The Taking Control of Your Health series thus far, in case you missed earlier posts:
- The First Step Towards Better Health: Bloodwork as Your State of the Union
- Understanding What ‘Real Food’ Is, Part I
- Understanding Food: What Are Fats Besides a Bad Word?
- Understanding Food: Proteins
- Understanding Food: Carbohydrates
- Controlling Stress: The Part of Your Health You’re Probably Ignoring
I’ve given you a lot of information about how to take control of your health, but a lot of the information is just that – information. Today, I’m going to show you perhaps the single biggest practical step you can take to get started on a healthier path.
There’s an axiom in the health world: tracking is knowing. Meaning: it’s hard to truly know what you’re eating, or what your workouts look like, unless you take steps to track your daily progress.
Question, and answer quick: how many calories did you eat yesterday? How many grams of carbs? Of protein? What did your macronutrient breakdown look like?
You probably have no idea. Until about a year ago, neither did I. Then I found a tool that helped me quickly and easily track what I was eating, and believe me when I said it was very, very enlightening.
For example, I can tell you that last Tuesday I had a total of 2065 calories. I had 208 grams of protein, 113 grams of carbs and 85 grams of fat. I was about 650 calories under my calorie goal for the day. It was a busy day, so I actually under-ate.
I know this thanks to a free app called My Fitness Pal, which is available on iOS, Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone. It also has a web interface once you create a free account.
The premise is simple: whatever you eat gets logged in My Fitness Pal. As you continue to use it, it recognizes the foods you eat the most frequently and categorizes them together for quick entry. After a few weeks, assuming you eat more or less the same group of foods, entering meals and snacks is a breeze.
Below is what an average breakfast entry looks like. This took me about 20 seconds to log in My Fitness Pal.
I don’t use all the features of My Fitness Pal. For example, it has social features so you can connect to your friends to see what they’re eating and what their workouts are, but I don’t do that. If you’re doing a group fitness class, or maybe some sort of transformation challenge, this feature would be very valuable.
In addition to being able to log foods easily and see total calorie consumption vs. your goal (your goal is set by the profile you create), you can also see exactly what your macronutrient breakdown looks like:
My Fitness Pal has the largest (and most accurate) database of foods I’ve ever seen, with a great deal of the data being accurate (My Fitness Pal uses a social confirmation system to allow users to ‘confirm’ a food’s data once it’s entered, and highly-confirmed foods appear in search results first). In addition, it allows you to track your ongoing progress, whether progress is tied to your weight (the most common) or even neck, waist and hip measurements.
Again: tracking is knowing. It’s amazing what happens when you start shining the light into areas that once were dark. If you know your calorie limit is 2,200/day, and you’re heading into dinner with 1,800 calories under your belt, you know a light dinner is in order. Likewise, if you were slammed all day and only ate 700 calories heading into dinner, you know you have a bit of headroom.
And that’s just the beginning: if you’re trying to keep carbs under 150 grams per day, and you had oatmeal and bread and a few bananas during the day, you know you might want to keep your last meal centered around lean proteins and healthy fats.
Tracking is knowing, and it’s impossible to overstate the value of a tool like this, especially if you’re newly traveling down the health/fitness path. I’ve been at the fitness game for over three years now, and I can tell you that even though I have a good off-the-cuff understanding of what my meals look like, calorie-wise, I still use this tool 90% of the time.
I rank tracking your food, especially in the beginning of your fitness efforts, as important as actually going to the gym itself. No hyperbole. Give it a try and bounce any questions you have my way.