One of the most important strategies to successfully achieve or maintain a healthy body weight is balancing your energy intake (calories) with your energy output. Let’s focus on the energy intake or calories you consume. If you need to lose weight, you will need to consume fewer calories daily than you are burning.
The million-dollar question is how many calories are you consuming now?
Research from Cornell University shows that overweight people underestimate their calorie intake by 40% and normal weight people underestimate their calorie intake by 20%. Tracking your food and beverage intake daily is an excellent way to learn how many calories you are consuming every day, sources of those calories, actual portion sizes, and eating patterns. After you become aware of what your current food and beverage choices are providing you and some of your eating habits, you can use this information to set goals to improve your meal plan and decrease your total calorie intake.
There are a lot of great options available for tracking your intake from traditional pen and paper journals to websites and smart phone apps. Three of the most popular smart-phone apps for tracking nutrition and exercise are: MyFitnessPal, Lose It!, and SparkPeople Mobile. These apps are free and user-friendly. They have large databases of searchable food items and bar code scanner options to help store information.
Dietitian Tips for Tracking Your Intake
- Keep track in real-time. Record your intake while you are eating or immediately after. If you wait to the end of the day, you are more likely to lose accuracy in your record keeping.
- Make sure you are entering current serving sizes by reading nutrition labels or using measuring cups or a food scale.
- Be honest with yourself. If you ate are drink it, record it! Tracking is not meant to be used as a judgment tool but a learning tool to help you identify opportunities for lifestyle changes.
- Review your journal regularly. Likely, patterns will start to emerge and can help you problem solve how to change an eating behavior. For example, you might realize the days you skip breakfast, you are uncontrollably hungry at night time; or when you bring your lunch from home, you consume 50% fewer calories than when you eat out.
“The best diet is the one you don’t know you are on.” – Brian Wansink Ph.D, Director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab