Food Tracking for Weight Loss
New evidence shows that tracking the amount of food and beverages you consume is an effective way to lose weight.1 In this resource, we will explore the benefits of food tracking and how to get started.
You are likely already familiar with the concept of tracking. You may track your finances to make sure you have money in the bank to pay your bills. Or you may track the laundry in your hamper to ensure you have clean clothes to wear.
Tracking food serves the same purpose. It builds awareness, holds us accountable, controls portions, and helps us understand how food intake might be related to stress or emotions.
By tracking your food, it keeps you honest about how much you are eating and more aware of the portion size. We may think we had a small portion, but once you measure and track it, you may realize you are eating more than you think.
Food tracking also brings awareness around the nutritional value of the food you are eating and helps you to identify deficiencies. Not all calories are equal. For example, one 16 oz. soda contains 182 calories mainly from sugar. Fourteen spears of broccoli contains the same calories, yet provides valuable fiber, protein, fat, and Vitamin C. By tracking food, you can make adjustments to support more balanced nutrition.
Another benefit of food tracking is that it will help you recognize when you are eating. Stress and emotions can influence us to eat when we are not truly hungry. By tracking your food, you can see patterns around when you eat, work to create better habits, and reduce mindless eating.
How to Get Started
The easiest way to track foods is to utilize a free Smartphone app or web based program such as MyFitnessPal, Lose It or Fitbit. Or, write down your food in a journal if that works better for you. In the study referenced above, participants who lost the most weight spent just under 15 minutes a day recording what they ate and drank in the MyFitnessPal app. It doesn’t need to take much time.
With extensive databases of food choices available in food tracking apps, it is simple to look up the nutritional value of foods, including many restaurant meals. Tracking apps also contain barcode scanners to enable you to scan any foods that contain a label.
Portion control is key to tracking your food accurately. It is important to read package labels, input the proper serving size and measure portions for better accuracy. Food scales and measuring cups are useful tools to support you in doing this until you learn to eyeball portion sizes.
Food tracking apps also allow you to save your favorite meals to simplify tracking. So if you eat the same avocado toast and poached egg for breakfast, it makes tracking it each morning a breeze. You can save recipes in the app and calculate nutrition information on your favorite homemade meals.
When getting started, you may not remember to track everything at first, and that is okay. Just like it took time to get in the habit of doing your exercise therapy, it will take time to make this part of your mealtime routine.
Remember, tracking even one meal a day can make a difference. It is important to find a system that works for you, whether it is jotting it down in a journal or using an app. Start small and add more meals over time. Try setting a reminder on your phone in the evening to track your food for the day.
Whether you’re monitoring your nutrition to lose weight, change bad habits or just improve your diet quality, food tracking is a useful tool in creating a healthier relationship with food.
- Patel, M., Hopkins, C., Brooks, T., Bennett, G. (2019). Comparing Self-Monitoring Strategies for Weight Loss in a Smartphone App: Randomized Controlled Trial. Retrieved from https://mhealth.jmir.org/2019/2/e12209/