There was a time when food tracking was treated like a given, a necessary tool for anyone wanting to lose weight or better their health. Thankfully, there’s more nuance to that conversation now. The fact is, tracking your food can be a useful exercise for gaining more insight into what you’re putting in your body. It can also be a tedious endeavor that sucks all the joy out of eating.

If you’re going to invest the time—and it can be quite time-consuming if you include any variety in your diet—let’s make sure it’s not a waste. 

You Might Want to Track Your Food If…

  • You have a goal where hitting a specific macronutrient and/or caloric intake is important. This includes cutting before a bodybuilding competition, starting a ketogenic diet, or even just losing weight.
  • You’re conducting an experiment. Maybe you want to see how your hunger changes when you eat more protein and less fat, or if your sleep improves if you increase your total carbs by a certain amount. Maybe you’re going to try a month of strict carnivore and plan to track your micronutrient intake.
  • You suspect you aren’t eating the right amount. If weight loss has stalled, your total calorie intake might be higher than intended. On the flip side, if you’re an athlete whose performance and recovery have been subpar lately, perhaps you are eating too little. Some people find that keto dramatically suppresses their appetites to the point where they need to intentionally eat more. In any case, you can’t make the necessary adjustments unless you know how much you consume on a typical day.

You Don’t Need to Track Your Food If…

  • You feel good and aren’t looking to change anything. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
  • You stick to the same basic meals most of the time. Even if you’re trying to manage your macros, if you’re a creature of habit, you can probably get away without tracking. Once you know the nutritional info for your standard meals, there’s no reason to input them in a food tracker over and over.
  • You’ve been keto for a while. You have a good sense of how to keep your carbs low enough to stay in ketosis, and/or being in ketosis 24/7 isn’t that important to you.
  • You just don’t want to. Your desire to eat intuitively outweighs your desire to manage your food intake.

You SHOULDN’T Track Your Food If…

  • It triggers unhealthy eating behaviors or anxiety, or it otherwise messes with your mental and emotional well-being. 

Is Food Tracking Reliable?

There will always be some error in food tracking. Besides measurement error on your end (we’ll get to that in a minute), there is natural variation in foods. One ribeye is fattier than the next. This apple contains more water. That cabbage was grown in more nutrient-depleted soil. 

The FDA allows for up to 20% error on packaged food labels. That means that any information you get off the package might be wrong by 20% in either direction. Likewise, if you’re eating in restaurants and relying on the nutritional info they provide, consider it a rough estimate. Depending on how the food is prepared and the portion size you are given, your specific meal might vary a little or a lot. 

All this is to say that food tracking is not an exact science. That doesn’t mean it’s futile—it can still be useful for the reasons I gave above. However, there’s no point in stressing if you’re off your daily targets by 25 calories or 7 grams of fat. You should view tracking as a helpful but imprecise method of gathering data. Don’t micromanage to the point of causing yourself grief or anxiety.

How to Track for Maximum Accuracy

That said, there are steps you can take to improve the accuracy of your tracking:

Weigh, Don’t Measure

If you care about precision, invest in a food scale. While tablespoons (mL) work for liquid measurements like salad dressing, weight is much more accurate for proteins, fruits and veggies, nuts and seeds, and legumes. 

Weigh Foods Raw

This is true even if you intend to cook them. When you enter them in your food tracker, make sure you select the entries for the raw items (e.g., “Celery, raw” instead of “Celery, cooked”).

Do NOT Use Pre-entered Recipes

For example, if you make a pot of chili, do not simply select the entry for “Chili” in your food tracking app. Your version of chili might differ substantially from what’s considered “average” chili by the app.

Most tracking apps will allow you to input custom recipes, which is helpful for foods you will make again and again. Alternately, you can enter the ingredients separately into your daily food log. 

If you are cooking big batches of multi-ingredient recipes, the best way to figure out exactly how much you ate is to weigh the final product and then weigh your portion. In the chili example, you’d create a custom chili recipe in your app and enter all the raw ingredients. After it’s cooked, weigh the entire batch, then weigh your portion. If you make 800 grams of chili and eat 150 grams, you ate 18.75% of the recipe. 

If this sounds like a lot of work, you’re right. Food tracking is so much easier if you prepare simple meals: protein, side of vegetables, add healthy fat. It can be a major bummer for those of us who like to experiment in the kitchen and prepare more elaborate meals. 

Tracking FAQs

What’s the Best App?

There are lots of options here. I personally like and recommend Cronometer. The free app and desktop version have everything you need, but there is also an inexpensive premium version. The entries are all based on official food databases, so it’s as accurate as you can get, and it provides pretty granular nutritional info. You can input your own macronutrient targets and also add custom recipes. 

