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How Keeping a Food Journal Makes Me Feel Much More Energetic

How Keeping a Food Journal Makes Me Feel Much More Energetic

Can you remember what you ate for breakfast this morning? How about what you ate for dinner last night? Chances are, you’ll be able to remember what you ate in the last 24 hours.

If I asked you what you ate three days ago, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell me. You’re not alone in this — most people wouldn’t be able to recall what they ate.

Life today revolves around data collection. We have records for how many steps we walk, the amount of time we spend on tasks, and how we spend our money. But very few of us have a system for keeping track of what we eat, though what we eat affects how we feel every second.  We are what we eat, after all.  Health isn’t like money, which we can recoup if we lose it.  Once our health is gone, there is no guarantee that we can recover it.  Why not pay better attention to our health by writing down what we eat?

I never paid attention to what I ate

If you saw a photo of me from a few years ago and compared it to what I look like today, you wouldn’t recognize me. I used to be overweight, and I didn’t keep track of my food intake.

I wanted to be healthy, and I worked to lose weight.  I am happy to say that I was successful in this endeavor, but maintaining my weight-loss wasn’t easy.  Instead of keeping track of my actual caloric intake, I simply told myself to eat small portions all the time.  I restricted what I ate for every meal and snack.

I may have looked healthier than when I was overweight, but I felt terrible.  I was lethargic all the time, and I used to feel light-headed after exerting very little effort.  I felt cheated.  I was supposed to be more energetic than when I was overweight, but I spent most days feeling like I was recovering from a case of the flu.

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In an effort to maintain my weight-loss, I was actually eating too little.  My lack of energy and bouts of dizziness were my body’s way of saying that it wasn’t getting what it needed.  Blindly restricting the amount of food you eat isn’t going to make you healthy or happy.  It took this unhealthy relationship with my meals to make me realize that there’s a better way to honor my weight loss efforts.

Human tend to eat more than their bodies require

A combination of clever marketing and lack of knowledge about nutrition leads us to make all kinds of assumptions about what we eat.  Most of us learned how much to eat from our families, who may not always understand what an appropriate portion size is.

Restaurants distort our idea of how much should be on our plates. Food companies package multiple servings into a single package, and if we don’t measure what we eat, we can easily overeat. We have no idea how much food we should be eating, and we don’t know how many calories are in each serving.

On top of all this learned eating behavior, modern humans are biologically programmed to stuff themselves with calorie-laden food. Our ancient ancestors didn’t have the luxury of visiting fast food restaurants and grocery stores whenever they wanted.[1] They had to eat as much as they could when they could. “Feast or famine” was their reality.

To make eating properly even more challenging, some foods that seem healthy to us are loaded with calories. For example, lemon-honey water seems like it would be a healthy drink choice — especially compared to soda or juice. Lemon-honey water contains 3 tablespoons of honey, which is roughly 300 calories. That’s nearly the calorie content of a light meal! We drink our calories, and we don’t even realize it.

Our brains try to help us figure out how many calories something has, but you can’t tell just by looking. We naturally perceive that smaller foods have fewer calories, which isn’t always the case. One cup of nuts can have nearly 1,000 calories in it. How many times have you chowed down on nuts at a party thinking you were making a healthy choice?

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Calories are only one part of the equation

Calories are the easiest way to talk about a food’s merits, but they aren’t the only thing you should look at when deciding what to eat. W hen we don’t know what we’re eating, we have no way to tell if we’re getting enough nutrients.

Obesity is an obvious sign that someone isn’t eating a healthy diet, but people can also suffer from malnutrition without recognizing it. You can be obese and not take in adequate nutrients, you can be underweight and malnourished, or you can be skinny-fat, a condition in which you appear to be healthy, but you are metabolically obese.[2]

An unhealthy person may take in a surplus of fat, calories, and carbohydrates, but their diets may be lacking in nutrients like fiber, vitamins, and minerals. You could eat only the daily recommended amount of calories by consuming nothing but chocolate chip cookies, but that doesn’t mean you are going to be well. Healthy eating is more than calorie restriction.

It is only when we keep track of what we eat that we can understand the nutritional content of the foods we eat. For example, you may not realize that eggplant is rich in protein or that bread is high in fat just by looking at them. When you track your food, you can understand your nutritional deficits and make better choices. Technology has made this easier than ever.

The app I fell in love with

There’s an app for almost anything, and meal tracking is no exception. There are many options that save you the trouble of manually calculating caloric and nutritional intake. My favorite app for tracking my meals is MyfitnessPal.

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    MyfitnessPal is great because it has a massive database that allows you to look up most kinds of foods and their nutritional value. You can even scan the barcodes of packaged foods to pull up their nutrition sheets. If you are tracking something that isn’t packaged, like a piece of fruit, or you’re eating out, you can also type the name of the item into the database to get the nutrition facts.

    Two main things to keep track of when using MyfitnessPal

    There are two kinds of information that you should consider whenever you are tracking your meals: calories and macro-nutrients. When you’re thinking about calories, you should base the number of calories you consume on whether you are trying to lose, gain, or maintain weight. It never hurts to do some research, or talk to a nutritionist, dietitian, or health professional about the best caloric intake target for you.[3]

      After you know what your caloric target will be, you simply enter your meals, snacks, and beverages into your app. Throughout the day, you can see how many calories you have consumed and how many you have left.

        For macronutrients, you can easily check your recommended intake by looking a the graphs supplied on the app and choosing foods that contain the nutrients you lack.

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        Meal tracking challenges

        Estimating portion size can be difficult for newbie food trackers, but there are a few tricks that you can use that don’t involve carrying a set of measuring cups and spoons with you at all times.

        For example, a serving of protein such as beef or chicken should be about three ounces. Most of us don’t know what three ounces look like, but if I told you that it is roughly the size of the palm of your hand or a deck of playing cards, you would understand.

        A proper serving of carbohydrates is approximately 1/2 cup of rice, grains, pasta, or potatoes. Most of the time, we overestimate what this actually looks like, but if you know that 1/2 cup is approximately how much rice or pasta you could fit in a cupped hand, you can make an informed guess.

        Adjusting your portion size is not the only challenge that you will face along the way. Friends and family members may not understand why you are going to so much trouble to record your food intake. Remember that your health is at stake. After they see your positive results, they may try tracking meals for themselves. Until that point, don’t be shamed out of doing something that will make your life better.

        Food journals don’t tell you what you can and can’t eat

        Unlike a diet, there are no food categories that are off limits when you are tracking your meals. You can have anything in moderation. Using a meal tracker enables you to enjoy your food, eat a balanced diet, and make decisions about food that will help you nourish your body and feel your best.

        Reference

        More by this author

        Jolie Choi

        Gone through a few heartbreaks and lost hundreds of friends but I am still happy with my life.

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        Last Updated on March 13, 2019

        How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

        How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

        Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

        You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

        Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

        1. Work on the small tasks.

        When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

        Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

        2. Take a break from your work desk.

        Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

        Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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        3. Upgrade yourself

        Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

        The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

        4. Talk to a friend.

        Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

        Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

        5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

        If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

        Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

        Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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        6. Paint a vision to work towards.

        If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

        Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

        Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

        7. Read a book (or blog).

        The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

        Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

        Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

        8. Have a quick nap.

        If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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        9. Remember why you are doing this.

        Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

        What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

        10. Find some competition.

        Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

        Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

        11. Go exercise.

        Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

        Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

        As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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        Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

        12. Take a good break.

        Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

        Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

        Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

        Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

        More Resources About Getting out of a Rut

        Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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