Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Food Journals

I think one of the best ways to track eating progress is using a food journal. This is also called counting calories, which everyone hates to do. But it is the best way to ensure that you aren't eating too much.

I've used several methods over the past few years. First, it was literally a journal. I had a notebook that I wrote down everything I ate in. Later that night, I would use the packaging or the internet to find out the calories and fat for each item. Problem was that if I went out to eat, I wouldn't want to take my journal out and write it down. Some days I would just forget to write all together.
  • Pros: Easy, didn't require any special equipment, detailed
  • Cons: time consuming, would forget things, inconvenient to take notebook out in public, had to look up the calories of individual ingredients and add them

Next, I created a spreadsheet to track my food. I used this for over two years! I made some adjustments for myself and began tracking it in there. It was pretty much the same process as the journal but I could copy and paste days that I had the same breakfast or lunch. And it was set up to automatically add up and show me how many calories I had left for the day. But this formatting had to be done to my specifications (by me!) each time I ran out of room and had to start a new row.
  • Pros: easier to use, copy and paste since my days were normally the same until dinner, automatically adds, organized
  • Cons: on the computer instead of mobile, had to look up each ingredient, formatting had to be redone each time columns ran out

For a VERY short period of time, I used Sparkpeople. SP has an online diary that tracks your food down to the vitamins. I liked seeing the overall nutrition but their database had mostly processed foods (which I avoid) and I still had to add individual ingredients for meals made at home (which is pretty much every night). I also had a problem with the accuracy of some of the user submitted items, but they were labeled as user submitted so I could tell the difference. I did like how they made small goals for each week and month based on your overall weight goal. They had a log for exercise but I didn't use it enough to provide an opinion.
  • Pros: more detailed nutritional information, automatically adds, set goals 
  • Cons: still inconvenient, limited foods database, accuracy of items,time consuming

My latest food journal is by far my favorite. I am currently using the MyFitnessPal app for Android on my smartphone (also available for iPhone and Blackberry). Every con that I had with other programs has been solved with this app. It is so convienent to have it on my phone. I can check while at restaurants to see counts or what I can "afford" that day. They gave a wide database with the non-processed foods that I use. Not to mention Trader Joe's and Whole Foods brand items! When you click to add foods to a meal, it pulls up recently used and most frequently used items so you don't have to search again.

My favorite feature is the create a recipe feature. I cannot rave enough about this feature. It is the reason I downloaded the app in the first place after reading about it in Shape last month. When you create a recipe, you search for the ingredients, add the amounts and serving sizes, and it calculates everything, from calories to vitamin c, for you. You can also add foods that you can't find in the database. This does mean that some of the items are user submitted and you have to make sure the calories make sense. I haven't had as many accuracy problems with this as I did on SP but they aren't labeled user submitted like they are on SP. To search you also need internet. So if you aren't on WiFi, it will use your network. There are also notes that you can add. I use the exercise notes to describe my activity level that day.
  • Pros: convienent, easy to use, lots of unprocessed and organic food items, ability to create recipes, detailed nutrition information
  • Cons: have to have a smartphone (there is an online version but I have not used it), user submitted items not marked, have to have internet or network access
Snack Girl inspired this post with her post on an easy food dairy: taking pictures. I thought this was intriguing so I gave it a try on Friday. Then Saturday. Then Sunday. I had the HARDEST time remembering to take a picture! I finally got it right on Monday...with some pictures missing. Yikes!

I will say that there is something about looking at pictures and seeing exactly what you ate all day. And it was very easy to do, just take a picture. However, I had a hard time remembering to take these pictures. And, I like numbers. And while this points out the types of food I had, it doesn't show how much I really ate. These pictures make it seem like I ate nothing...when in reality, this is 1635 calories! On a day that I do not exercise, this is just the amount of calories I need. (I have a sedentary, 8-5 job.) But even as I look at the pictures, I am slightly deceived, wondering if I ate enough.

For a beginning dieter, this may not be effective. But as you continue to count calories, you begin to learn approximately how much things are and get better as estimating. And by now, I know the calories/nutrients of my favorite foods and can make quick decisions when needed. I think the picture method would be very helpful for those trying to eat healthier but not necessarily lose weight. BUT, like everything else with weight loss...it depends on the person. Try a couple different ways and do what works for YOU.

What I love about keeping all my food journals over the years is actually seeing the changes I've made to my diet! I look at even what I was eating a year ago, still a diet littered with processed snacks. Now, if I eat something processed, it's a rare snack! And my dependence on sweets is sooo much lower than it used to be. Dessert happens 3-4 times a week now instead of twice each day. So cool to see how far I've come. :)

Do you use a food journal? What's your favorite way to track/monitor your food intake?


Rose @ Eat, Drink, and Be Meiri said...

When I was tracking calories, I pretty much HAD to take pictures of my food, otherwise it wasn't going to happen.

Krista said...

I count calories using Tap & Track on my iPod, I love that app! Counting calories sucks, but it's the only way I can effectively keep track of what I eat and lose weight. I also take pictures of a lot of my food (but not all of it), but that's more for blogging purposes! haha

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