Reaching your fitness goals requires keeping an accurate account of what you eat each day. We make keeping a food diary easy here at MyFoodDiary, and there are steps you can take to ensure that your reports are a true reflection of your intake. In addition to tracking your foods, examining your thoughts and feelings will also help you see your progress and target areas that need improvement.
Don’t forget about beverages.
Sodas, coffees, smoothies, energy drinks, and juices can contain as many calories as a full meal. Unfortunately, these liquid calories rarely make you feel full. It’s easy to forget about beverages when you update your food diary. Record everything you drink from water to soda, including small sips throughout the day.
Bites count too.
Do you nibble from your child’s plate? Do you taste while you are cooking? These calories count too. Do your best to estimate the amount for every bite so that you have an accurate report of total calories for each day.
Note how you feel.
We eat for many reasons that don’t always involve true hunger. Your family may have a set meal time, or maybe you are stressed or bored. When you record your food, also make notes about how you felt during the time you ate the food. Were you starving and grabbed what you could find? Did you choose an unhealthy option due to your social setting? Emotions play an important role in healthy eating. Record how you feel to better understand how your emotions affect your eating habits.
Look for patterns.
Food diaries are especially beneficial because they help you identify patterns in your eating. These patterns may be healthy, like you always eat a breakfast that is balanced in carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fat. Keep up those healthy habits. These patterns may also be unhealthy, like your late night snack always puts you over your calorie limit. Use these patterns as a way to identify what might be holding you back from reaching your goals, and then make a plan for how you will overcome these challenges.
Carbohydrates get negative attention for causing weight gain, but in reality they are a valuable source of energy. One gram of carbohydrates contains 4 calories (the same amount that is in 1 gram of protein). Carbohydrates are broken down by the body into glucose, which is used for energy. The reason carbohydrates are often recognized as unhealthy is that many high-calorie foods (such as baked goods) contain a high amount of carbohydrates.
Quality is important.
All carbohydrates are not equal. Simple or refined varieties (such as white flour and sugar) are digested quickly and cause a spike in blood sugar that causes hunger and cravings. Complex carbohydrates take longer to digest and do not cause a large blood sugar spike. They also provide the body with vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber.
It’s easy to overdo it.
For adults, carbohydrates should make up 45 to 65 percent of total calories each day. Carbohydrates are plentiful in convenient snacks and quick meals (such as crackers, sandwiches and pizza). This makes it easy to quickly load up on carbohydrates and calories while sacrificing vitamins, minerals, high-quality protein, and hearty-healthy fats.
Bread and pasta are not the only sources.
Try to avoid the white, refined breads and pastas. Instead, the majority of your carb intake should be composed of nutritious, complex carbohydrates like the following:
Protein serves two main roles in the body: 1) it is a component of tissues in the body, and 2) it plays a role in the enzymes that trigger chemical reactions. Health professionals recommend that 10 to 35 percent of daily calories come from protein. By choosing high-quality sources and making a few creative changes, you can find easy ways to increase protein intake.
Fish provides protein without excess saturated fat, and it is also a source of essential omega-3 fatty acids. You don’t have to eat a bland fillet to increase your intake. Firm white fish like halibut or catfish can be cut into large cubes and simmered in stews to replace beef or chicken. Flaky fish like tilapia can be ground with herbs and spices and then formed into fish burgers or fish meatballs. Four ounces of tilapia contains 21 grams of protein.
Use mashed beans for filling
Beans are full of protein and fiber. They make a delicious filling that contains protein without increasing saturated fat. Use mashed black beans as a filling for burritos or as a layer in lasagna. Mashed pinto beans can be a base for a taco salad or a quesadilla filling. Mashed beans can even be used in desserts like cakes and brownies. One-half cup of white kidney beans contains 6 grams of protein.
Blend in nut flours
Nut meals and flours are made by grinding nuts until they are fine. These flours contain the same valuable plant-based proteins as the whole nut. Blend them into shakes, batters, sauces, and oatmeal to give your meals a boost of high-quality protein. One-quarter cup of almond flour contains 6 grams of protein.
