Are you tracking your food to reach a goal? Awesome!! Are you doing it correctly/to its best potential? 😬🤷♀️ Hmmm...
Whether you're keeping track of your food to lose weight, gain weight, or address performance issues, if you actually want to reach the goals you've set, you need to know what you're putting in your body.
If you know me, you know I like food tracking as a tool, but not as a lifestyle. (If you like it as a lifestyle, rock on! As long as it serves you in a positive way.😁) So, my clients and I will often use a food tracking app or a journal for short periods together to:
learn about food portion size
learn what's in the food we eat
discover food sensitivities or intolerances
bring to light nutrient deficiencies
rein in bad habits
BUT!!! If you are logging your foods incorrectly, we're getting no where. So let's discuss!
Are you an "eyeballer"? Eyeballing is ok if you're reeeeeeallllllllyyyyy experienced with WHAT a portion size is already, tend to eat the same things every day, and/or are more in a maintenance phase of health. Actually, (fully acknowledging that I'm going off my main topic here a bit), I'm going to leave you this quick down-and-dirty method of portion control (see graphic below). I'd also say that eyeballing is the ideal method as a lifestyle tool moving forward after you have a good base knowledge of what portions are and which foods and quantities work best for you. Because, let's be honest, meticulously tracking food for the rest of your life is just plain unrealistic and most people don't want to (or need to!) live that way. But this is still a great guide if you're in a pinch or to keep up good habits.
Anyway, moving on...
Or are you a cups and spoons kinda tracker? Measuring a food is a great step in the right direction! But that method tends to be inaccurate (see detailed reasons below).
So what is the best way to track? And how do you get to the "eyeball phase"??
WEIGH your foods. If you truly want to know what's going on with your diet and reach your goals more quickly, the best method for tracking, is to weigh what you eat. A food scale is an inexpensive and highly useful kitchen tool to keep you on track. WEIGHING your food eliminates the guess work.
Why does it work better? Well what a great question! Here are the most common issues that weighing your food addresses, especially in comparison to measuring alone:
⚖️ Differences/discrepancies in kitchen measuring devices. Is that 8oz really a cup? Is that measuring spoon the same size as this one? Simply put, not all manufacturers measure up. (Ya see what I did there...?) Tupperware is different than OXO is different than KitchenAid, etc. It's absolutely silly, but it's true.
⚖️ Human error. I'm sorry but none of us are perfect. (*gasp!!* I know, right?!) You ever try eyeballing a portion size when you're starving, dodging two kids under your feet in the kitchen, trying to rush out the door to your next appointment? Or if you measured, did you level off that 1/2 cup or was it a little over? Or a little under?? Did some spill? Did you even grab the right cup....? (Shhh, don't judge me. It happens to the best of us.)
⚖️ Food idiosyncracies. Things like grains, flour, leafy things, etc. don't always "settle" the same. Was it a packed 1/4 cup of flour? Or sifted? Did you smoosh your greens to measure them, or are they floofed? (Nothing like some good floofy greens.)
⚖️ Arbitrary terms used by tracking apps. I just weighed five bananas from the same bunch. Your tracking app would call them "medium bananas". They RANGED from 149g to 161g. That's about 11 calories and 3g carbs difference. Not huge, sure. But those kind of things add up if you're consistently off by a little.
To sum it up, if you want to really dial things in, to weigh your food is the way to go. (Dang, I've got some zingers in here!) Again, I usually recommend clients try it for a short period of time to learn, to understand, and to get a better handle on what you're actually putting in your bod. If you're just starting out, I'd say try it for a couple months or so. That will really help you to learn and then commit to memory what your daily intake should look like. It will also help cement in new good habits while nixing some of the old ones that no longer serve you. Then, moving forward, tracking for a few days every three to six months would be a good checks-and-balances for yourself. And I just want to mention again, tracking is NOT meant to be an all-encompasing, tedious time-suck of a never-ending chore. (Because I know it can feel that way sometimes, especially if you've never done it before.) It's a tool and a stepping stone. Also, I'm 100% about you creating and keeping a healthy and positive connection to food, and too much counting, etc. can turn obsessive. No bueno.
So! Get you a food scale, my fine fitness friends! They range from $10-$30 and you can pick one up from any superstore or order online. If you have questions, please feel free to reach out! I'd love to help.
Cassandra R. Bradin is a certified personal trainer who is passionate about the essential idea of longevity in training, creating programs that enhance function, mobility, strength and internal well-being. She specializes in weight loss, Olympic weightlifting, nutrition, and fitness for seniors. With a full-time career in fitness, when she's not working with clients in her studio or coaching, Cassandra enjoys spending time on her mini farm in Oakland, MI.