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.
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.
As seasons change, you may notice a change in your eating and exercise habits. While some of these changes are positive, others can have a negative impact on your choices and lead to unwanted weight gain.
Summer is a season of fresh, nutritious foods, but a few things may work against your healthy intentions. Backyard barbecues can tempt you with high-calorie burgers, hot dogs, chips, and ice cream. Local fairs and festivals offer deep fried foods and high-sugar desserts. It can be difficult to pass up these once-a-year treats.
Summer can also make it harder to stick to your workouts. Hot temperatures and humidity can leave you feeling lethargic and make it unsafe to exercise outside.
What to do: Be selective about the foods you eat. Choose only those that are true treats, and take the time to savor them. Make a plan for workouts at home or consider a temporary gym membership so you don’t abandon your workouts due to a hot day.
Autumn brings cooler temperatures that are ideal for outdoor activities such as hiking and biking. Unfortunately, it is also a busy time of year for families. As you adjust to the back-to-school season, you may feel overwhelmed with little time to be active. The extra stress can lead to emotional eating, little exercise, and poor nutrition.
What to do: Find healthy ways to control stress and make those activities a priority. Even 10 minutes of meditation or yoga each morning can set the tone for a healthier day. Get outside when you can. Being in nature is calm and relaxing, which also reduces stress.
When winter hits, the cravings for high-carbohydrate comfort foods come with it. With fewer fresh foods available, you may fall into a rut with food choices and be tempted by unhealthy comfort foods. As the weeks move into the holiday season, temptations for unhealthy food grows and stress can increase emotional eating. Additionally, shorter days and cold temperatures make squeezing in your workouts more challenging.
What to do: Don’t let the holiday season sneak up on you. Make a plan and apply it as early as October. Choose when you will stick to healthy eating and what is worth a splurge. Plan for a busy schedule and how you will adjust your workouts. Find ways to make your favorite comfort foods healthier by incorporating more vegetables and fewer heavy creams and sauces.
As you transition out of a long winter, spring weather can be a motivating force to eat healthier and to get moving, but one thing could get you off track. After three months of sticking to your new year’s resolutions it may be tempting to give up, especially if you aren’t seeing the changes you expected. Heading into spring feeling discouraged may prevent you from taking advantage of outdoor workouts and seasonal fresh foods, and cause you to return to old habits.
What to do: Reevaluate your resolutions. Check your progress, and if you aren’t where you want to be, determine if your goals are on track. Perhaps you are expecting too many changes too soon or you are forcing yourself to do an activity you don’t enjoy. If your goals are no longer working, set new ones. Change up your routine to keep both your eating and exercise interesting and exciting.
A healthy weight is about more than the number on the scale. Reaching a normal weight for your height not only improves your health but it can change your outlook on life.
Improved blood pressure and blood cholesterol
When you are at a healthy weight, there is less strain on your heart. Weight loss of just 5 to 10 percent of your body weight helps to lower blood pressure, reducing your risk for hypertension. The habits you develop, like healthier eating and regular exercise, can improve your blood cholesterol. All of these factors work together to reduce your risk for heart disease.
Improved blood glucose
Insulin resistance is linked to being overweight and it can result in the high blood glucose that leads to type 2 diabetes. Weight loss and regular exercise can improve insulin resistance and control blood glucose, reducing your risk for the disease.
When you carry extra weight, climbing stairs and walking long distances can leave you breathless. The extra stress on your joints can also cause knee and back pain. When you are at a healthy weight, moving becomes easier. Not only do you feel lighter and more energetic, but you may also experience less pain, making physical activity much more enjoyable.
Better sense of control
Getting fit is hard work. You have to be committed and learn how to navigate the ups and downs you experience along the way. Taking on this challenge and successfully accomplishing your goals improves your sense of control. You begin to accept responsibility for your choices and take your health into your own hands. These changes are empowering and lead to accomplishing more goals that may have once seemed impossible.
Being unhealthy can make you feel unhappy, and the resulting stress and frustration can affect your outlook and attitude. Reaching a healthy weight can change how you view your daily life and your future. It builds self-confidence and inspires you to help others who are facing the same challenges.
Exercise and nutrition both a play a role in improving fitness. The best exercise program won’t get you results if you ignore the fuel you put in your body. Not only will excess calories prevent you from losing weight, but an eating plan that lacks lean protein, vitamins, and minerals can make it more difficult to gain muscle and recover after tough workouts. In addition, filling up on foods that are high in refined carbohydrates can leave you feeling sluggish and hungry with little energy to exercise. Make your diet as much of a priority as your exercise, and choose a balanced eating plan that matchings your fitness goals.
Not allowing for breaks
Exercise is essential for improving fitness, but skipping breaks can have a negative impact on both your mental and physical health. Rest days give you a chance to reflect on your progress, refresh your outlook, and find new motivation. Physically, it allows your body to recover and grow stronger and helps reduce the risk of overuse injuries. Give your body the rest it needs, and enjoy the benefits of taking a day off each week.
Focusing on the long term
It’s good to have long-term goals that may take several months or even a year to accomplish. But sometimes when goals are set too far out, it can fool you into thinking you have plenty of time to meet them causing you to put off the hard work. Keep the long-term goals, but create a series of short-term goals between now and then. For example, if your goal is to run a half marathon next year, compete in a 5K and a 10K prior to the big race.
Little rewards, like new exercise gear or a subscription to a fitness magazine, may seem unimportant at first, but these small celebrations of your accomplishments can be a significant source of motivation. Planning healthy rewards along the way will emphasize to yourself that these changes have value. Whether the reward is big or small, always recognize your hard work and new healthy habits.
Comparing yourself to others
No two journeys to fitness are exactly alike. It's easy to compare yourself to others and wonder why your mileage isn’t building as quickly, your weight isn’t coming off as fast, or your abs don't have the same definition. While it’s good to have role models and people you trust that can offer advice, comparing yourself to others will only discourage you. Take things at your own pace, and evaluate the progress you have made. Compare your new self to your old self and not to other people.