Explore the protein power of peas
Peas have often been viewed as a starchy vegetable without much nutritional benefit, but the protein power of peas is gaining attention. Mashed peas make a great side dish or filling, and fresh peas can be sprinkled over salads and stir-fries. Pea powder makes a protein-rich addition to smoothies. One-half cup of green peas contains 4 grams of protein.
Grabbing a smaller plate or bowl may seem like a small change, but it can make a big difference in how much food you serve yourself. Research shows that larger bowls can cause us to take as much as 30 percent more food! Smaller plates require less food to fill and make portions appear larger, which leads to eating fewer calories without feeling deprived.
Put foods away.
Storing foods on the countertop in plain view can trigger cravings. Just seeing a bag of chips can make you hungry, and it is difficult to resist when they are within easy reach. If you have these foods in the house, keep them in a closed cabinet out of view to reduce mindless snacking.
Use measuring tools as serving utensils.
Scoop and serve your foods using a measuring cup with a handle. Portions of beans, soups, pasta sauces, and stews can easily be controlled by using these tools. Use measuring spoons for scooping out nut butters or adding condiments such as salad dressing. This small change will reveal exactly how much food you are eating.
Set your fork down between bites, chew slowly, and keep your focus on the food you are enjoying. Eating less quickly allows you to eat more mindfully, which helps you feel more satisfied. As a result, it will be easier to recognize when you feel full.
Stay at the table.
Distracted eating leads to overeating. Even if you are eating a healthy meal, doing so in front of a television screen causes you to lose sight of your body’s cues for hunger and fullness. Improving your relationship with food requires that you not only eat healthier, but that you remove distractions so that you can truly enjoy your food.
Cravings are part of a normal healthy lifestyle. When and how you indulge is what controls whether these cravings have a negative influence on your health. A box of cookies will still be around after you have had one or two to satisfy your craving. It’s better to enjoy a treat and remove the temptation than to deprive yourself and binge later. Buy a single cookie or donut at the bakery and single-serving bags of chips to reduce the chance that you will overdo it.
Reduce convenience foods.
When the foods you eat require some work, it slows you down and keeps you focused. Cook more often, and buy snacks that need to be shelled or peeled such as nuts, seeds, and fruits. Yes, it takes more time, but the investment will be worth reaching your fitness goals.
Thirst is often mistaken for hunger. Drinking plenty of water and calorie-free beverages can help you feel full and eat less.
Fat was once considered bad for health, but as research has evolved we now know that all types of fat are not equal. Fat is an essential component of a healthy diet. It plays a role in brain health, helps build cell membranes, and allows the body to absorb fat soluble vitamins. However, some fats can increase your risk for heart disease and stroke.
Studies show that monounsaturated fat reduces bad cholesterol (LDL), which helps to lower the risk for heart disease and stroke. There is also evidence that these fats can help control blood sugar. Monounsaturated fats can be found in olive oil, sesame oil, avocados, and peanut butter.
Polyunsaturated fats (including omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids) have been found to reduce bad cholesterol (LDL) and reduce the risk for heart disease and stroke. These fats are found in walnuts, sunflower seeds, tofu, and fatty fish like salmon and trout.
Health experts consider trans fat to be the worst type of dietary fat. Trans fats are byproducts of hydrogenation (turning a liquid fat into a solid) and are present in many processed foods. Trans fats increase bad cholesterol (LDL) and lower protective good cholesterol (HDL). As a result, the FDA has mandated that industrial trans fat be eliminated from foods by 2018.
A diet high in saturated fat can increase total cholesterol and bad cholesterol (LDL), but some reports now question if the link between saturated fat and heart disease is as strong as once believed. As research continues, health experts remain cautious and recommend that saturated fat be limited to 10 percent of total daily calories. Saturated fat is found in red meat, whole dairy, coconut oil, and baked goods.