Primal folks might also prefer Cronometer because, unlike a lot of food tracking apps, it doesn’t assume you are trying to be keto or even low carb. If you are keto, Carb Manager and KetoDiet App are two popular options. Personally, I don’t like that Carb Manager grades foods based on what it considers acceptable for keto. My beloved Japanese sweet potato gets an F—no thanks (even if I can’t eat a big portion on keto). I’ve never tried KetoDiet App because it costs $8.99, whereas Cronometer is free and gives me everything I need. If you have tried it, let us know what you think about it in the comments below.  

Whatever app you choose, don’t assume that the default macro settings are right for you. A lot of keto apps will set your carb limit at 20 to 25 grams, for example, whereas The Keto Reset Diet recommends starting with 50 grams total. (This usually works out to 30 to 35 grams net in my experience.) The calories might not be appropriate for your activity level. Either set custom macros or simply ignore the app when it says you are over your carb limit or calories or whatever. 

How Do I Track Cooking Fat?

It’s impossible to know how much fat you leave in the pan when you sauté your veggies or how much oil is absorbed you fry chicken. Since most people are more concerned with eating too many calories than too few, the more conservative approach is to add all the cooking fat to your food diary when sautéing or roasting (i.e., assume you consume it all). When frying, the best answer is to weigh your cooking oil before and after frying to estimate how much is absorbed. Neither will be precise, but it’s the best you can do, so don’t stress about it. 

Is There a Preferred Time/Method For Tracking?

How and when you track your food depends on why you’re tracking in the first place. If you’re trying to get an unbiased look at how you’re currently eating, I recommend logging your food on paper for a few days, then entering it into an app to get the nutritional info. Logging makes us more mindful of what we are eating. This is generally a good thing, but if you’re trying to get an accurate snapshot, you don’t want to change how you’re eating based on the data

If you’re trying to manage what you eat, it’s best to enter your food before you eat it. This keeps you from accidentally eating more or less than you want, and it helps you balance your macros according to your goals.

Whatever you do, log foods as you weigh/measure/eat them. Don’t think you’ll remember exactly what you ate earlier today, much less yesterday or the day before. You won’t. 

Do I Have To Track My Food If I’m Keto?

You never have to track your food. However, if you’re serious about being in ketosis, I do recommend tracking your food for at least a week or two at the beginning just to make sure you’re on track. Most people don’t know how many carbs are in foods, so it can be easy to go over your limit. Managing your electrolytes is also very important. Apps like Cronometer will show you how much sodium, potassium, and magnesium you are getting from food so you can supplement appropriately.

Can I Just “Lazy Track”?

Sure, you can eyeball portion sizes of steak and measure your broccoli in a measuring cup instead of buying a food scale. It won’t be particularly accurate. As long as you understand that, go ahead. I wouldn’t bother taking the time to track for this level of (im)precision though.

Thanks for reading today, everybody. If you track your food, what insights or benefits have you gotten? What app do you prefer and why? Let us know below.

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The post Tracking Your Food: When, Why and How appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.

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We’ve written about intuitive eating before (see this post and this post and this one, too) and we highly recommend the book on it: Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works. But, what does intuitive eating look like in real life? And how does it compare to a dieting mindset? We’re laying out real-world examples below so that you can really see the difference … Which ones sounds better to you? Team intuitive eating all the way for me! –Jenn

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While we’re not big fans of making excuses to skip a workout around here, we are all about tuning in and listening to your body when it tells you it’s time for a rest day, and we take zero issue with opting for some yoga (gentle or not so much) when that kind of movement feels better than going for a run or lifting heavy weights. You do you, darlin’. via GIPHY However, I was recently hipped to a pretty common reason that women opt to avoid workout classes as a whole — even gentle yoga classes: light bladder leakage (LBL).…

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Even if you’re the world’s biggest fan of sweater weather, it’s fair to say that sometimes, it’s really nice to get a break from the cold at some point during the winter. And you know what’s even better than getting away to a tropical paradise? Getting away to a tropical paradise where you can run a race! I’ve pulled together a few Caribbean getaways you might want to consider this winter below. (If you’re not necessarily up for international travel this year but think Florida sounds like a fine idea, maybe you’ll want to join me at Getaway St. Pete…

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When you have dietary intolerances or allergies, restricting what you eat to avoid those things makes sense. Total and complete sense. However, when you label foods off-limits or as “bad” and restrict yourself from having them for other reasons, it can be a sign of dieting (yep, whether you’re actually on a “diet” or not). As we’ve written  before, diet culture is sneaky. And, the practice of dieting — and restricting — almost always backfires, because dieting — at its core — is driven by restriction. (Here’s how the cycle works.) So today, we’re sharing some signs that you’re being…

