How to Track Your Food

Listen.

If you have any intention of getting fitter, healthier, sexier or whatever word you want to use tracking your calories is a non-negotiable task.  It doesn't matter if you're trying to add muscle, or lose fat.  Tracking your calories is required.  You must do it.  There is no way around it.

Calorie intake is the number one factor that dictates your weight and size.  It's so important that it can't be left to guess work.  You need to know exactly how many calories you need to ingest, and properly track those calories to ensure that you will hit your goal.If you don't track your calories you have no room for complaint when you don't reach your goal.  You didn't work hard enough, you didn't stay disciplined enough.  

If you want to know the basics of Calories and Macronutrients read this article.


There are some rules you must follow to get the most out of the app (or whatever tracking app you use).


1. Determine How Many Calories You Need to Eat

Your caloric needs are different than your friends, siblings and parents.  They are dependent on the current state of your metabolism, activity level, goals and the time frame in which you want to accomplish those goals.

A cookie cutter caloric plan is useless.  If someone tells you "You just need to eat 1,200 calories!" they have no idea what they are talking about.

There are a few competing theories on how to correctly gauge your needed caloric intake, and they all have their merit.  The most basic way is to determine your goal body weight and multiply that number by 12-14.  That will give you a basic, but effective caloric number to aim for.

If you want to weight 150 pounds you would aim to eat 1,800-2,100 calories per day.  This number will be individualized and would require some experimentation to settle on the right total.  If you start at 2,100 but aren't losing weight as fast as you want you simply cut some calories.  If you start at 1,800 but lose weight too fast you add some calories.

There is no prescribed model that will be 100% perfect without some experimentation.  Calorie tracking requires you to take complete ownership of your dietary choices.  

However, the more specific your caloric numbers and macro totals are the quicker your body will change.  You can get custom macros from us right here. 

2. Download a Calorie Tracker App

Tracking calories is very easy thanks to technology.  My Fitness Pal is the only app I recommend for clients to use.  It has a large database of food, a bar code scanner and even a restaraunt menu feature.  

It has all your bases covered, the only thing you have to do is take 25 seconds out of your day to type in some words.  

MFP has the largest database of food and Under Armor's money behind it.  It's the easiest to use, and the easiest to integrate with whatever other fitness tech you already use.

There are pitfalls to any calorie tracking app.  There are many options on the screen that confuse people.  

My Fitness Pal has a "workout tracking" section that should be ignored.  It will adjust your caloric total to account for whatever physical activity you did that day.  When you have an accurate Calorie and Macro count you DO NOT NEED to do this.  Your activity level is already factored in, and adjusting your calories based on a workout is an unnecessary complication that you need to ignore.  Please ignore all these options and only focus on your given calories. 


3. Track What You Eat

The idea of logging each and every item of food you eat seems tedious. I’m not going to lie- it is for the first week. Just like anything it becomes easier over time. After a month or so it will take you barely 30 seconds to log each meal.

It cannot be overstated how important tracking your macros is. This is not something you can guesstimate. Precision is necessary.

MyFitnessPal is a calorie and macro tracking app that has a GIGANTIC database of foods, everything you could possibly eat has an entry. All you have to do is scan the barcode on the packaging, or type the name of the food.

To view your macros you go to the “Diary” page.

 
MFP 1.png
 

Then scroll down until you see a “Nutrition” tab on the bottom left hand corner.

 
MFP2 Nutrition.png
 

 

Once you are there scroll on the top to the “Nutrients” tab. You will have a complete breakdown of your macros for the day.

 
MFP 3 Nutrients 1.png
 

You have the option of entering your Calories and Macros into MFP.  Note that mfp calculates macros by % and not grams, so it's not possible to be 100% accurate. here's how to do it:

  1. At the home screen click the "More" button
  2. Then click "Goals"
  3. Under the heading "Nutrition Goals" click on “Calorie, Carb, Protein and Fats Goals“. Now enter your calorie amount  and adjust carbohydrates, protein, and fat to be as close as possible to your totals. Note: You’ll have to round to the nearest 5% increment unless you have the Premium Version of MFP. This allows you to adjust your macros at 1% increments or just enter the gram amount.
 

4. Be Accurate

Tracking calories is gathering data.  Changing your body is a science that largely depends on numbers like calories and macronutrients within those calories.  If you record inaccurate (or guessed) numbers you are skewing the data and throwing the whole endeavor off kilter.

