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.
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. 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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|||^||Cleveland.com: Humans Are Genetically Hard-Wired To Prefer Fat And Sugar: Fighting Fat|
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|||^||Healthline: How Many Calories Should You Eat Per Day To Lose Weight?|