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Since leaving my corporate job four years ago, my dress shoe collection has become pretty unimpressive. And I’ve never really been one to collect casual shoes. However, my workout shoe collection is a whole other story. Some might even find it a bit … fussy. It’s not that I have so many workout shoes, or all the colors and fancy new styles. No, for me, it’s all about function — having the perfect shoe for the occasion is key. Heaven forbid that I start a workout without first considering which shoes would be most appropriate. Yeah, I’m not high maintenance…

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We all know the Stuart Smalley SNL skit. via GIPHY And even though affirmations can be awesome for practically anything (think workouts, career goals, improving confidence, etc.), they get a bad rap. Because a lot of time they seem cheesy. And when you do them, they can also feel cheesy. via GIPHY Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had great results in any area of my life when something just felt off or — worse yet — forced. Yet, if you read many self-help books or articles, you’ll hear all about the power of affirmations. (Heck, us…

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Refuse to let excuses sideline you or keep you from your fitness and health goals.

Over the years, my “no excuses, just results” approach to fitness has helped me earn some seriously consistent results. But have I always abided by this mantra? To be perfectly honest, no, but once I adopted this mindset, all aspects of my health and fitness started to evolve.

If you find yourself making excuses as to why you haven’t been working on your fitness lately, stop for a second and be honest with yourself about these excuses. Take a look at your habits and your actions, and identify what obstacles continue to pop up that have prevented you from your goals. Is there a common theme?

If you’re nodding along to any of the above, trust me, you’re not alone. I’ve had my own fair share of ups and downs (along with plenty of excuses) throughout my fitness journey. Whether I was in college, working two jobs, when I was more than 35 percent body fat (I was full of excuses back then!), working in corporate America or now working in the fitness industry, I had come up with several excuses along the way to rationalize skipping workouts or healthy eats.

So how did I change my approach? I now refuse to let excuses sideline me or keep me from my goals. With a simple mindset shift, I now take what would formerly be known as an excuse and look for opportunity to improve. Every bit of effort counts and truly adds up to big-time results. The results are just a few workouts away, so ditch those excuses and get to work!   

Here are some of my (formerly) most common excuses and how I ditched them for good.

Whoops! I ran out of time before work this morning and didn’t get to pack my gym bag.

We’ve all been there before — your alarm goes off, you hit snooze, and before you know it, you’re scrambling around to get to work on time. The night before, you’d had the best of intentions on heading to the gym directly from work that next day, but without your gym bag packed, you’ll have to head home first before the gym. Uh oh.

We all know what can happen once we get home from work: distraction city. The point is, you’re now home and are probably coming up with several excuses as to why you’ll “hit the gym tomorrow instead,” right?

How I got rid of this excuse:

This excuse used to be my most common, and after missing out on more workouts than I care to count, I knew I had to make some changes.

Turns out, all it took was a few minutes of preparation the night before. Instead of waiting until the morning (when I knew chances of my hitting snooze or running late for a variety of reasons was likely) to pack my gym bag and workout essentials, I took a few minutes the night before and got everything ready. I even started putting my gym bag in my trunk the night before so I wouldn’t worry about leaving it behind if I was in a rush the next morning.

This small change helped add up to some seriously consistent workouts. So simple, right? If you’re a morning workout gal, this same approach will help keep you on track for those pre-dawn workouts. Pack your bag the night before with everything you’ll need in the morning for the gym and what you’ll need to get ready for work at the gym after your workout. I swear this small change made a huge impact on my consistency!

Adopt an all-or-nothing approach to nutrition.

“Does the diet start Monday” sound familiar to you? I know I’ve said those words more times than I care to count.

I used to start out each week intent on staying “on track” with my healthy meals, convinced that I would stick to this stricter regimen. At some point during the week/end if I strayed from the plan, I’d simply brush it off and then proceed to eat whatever I wanted until the next Monday morning rolled around.

Silly, I know, but this is an excuse I used to make and still hear from others far too often.

How I got rid of this excuse:

Once I realized I wasn’t being realistic to my lifestyle, I embraced a more balanced approach. If I grab a burger or dessert, I now pick up with my regularly scheduled healthy options at the very next meal, not the next day or the next Monday that rolls around. Life happens, and sometimes you’re going to have a slice of pizza even if it’s not listed on the plan your trainer created for you. Just don’t let one meal lead to a slippery slope of a series of poor nutritional choices. This is another prime example of how consistency truly is key and that it’s what we do the majority of the time that adds up to results.

Who has time for meal prep and cooking so much food? Ugh, healthy eating can be so time-consuming!

For those who get their Sunday meal prep on and have everything prepared and lined up in Tupperware for the week ahead, I commend you for your organization, cooking skills and efforts. However, if meal prepping your entire week out ahead of time isn’t in the cards for you, it doesn’t mean that you can’t have some healthy options prepared and ready to go.

