If you have a smartphone, there are several different applications that make it easy to track your food intake. For a lot of people, food journaling using a cell phone is easier and more convenient than using a pen and paper. Applications that work well include “Lost It” for the iPhone or “Sparkpeople” for android phones.
Most of these applications also track calories and nutrients (such as fat, protein, sodium, etc). You may be a bit shocked how many calories, fat, sodium etc. are in some of the foods you eat on a regular basis. For example, after entering in all the ingredients for your pancake breakfast (including butter, syrup, orange juice), you may be surprised at how this can add up to 700 calories or more! If you are used to eating more processed foods like lunchmeats and frozen meals, you may be taken aback to see how much sodium you are consuming each day. Or you may discover that you aren’t getting enough protein, which helps you stay full longer and eat less over the course of the day. Having accurate information about the foods you eat everyday can help you make changes in your diet that will help you lose weight and be healthier in general.
Initially, it takes some work to load all your favorite foods into these applications. If you cook a lot, entering in all the ingredients from your recipes can definitely take some time. However, once you get your standard recipes and foods entered, it is pretty easy to keep up with your food journal. If you are eating out and you aren’t sure how many calories are in the chicken salad you ordered, enter “Mystery Meal” into your applications and take your best guess at the number of calories (i.e. 500 calories). You may be off by a couple hundred calories, but that really isn’t a big deal. Over the course of the week, you are likely to underestimate some foods and overestimate others. It should all even out at the end of the week.
Most of these food journaling applications require you to enter your initial weight, age, height, goal weight, and how much weight you want to lose each week. It will then give you a target number of calories to consume each day. There are definitely a couple of things you need to watch out for before you try to limit your calories to this magic number, because that number is often TOO low.
First of all, you need to account for your daily activity level. Most of these applications default to a pretty sedentary lifestyle. So, if you have an office job where you sit at the computer most of the day, then the number of calories the application gives you may be pretty accurate. However, if you are a busy mom or a nurse who gets in a lot of activity each day, you need to make sure that is accounted for. For most applications, you can go into a “settings” screen and make adjustments as necessary.
Secondly, when you enter in your goal weight, you need to pick something reasonable! This will likely not be the weight you were in high school, so choose something realistic and sustainable. Also, when you enter the amount of weight you want to lose each weight, do NOT go over 1 pound. When it asks you to enter this number, you may think to yourself that 2 pounds sounds better than 1 pound to lose each week. Who wouldn’t want to lose 2 pounds each week vs. one? But trust me when I say this would be a mistake because it will require you to decrease your calories by 1,000 each day! In my opinion, this is too much and not something you can keep up for very long. Having a goal of losing one pound each week will require you to decrease your calories by 500 each day, which is much more manageable.