Food logging can at times feel like an overwhelming process.
Do I need to weigh and measure all of my food?
What if I can’t find the exact item I am eating?
Do I need to worry about macronutrients?
What if I forgot to log yesterday?
The questions can go on and on. Below we will do our best to provide you with answers to these questions in order to help you not only food log effectively, but also with minimal stress.
1) Estimating portion sizes
Staying accurate with portion estimations is very important to a reliable food log. While perfection is not necessary, a certain degree of accuracy is. It is very easy to be off in your portion estimates by as much as 25-50%, which creates vast inaccuracies in not only calories, but also grams of protein, carbs, and fats. If you have never weighed and measured food before, we recommend that you spend a couple of weeks doing so. Even if you have in the past, but it was a long time ago, it would be a good idea to brush up on this. While weighing and measuring everything is not sustainable in the long-run, it can be a great learning experience in the short term. After this initial period, we recommend moving to a hand-based portion estimation system, seen below:
2) What if I cannot find my food item?
This can be a major source of anxiety for many people when they start food logging.
How exactly do you log a home-made meal consisting of numerous ingredients? Do you need to individually log every single ingredient?
In general, no, you don’t.
Our general recommendation is to find a close approximation of your item, and just closely estimate the portion size. For example, if you made a home-made beef and vegetable stir-fry, just search “beef and vegetable stir fry”, and choose the best option from the list. There may be two or three different options. If you cooked it at home with little or no butter, oils etc. then choose the dish with a lower calorie count. If you’re eating out where the cook likely used a lot of butter and oils, choose the highest calorie option.
Now, most food logging apps do give you the option to add a recipe where you can add each individual ingredient and then save the dish for future use. For dishes that you eat regularly, this is a good idea. However don’t feel like you have to do this unless you really want to.
3) A quick note on macronutrients
So, you are food logging with a calorie goal, however you haven’t been given as much guidance on how many grams of proteins, carbs, and fats you need to eat. What’s the deal here? Should you be aiming for specific numbers there too?
For most of us, logging with specific macronutrient goals is not necessary. It would be like trying to teach someone how to do algebra before they have learned how to multiply and divide. Or, telling the average person that in order to save for retirement, they have to learn how to day trade. In other words, macronutrient recommendations often premature, and/or overkill for most of our goals.
For most people, we want to first work on calorie balance (staying around your calorie goal), portion sizes etc. before we get super specific on macronutrient recommendations.
Additionally, even after you’ve solidified the calorie balance side of things, aiming for very specific numbers of each macronutrient tends to be overkill for most. Generally speaking, working to get protein in an optimal range is all that’s necessary for the vast majority of us. If we do that, carbs and fat will naturally fall in line without micromanaging.
That said, if you are wanting more specific macronutrient guidance, you could reach out to an AFS coach to discuss more.
4) I forgot to log..whoops..
Most of us are pretty busy people with hundreds of things to remember every day. It is very likely that you will forget to log your food until the end of the day, or even the next day, many times. While this is not the end of the world, we do find that people who wait to log until days end, or the next day, tend to have many many more inaccuracies than those that log as they go. It is nearly impossible to accurately recall everything you eat in a day, let alone recall relatively accurate portion sizes. Thus, it is very important that you try your best to log as you go, not retroactively.
Additionally logging beforehand, and then using that as a sort of guide for your eating can be a solid option. Just be sure that if you do this, you are careful to ensure your portions are accurate, and you update any discrepancies between your planned eating, and actual eating.
The best thing you can do is log as you go. After that, logging in advance is a decent option, and logging retroactively should be avoided whenever possible. While there will inevitably be days here and there where you log retroactively, do not allow this to become the norm for you.
Lastly, keep in mind that food logging is meant to be a short-to-medium term solution, and a learning experience to aid in habit formation. It is important that you view food logging as such, so as not to become overly reliant on it. We must build habits that can be carried on post-logging to ensure we maintain our progress even when not logging. Throughout the Foundations of Weight Loss Course we provide strategies and lessons to help you to do this, so make sure you take them seriously, even if you’re food logging… because you won’t be for your entire life.