Inaccurate data is useless.  It will not help you honestly survey your diet or eating habits.

If you make a ham sandwich for lunch you cannot simply type "ham sandwich" into your tracking app and pick whichever entry you want.

You need to record each ingredient separately to be accurate and reveal how much you really ate.

If you made a ham sandwich for lunch your entry should look like this:

2 pieces Stroehman White Bread
6 pieces Boar's Head Honey Ham
1 piece Publix American Cheese
1 serving Mustard

By breaking down each dish into it's individual ingredients you are getting an accurate representation of your caloric intake.  This whole process will only take about 30-60 seconds per meal.

A food scale is an invaluable tool.  You need to measure all your proteins- like steak and chicken breast.  Weighing them before you cook them is the only way to truly gauge their size and therefore their caloric content.

This is only necessary with homemade foods.  All packaged and restaurant dishes are already in the app.  Just make sure you choose the "verified" entry with the checkmark next to it. 

What to track:

  • Meat- Chicken, Beef, Fish, Beef, Pork, Beef etc.
  • Carbs- Pasta, Rice, Potatoes, Cheetos etc.
  • Cooked vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Snacks
  • Any drink besides Black Coffee and Water
  • Dressings and Sauces- Yes, even the ketchup on your hotdog (if you're a serial killer)
  • Supplements like Protein Shakes

 

What not track:

  • Raw Vegetables
  • Water
  • Black Coffee
  • The air you breathe 

 

5. Be Honest

I hate that I have to say this to a bunch of adults, but you can't lie to yourself.  

Lying in your calorie tracker is not going to help you, calories don't magically disappear because you didn't record them.  They're still going to show up on your waist line. 

It all boils down to discipline and taking the time to understand food.  Calories are the most important factor if you're trying to change your body.  

Lifting weights alone will not make you more muscular or bulky.  Your corresponding calorie intake will dictate that.

Doing hours of cardio will not make you slimmer if you don't eat the appropriate amount of calories.

The only way you know if you are eating the correct amount is to honestly and accurately record every single thing you eat.  Guessing is not good enough.  
 


6. Review Your Decisions and Make Small Changes

Tracking your calories is not supposed to make you feel guilty or bad about yourself.  It's a a chance to get an honest landscape of your nutrition and dietary habits.  

Change cannot be made without honest data.  It's like getting your house inspected before you sell it.  The inspector comes to gauge the value of the house as it is.  They do not come to gauge the value of the house based on future plans, like adding a media room or intentions like "well we meant to replace this drywall."  Thoughts and intentions don't add any value to your house.

The inspector's job is to honestly evaluate the current state of the house, much like your job is to honestly evaluate the current state of your nutrition and dietary habits.

Once you've honestly tracked your calories for a few days you have a chance to review them.  

You'll probably notice unnecessary calories like soda or milk and sugar in your coffee.  You'll also notice areas where you can make small improvements like choosing low calorie mustard over sugar calorie bomb ketchup.  You can pick seltzer or Zevia over soda, you can opt for veggies instead of fries when you go out for lunch.

These changes seem small and nitpicky, but they add up over time.  Every calorie counts, and these small changes can save around 200 calories per day.  That means you'll be saving 1,400 calories per week which mean's you'll be losing about a 1/2 pound every week, or 2 pounds a month.

On the converse side these easily substituted calories can add up.  Those 200 extra calories per day, or 1,400 extra calories per week equal 5,600 per month.  That means you'll be gaining 2 pounds per month instead of losing it.  

The details matter, and if you are honest and accurate you can change the details to better suit your goals.


Your first few weeks of tracking your calories is not going to be perfect, and that's fine.  It's totally expected and acceptable.  What's not acceptable is quitting because it got frustrating for a day or two. 

Flexible dieting and tracking your calories is much more effective than picking a named diet like Keto, Paleo, Vegan or whatever because it forces you to take ownership of your every dietary decision.  

You still have a framework of principles to work within, but the onus is on your willpower and discipline to make the right decisions in the kitchen.  By taking responsibility and ownership you are directly steering the course of your future.  There is no more powerful trait.  This is your body, you need to take charge of it.  You need to treat it and feed it the proper way.  

Now you have all the skills needed to track your calories.  There's nothing holding you back but your desire to put in the work.

 

Train. Smarter.

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Patrick Henigan