It's a phrase I hear on an almost daily basis - “I've gone off track”. Usually, the client is referring to one ore more of the following situations:
- They have stopped recording or are less complete in their food tracking.
- They have consumed more calories than usual.
- They have consumed unhealthy foods.
Well I'm here to tell you that by doing one or more of the above does not mean that you've gone off track as these experiences are part of the journey.
Allow me to explain.
Stopping recording – it is unrealistic to expect that you will record completely one hundred per cent of the time. While you want to record as accurately and as often as you can, undoubtedly there will be times when you can't. For example, let's say you are on vacation in Thailand and are served a local delicacy by someone who does not speak English. Knowing the amount and caloric content may be extremely difficult, if not impossible. You can at the very least record the name of the dish (or failing that, its ingredients) and then guess at the amounts and calories. You won't be accurate, but at least you’re recording something. Even simply writing “lunch at 1PM” is better than nothing. If you have stopped recording completely, don't worry about the day(s) you have missed. Simply start back as soon as possible.
Consuming more calories that usual – there are times when consuming more calories is the norm and worthwhile. Examples include Holidays and special occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries and graduations. Of course, if several of these events occur over a short period of time you may not lose weight. Adjusting your expectations during those times, e.g. maintaining or gaining only a pound or two is recommended as by doing so you'll be less strict, reducing the likelihood of depriving yourself (imagine a birthday without cake!). You can help minimize the number of excess calories by ensuring to record and by staying organized with your eating prior to the event i.e. eating every two to three hours, including protein at all meals and snacks.
Consuming unhealthy foods – cake, chips, ice-cream and chicken wings are part of an overall healthy eating pattern as these foods can provide great joy and satisfaction. The trick is to have those types of foods as infrequently as possible and in the smallest possible serving needed to feel satisfied. I am unable to give you specific frequency or serving size amounts as it will vary from person to person. Some may be perfectly content only having chips once a month. For others, once a week may be needed. Others still may be content to never have them.
Mark McGill, RD
When you keep a food log you double your chances of weight loss and will, on average, decrease your caloric intake by just under 400 calories per day. While both of those facts should in theory be enough motivation for people to keep a diary, many clients I see struggle with consistently keeping a food journal. In practice, keeping a food diary is simple and shouldn’t take more than about five minutes per day (it will probably take longer at the beginning as one is learning the ropes, but this is normal).
Some may have difficulty because tracking is a rather uneventful activity that may not offer an immediate reward. Here’s what I mean: after exercise class (which takes far more effort and time compared to tracking), you feel good. You’re sweating, out of breath and feel like you accomplished something – which of course, you did. You have an endorphin rush and feel like you’re on top of the world. You probably don’t get this by keeping a food journal.
After seeing many clients struggle with tracking, here are some suggestions on how to make it more sustainable and interesting:
- Record at least something every day (even if it’s a guess at the amount, calories or contains incomplete information). This will help you both build and then sustain the habit.
- Change the way you track. Record in advance (e.g. the night before), buy a new food diary or use an online tracking site or smart phone app.
- If you track online or via an app, trial a different site/app. You may find that a different interface and user options work better for you. Some of the best sites: myfitnesspal, loseit, mynetdiary, sparkpeople.
- Set goals and monitor them through tracking. For example, examine your liquid calorie intake and see if you can reduce, or set a time goal i.e. complete recording for two weeks straight.
It’s important to note that in order for something to become a habit it must be consistently practiced for up to a year and a half.
If you struggle with tracking and wish to comment, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark McGill, RD
I have started a myfitnesspal BMI group. If you are using myfitnesspal and would like to join, send me your username and I will forward you an invite. It's essentially a forum where you can share tips, ask questions and support each other. You can reach me at email@example.com
In February’s BMI Newsletter, I made mention of a nutrition mantra. I’ve received some questions regarding some of the points, so below is further explanation of each point.
- Record everything you eat – keeping a food diary increases ones chances of losing weight by creating awareness and thoughtfulness around dietary choices. Diarizing also allows both the individual and clinician to look for patterns (e.g. determining which foods might be causing reflux, constipation, etc…).
- Eat every 2-3 hours – this helps you stay ahead of your hunger which can help prevent one from making less healthy choices driven by feeling famished. It also helps promote more stable blood sugar levels throughout the day – an important part of appetite control.
- Always include protein – in order to maximize satiety which is what you want your meals and snacks to accomplish. By not including protein you are more likely to feel hungrier throughout the day.
- Meet your minimums – for woman: 300 calories per meal, 150 per snack. Men want to aim for 400 per meal and 200 per snack. Consuming less will probably result in hunger and increases the risk of nutrient deficiencies.
- Thoughtfully indulge – It is very important not to deprive oneself i.e. make sure you are including all the foods you enjoy. The key is to have the smallest amount of decadent foods as infrequently as possible while still feeling satisfied.
Mark McGill, RD
Doing both can certainly be a challenge as you probably won’t have a food scale or always know the ingredients/recipe of what you are eating. So what should you do? Stop tracking all together? That’s what many do thinking “what’s the point?” if the information is not accurate. However, there is still value with inaccurate or incomplete records. Simply writing what you ate and when still results in awareness and thoughtfulness and, perhaps more importantly, will keep you in the habit of recording. This is especially important if you are new at keeping a food journal as consistency is required in order to develop behaviour.
Here are some tips on how to keep your food journal while away:
- If you normally track using a smart phone app, consider switching to a pen and paper (roaming fees can be very expensive, internet not available in all areas).
- Be sure to pack your CalorieKing book.
- Refer to restaurant menu nutritional information (either online or hardcopy). Remember to add 20% to posted calories.
- Ask how dishes are prepared.
- Find items that are similar to what you are eating (e.g. if having a donair, can use numbers posted for a shawarma).
- When all else fails, take your best guess at the calories and add 40% to your estimate (multiply by 1.4).
Then, once you return from your trip, simply resume your regular tracking.
Mark McGill, RD
I’m guessing very few of you would be surprised if I told you that the number one reason people eat what they do is availability. It’s something I hear fairly often from clients; “If I bring chips into the house, I’ll eat them”. My response is always in agreement and may include the example of my experience with baked goods during this past Christmas. I ate more lemon squares, Nanaimo bars (my favourite dessert!) and macaroons then I had planned because there were always plenty available. Even placing them in the back of our freezer didn’t stop me from contemplating having one whenever I was in the kitchen – simply knowing they were there typically made me want one.
So what can be done? Consider the following suggestions:
a) Thoughtfully indulge. Ask yourself “is it worth the calories?” and if so, “what’s the smallest amount I need in order to feel satisfied?”
b) Ensure well-organized eating throughout the day. Eat within one hour of waking then every two-three hours thereafter, always include protein and meet your minimums (men: approx 400 calories/meal, 200/snack, women: approx. 300 per meal, 150/snack).
c) Stay hydrated. The drive for thirst is stronger than that for food. If you find that you are nibbling on several different foods and yet not feeling satisfied, you may be thirsty. Aim for 1.5-2.0 litres of fluid/day.
d) Avoid bringing foods you may struggle with into your home. Again, if it’s not there, you’re far less likely to eat it. The odds of me having a Nanaimo bar at home these days is practically nil). Alternatively, you can aim to have smaller, pre-portioned amounts on hand. At the very least, this may help prevent you from mindlessly reaching into the bag.
Mark McGill, RD