It’s that time of year again- the holidays are behind us and life is getting back to normal. But if you’ve already broken your new year’s resolution to eat better and exercise more, don’t worry, you’re not alone! Even though they were set with good intentions, your goals may not be practical or easy to sustain. Setting realistic resolutions and planning on how to carry them out with the help of a registered dietitian can help you salvage your resolutions and get you back on track.
One of the best ways proven to help you eat healthier and consume fewer calories is to track what you eat. Luckily, in the year 2013, it has never been easier! Using a food journal app on your smart phone or tablet makes it quick and easy to write down what you eat. Searchable online databases now include everything from generic foods to brand name restaurants so everything can be added with the click of a button. Guess work with calories is frustratingly inaccurate and often pushes people to stop tracking their eating. Finding the right app eliminates any guess work.
How can tracking what you eat help? Simply being more aware of what you are putting in your mouth can help you eat better. It forces you to be more accountable for your choices and think twice before making rash decisions. Accountability is a big driver towards actually changing your habits and sticking to your health goals.
Food tracking can help you see unhealthy patterns in your eating such as skipping meals or not taking time out to enjoy them (for example “I thought I eat breakfast on most days of the week when in fact it’s more like 2 times per week…”). It also forces you to be more honest with yourself about the amount you eat (for example “Where did all the cookies go? I swear I ate only two last night!”).
Of course, food tracking does require you to be somewhat accurate with your estimations of portion sizes if you want a true picture of your eating habits. This is where it can become time consuming. However, there is a very easy tool you can use to guess portions- your hand! The palm of your hand is about 3oz, your fist is about 1 cup, two fingers about 1½ oz, and your whole thumb is about 1 tbsp. Start with this easy trick and if you want more details, use measuring cups to get a better eye for amounts.
An online site or app tallying what eat can help you make healthy choices throughout the day. This is the real advantage over old-school hand written journals. You can immediately know how much you have eaten and compare it to what your body requires for the rest of the day.
Also, rather than labelling foods as good or bad, tracking will help you understand which foods are dense in calories and which ones are less dense. This way you can chose what you want to eat based on the portion sizes you want to consume. If you are really hungry, eating a small handful of nuts may not satisfy you enough, so you may turn to lighter foods such as fruit or yogurt to add volume.
Start with the intention of tracking your food for a few days to get the ball rolling. It may feel easier to start small then aspire to track a whole week. Once you get an idea of where your habits stand in comparison to your needs, you can start aiming at truly personalized healthy eating habits.