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Tracking Your Food to Form Healthy Eating Habits

Do you eat a balanced meal?

Food plays a vital role in our lives. It provides energy and development, maintains life, and stimulates growth. After air and water, it's the third most important thing to living beings. Food can nourish our body, but the wrong foods or eating habits can ruin our health, which is why we must be mindful of what we eat. Tracking our food consumption provides priceless insight to improve and maintain healthy eating habits for a healthy life.

Tracking what goes into your body can help you improve your diet, manage food cravings, and even lose weight. If we aren't mindful of what we put in our mouths, we could find ourselves mindlessly reaching for snacks while watching TV or while we're working. We could be eating extra helpings regardless of whether we're hungry because we were coaxed by someone else or too focused on a show. We might also be eating more than we realize when we use the familiar motions of eating to manage stress, boredom, anxiety, or sadness.

Benefits to Tracking What You Eat

Start a food journal

It creates awareness of your eating habits to understand better how to make healthier dietary choices. You could be consuming too much or too little of a particular food group without realizing it. Perhaps you don't even realize how many sugary foods you've forgotten that you ate throughout the day, such as the two teaspoons of sugar in each cup of coffee. Perhaps your regular protein can be replaced with more heart-healthy meat. You might be surprised to find that once informed, there are foods you can easily drop from your daily diet or substitute with healthier options. Your observations may bring about a balanced diet that can help you feel fuller when consuming less and happier about responsibly indulging in the foods you like. Once your food intake is laid out, you might realize that those cookies or donuts from the breakroom are entirely unnecessary. Or, if you plan to eat cake for dessert one day, you can balance out the rest of the day's meals to accommodate it.

It helps layout your relationship with food. The most important thing about eating is that it should be enjoyable, and you shouldn't feel guilty or associate any negative emotions with food. By noting how you feel during and after eating certain foods, you can determine if you're feeding your physiological hunger or unintentionally using food to feed an emotional hunger. Research even shows that people eat what is most accessible, regardless of actual preference. If you realize that you're buying food that leaves you feeling worse, it becomes easier to change the habit. Ultimately, you will learn to permit yourself to enjoy food to its fullest. You will reach that point of balance where you eat only when your body needs the nourishment and stop eating when your body and mind are satisfied.

It lets you fully appreciate the pleasure of eating. Can you remember what you had for lunch two days ago? Our lives are busy, and we might not always get to spend mealtimes at the dining table. Sometimes you find yourself eating in front of a computer screen, a TV screen, or even with your eyes glued to your phone. When you are consciously noting down what foods you are on your plate, it prevents you from gobbling food down without even recognizing what it is. Being aware of your food also encourages your senses to log the taste, sense, and smell of what you're eating. When you're focused on your food and chew every bite thoroughly, it will also improve digestion and weight control. While you're at it, reflect on where your food comes from, and give gratitude for it to help you make wiser and more sustainable choices in the future.

It shows you how far you've come the longer you keep up with tracking your food. Having concrete proof of the effort and progress you've put into developing healthier eating habits goes a long way in keeping you motivated. The more you track, the more information you have at your disposal. You will develop a good instinct for what is healthy and good for you, on top of feeling better and fitter! It becomes a strong incentive to hold yourself accountable and not fall for unnecessary temptations.

How to Track Your Food

Begin by deciding on how long you will track your food. Two weeks? One month? You will also choose how you will track it. You can dig out that beautiful journal that's been gathering dust on your bookcase or use one of the many smartphone food tracking apps out there like MyFitnessPal or Nutrients to support your food and nutrition tracking efforts. Choose one that is most convenient to you.

Be sure to write down what you're consuming as soon as you eat it. If you wait till the end of the day, you're likely to miss something. Make sure your tracking is consistent and accurate. The more information you have, the more helpful insights you may uncover. If you're using a food journal, answer the following questions to be more accurate and detailed with your tracking:

What are you eating?

The specific food on a dish, the contents of a beverage you've consumed, and how it is prepared. Don't forget to note down the toppings, sauces, and condiments, too.

How much are you eating?

If possible, list the amount in measurable units such as cups, tablespoons, and teaspoons. If you're eating out, do your best to give a close estimate.

When are you eating?

Jot down the times you're eating too. It could help you identify problematic eating habits such as excessive snacking.

Where are you eating?

The setting where you eat may affect your diet more than you think. Do you tend to eat healthier when you're at home than when you eat out? Does driving long distances make you crave something to munch on?

What else are you doing when eating?

It pays to know if an activity triggers a response in your diet. You might find yourself constantly consuming extra helpings when you're visiting family or eating too fast when you eat while talking.

What are you feeling as you're eating? After eating?

It matters if you like what you're putting in your mouth. Does it make you feel happy or fulfilled? After an hour or two, does the food make you energized or lethargic? Alert or sluggish?

Setting Healthy Eating Goals

Always have a goal to work towards

Tracking your food intake might show you that you're already meeting your nutrition needs. Continue with these habits! But your tracking might also point out holes in your diet, so how do you set about changing those bad habits or forming new, healthier ones?

To set healthy eating goals and make them stick, make sure they are realistic and attainable. You can use the SMART model:

Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-based

Here are a few examples of setting goals based on your tracking results:

Observation: You average only one serving of vegetables per day.

What you plan to change: Eat more vegetables.

SMART Goal: Eat two servings of vegetables per day.

Observation: You eat snacks at 10 AM and 3 PM on most days. The snacks are usually high in sugar content.

What you plan to change: Snack less or eat more nutritious snacks.

SMART Goal: Replace the 10 AM snack with a healthy granola bar and the 3 PM snack with a banana.

Play with food combinations, or find new and exciting recipes. If you find that eating a heavy serving of carbohydrates makes you tired and sluggish, you can reduce carbs and increase the intake of healthy protein. Shake up your usual diet. Try eating meals that are protein-heavy, vegetable-heavy, or even fruit-heavy. Be aware of whether your meals are balanced and if your eating patterns add to the quality of your life.

Don't Become Obsessed

It is always possible to have too much of a good thing. Keep in mind that food tracking only assists you in reaching your health and fitness goals, and if you become so hung up on the exact calories and nutrition that you've lost the pleasure of choosing, preparing, and eating, then it's time to reevaluate. Cases of people taking food tracking to the extreme act as precautionary tales.

It's not about establishing strict rules for how many calories you can eat or limiting your eating to only "healthy" food. It's about paying attention to what you shop, cook, and eat. Food tracking is only a means to help us achieve the real end goal: Becoming more attuned to our bodies, changing unhealthy dietary habits, and enjoying improved well-being.

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