpful to measure out your food using cups, teaspoons or tablespoons until you learn to recognize portion sizes.
- When you're eating. This can help you identify habits like late-night snacking or relying on sugary beverages to get through a midday slump.
- How you feel when you're eating. Are you really feeling hungry? Or is there some other feeling that's prompting you to eat?
Why Food Tracking Works
Food tracking is helpful because while we may think we have a pretty good idea of what we eat, it's easy to overlook things that can eventually add up, for example:
- High-calorie beverages
- Misjudged portions
- Sauces and condiments
- Snacks between meals
Keeping a record of what we eat gives us a clearer picture of what's really going on. That includes less-than-healthy patterns and their triggers, which we can then address. For example:
- Eating due to stress or boredom
- Overindulging on weekends
- Reaching for processed junk food when we're feeling too tired to cook or get groceries
Seeing all this written down can give us a greater sense of accountability (a major psychological aspect of achieving goals).
Not sure where to start with eating better, or with reaching and maintaining your healthiest weight? Your primary care provider can help.
Find plenty of healthy recipes on CarilonLiving.com.
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