How I got rid of this excuse:

I didn’t turn into a culinary wizard overnight, but I did get realistic about what I eat the majority of the time, what I’m likely to grab when I am on the go (healthy options are everywhere these days!), and what I can whip up in the kitchen in the least amount of time. Instead of cooking every meal, I started by having one to two protein options already cooked and ready to go.

Most often, this was chicken breast and some sort of frittata or egg-white muffins that I could easily prepare ahead of time and last me several days. I started to make one protein smoothie a day (it’s one of my favorites of the day and literally takes one minute to prepare) because I could blend that and take it with me on the go (a scoop of Cellucor Whey, a banana, some ice, tablespoon of almond butter, light almond milk and blend!) for a healthy, simple option.

Keeping snacks on hand to eat such as almonds, cashews, Greek yogurt (I’ll mix some berries in with my plain Greek yogurt and top with some diced almonds for an easy meal option) helps save time and ensures that I’ll always have something healthy on hand. I love salads but hate wasting veggies, so to help with prep time, I will chop up whatever veggies I want for salads or stir-fry for the next few days (think broccoli, bell peppers, cucumbers, mushrooms, etc.) and store them (separately from one another) in a sealed container or baggie so that they are chopped and ready to go when it’s mealtime.

These quick fixes for meal prep have helped establish a whole new level of consistency to my healthy eating.

My time at the gym is having a serious effect on my social life!

Feel like you’re spending more time with the weights than out with your friends, a date or social events these days? People begin to hold a grudge against their workouts because they “no longer have a life” outside the gym. As soon as I realized I was annoyed by my workouts cutting into my social life, I knew I had to make some changes.

How I got rid of this excuse:

I started to involve some of my friends in my fitness. One of my favorite ways to combine catching up with a friend and working on my fitness is to grab a friend and head outdoors for some workout fun and chat. Whether you’re just taking a power walk around the neighborhood, going on a bike ride, hiking or working out at a nearby park, this is a great way to combine a workout while spending time with a loved one.

Another thing I love to do is coordinate social events with rest days (we all take them, may as well maximize them!) so I’ll have something fun to look forward to for the weekend. This helps keep a good balance of fitness, fun and weekend events.

Such a simple, fun solution!

I’m so busy, I just don’t have any time to work out for hours every day!

Ahh, the “I don’t have time for the gym every day” excuse. I’ve been there and know countless others who have, too. I’ve even had people message me asking that if they only have 20 minutes a day to work out, is it even worth it or are they just wasting their time? Of course it is worth it! You don’t need hours a day to log results. Every bit of effort you put forth adds up!

How I got rid of this excuse:

Instead of complaining about not being able to work out as long as I’d typically like to, I flip my approach and get excited about the opportunity to change things up and do something new.

Even five minutes of your time spent on a workout is better than nothing; it’s all about getting started and making your health and fitness a priority. The next week, set aside 10 and then go from there. Once you start the habit and feel the positive effects of squeezing in workouts whenever your schedule allows, you’ll be hooked.

Schedules change last minute, things pop up, sometimes you have to cut the workout short or only have 15 minutes to get it done. If I’m left with 15 minutes for a workout, instead of skipping out altogether, I make every bit count and I’ll do a home workout instead. Bodyweight exercises mixed in with cardio bursts have proven to be a ton of fun for me while also earning serious results. Check out the combo below for a fun fat blast that you can do anywhere in 15 minutes or less!

Here’s one of my favorite “no excuses, just results” workouts that can be done anywhere — no equipment needed!

Grab a timer and enough open space to perform a burpee, then get ready to work. This workout is designed to challenge you while maximizing your efforts. Set the timer for 15 minutes, and challenge yourself to perform as many rounds as possible in the 15 minutes.

Perform one set of each exercise back-to-back for 30 seconds. Once you’ve completed one full round of the sweaty circuit below, rest briefly (one minute max), and then repeat the circuit for another three to five rounds (or as many as you can squeeze in for 15 minutes).

  • Burpees
  • Jump Squats
  • Push-Ups With Side-Plank Rotation (alternating sides throughout)
  • Tabletop Hip Thrusters
  • Plank Jacks
  • Side-to-Side Squats (squat to right, back to middle, squat to left, repeat)
  • Side Forearm Plank With Dip (15 seconds each side)

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Reminder! We’ve partnered up with the good peeps at PaleoHacks to bring you recipes (like this immunity-boosting soup), workouts (like this leg day at home one), tips, and more! PaleoHacks is a top source for amazing Paleo recipes, fitness tips, and wellness advice to help you live life to the fullest. Read on for some inspiring fitness ideas — and stay tuned for more healthy content from them in the coming weeks.  Exercising by yourself can be great! You get to do it on your own time, and you can do it at your own pace. But, let’s be honest, working…

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