When I start working with a client, each individual brings a different set of challenges and experience to the table (pun intended.)
I always try to explain what makes someone successful at managing their food intake is often driven by their personality. For those who like data, they tend to thrive on specific calorie goals and macronutrient ratios fine-tuned to the gram. Others need a simpler approach where we can take a birds-eye view of the diet where we say “Hmm, just remove this” or “Modify that.”
For many, it can be a game changer for myself and the client to open the dialogue on food tracking. While the old-fashioned way of pen and paper still works, technology also allows us access to food tracking apps and meal planning apps that can simplify the sharing process.
I won’t dictate every nuance of food tracking but here are strategies we use that set you up for success.
It’s extremely important to first note that, food tracking and calorie counting are not an exact science. You’re working with estimates. These estimates can be on-point, slightly over or slightly under. If you’re not seeing your goals, it could be for a handful of reasons:
1)Despite what your app or journal of choice tells you, you may be mis-reporting.
2)You are eyeballing your servings instead of making true measurements (using a food scale, measuring cups, etc.)
3)You may be over-reporting your level of daily activity.
4)You are not consistent enough with the intake to see progress (two “good” days followed by one “bad”, etc.)
Remember also, that everything you report is JUST DATA. What you report on yourself is a point of feedback to determine a path of success, NOT your value as a human being. If you screw up, you don’t have to set fire to the boat thereby staying stranded on the shore.
Make a note of where mistakes occur, recalibrate and adjust the plan.
I have heard two different strategies that can be helpful depending on how you’re acclimating: 1) Track two weekdays and one weekend day 2) Track all intake for two weeks.
Option 1 takes less time and attention on your part but it may not give enough of a glimpse of what your actual reality looks like. I am certain you could meet in the middle and track one full week to see if this gives you enough insight.
Remember that the more often you eat at social events and restaurants, the more difficult it will be to be certain of portion sizes, added oils, etc. This is true even if a restaurant posts the calories of a given meal. There can be drastic inaccuracies with this information.
I’d like to highlight my online client, Nicole. Nicole has been with me for several months and is easily one of my most consistent clients when it comes to journaling her food intake. This helps tremendously since we don’t have the advantage of working face-to-face where I can troubleshoot with her in real-time. She has been kind enough to let me use some of her data in efforts to illustrate how food tracking can help you with your goals.
What you’ll see below are three days I captured from her journals. On these days, her calories were in line with her goals. For conversation’s sake, I will be highlighting food selection on the basis of total caloric intake NOT macronutrient (protein, fats, carbs) perfection.
These are days where Nicole showed a great deal of consistency. We can travel one path which says that if Nicole enjoys tracking her food, she can continue to do so while she is still seeing good weight loss progress. I have not come across a great deal of clients who truly enjoy this aspect. For many, just getting them to be cognizant of true portions and full reporting is a HUGE hurdle to overcome. Once that has been addressed, you’ll see commonalities with what I’ve presented from Nicole.
The next stage I progress clients to is a planning stage. Some people make this synonymous with meal prepping. However, they don’t necessarily have to go together.
As you’ll notice from Nicole’s data, she has some very simple meals and snacks in her day. This makes the notion of meal prep a small priority for her. My recommendation is to string together a few days where you know your meals were on point and replicate them for a week’s time.
For simplicity’s sake, let’s call Nicole’s “Day 1” Monday, “Day 2” Tuesday, and “Day 3″ Wednesday.” Thursday can be a complete carbon copy of Monday, Friday would repeat Tuesday, etc. This removes all guesswork from the equation.
Journal first, find trends that meet the goal and replicate the trends.
And I can hear the first objection now: But Jason, that sounds so boring, so tedious!
YES! It absolutely can be.
My first response is: How important to you is your goal?
My second response is: Try this for a couple of weeks. Give yourself as little variety as you can stand while still reaching your goals. As you acclimate, you can get more creative with food options. Initially, predictable meals will likely be your savior. I spoke about this predictability a few weeks ago.
Life, in and of itself, presents enough chaos for us. Your diet should present as little chaos as humanly possible. You are in control of that.
Once I’ve helped clients understand their tracking behaviors, trends and they have some consistency (and pounds down), we transition into something more flexible and intuitive.
This stage is a slight loosening of the reins because you’ve acclimated to the process. You’ve measured, counted, prepped, and lost weight. (Awesome, HIGH FIVE!)
This is where you feel that you have enough control and understanding of what your body needs to either continue at weight loss or to successfully maintain.
For the record, I do not track and journal every day. Routinely, at least once or twice a year, I will spend about a week tracking aggressively just to see where my reality is at any given point. I can assure you it is ALWAYS eye-opening.
I would be remiss if I said that everyone should track their food as I’ve mentioned above.
Do I believe that it is extremely helpful?
Yes. No different than looking at your bank account to be clear on your spending habits.
That aside, I have worked with many clients who simply needed to be more aware of their eating patterns so they could remove certain counterproductive trends in a day. This includes: individuals who have not been measuring sugar-free (or similar) creamers in their coffee, those who drink low calorie drinks, juices, and energy beverages throughout the day or just those who feel as if they can mindlessly nibble on small things that eventually add up.
If it has a calorie, it counts.
I recently worked with a client whose food intake was spectacular. Why wasn’t she losing weight? Because she drank 4-6 cups of coffee a day, did not measure the sugar-free creamer she added to it and was not accounting for 500 calories a day from this error. Did she need to journal to lose weight? Not at all. We fixed this one oversight and the weight came off.
There are many paths to weight loss success, these are just a few to help you along the way.
Below is a picture of Nicole, proudly representing her 11lbs of weight loss progress from a couple of weeks ago (she’s dropped even more since then.)
“We Make Great People Greater”