What to Track: The Basics
Here’s what to look for when analyzing your own intake.
A food journal is a rich source of insight on your feelings and behaviors.
Here are some things to look for as you gather data about yourself and your eating routines in a food journal.
For everything you’re eating (and drinking), the basics to track are:
- What are you eating?
- How much are you eating?
- How are you eating?
- When are you eating?
How detailed will you be?
Journaling takes a dedicated amount of time, attention, and effort. Make the practice fit your lifestyle, skills, and goals.
Find the level of specificity that’s right for you. It’s more important to have some useful data than a pile of unhelpful data. It’s more important to have some consistent data, than a lot of irregular data.
Move from more general to more precise.
For each tracking category, only be as specific as necessary for your skills and goals. If you’re looking to make some general change in food choices, while making few other changes in your routines, be more general in your tracking. If you have very specific goals and food changes are a top priority, be more detailed in your tracking.
1. What are you eating?
Food and nutrient tracking
You can more generally track what foods you’re eating by taking pictures or describing meals. For example, tracking “turkey and mayo sandwich” or “veggie omelette”. That level of general tracking will get you and your coach a ballpark understanding of what foods you like and are available to you.
If you want to be more precise, experiment with tracking the specific individual ingredients. For example, rather than “veggie omelette”, track each portion size of eggs, cheese, meat, veg, etc.
What level of specificity works for you and your goals?
Food quality tracking
Pay attention to the choices you’re making on food quality.
For example, eggs in fast food sandwiches won’t give the same richness of nutrients as fresh free-range eggs. Nutrients in bottled green drinks aren’t equal to fresh veg and fruit. Cereal and cereal bars aren’t equal to whole steel cut oats.
How processed are your food choices?
If food quality is a change that you’d like to focus on, track those details in your journal.
2. How much are you eating?
What food counts? Everything.
For example, you just had dinner and are cleaning up. You have a few more bites here and there as you tidy up the plates.
How much did you actually eat in that meal? All of it, of course, including the bonus bites at the end. Over the course of a day or weeks, it’s easy for small, untracked bites to add up to entire, untracked meals.
To get your goals, become aware of what you’re actually eating, in total.
Your outcomes will match your actual behavior, the accumulation of all small actions including real measurement sizes. To your body, everything counts. You can trick your thoughts, but you can’t trick your body.
Be careful of sneaky small snacks and drinks.
How much is one serving?
Serving sizes are constantly variable, depending on the labels, measuring tools, and measurer.
One cup of pasta or tablespoon of nut butter is small.
To get consistent and useful data, use a reliable form of measurement.
If you’re looking for general, easy, dependable tracking, use your hands for measuring guides.
If you have very specific goals and more time for tracking the details, experiment with a kitchen scale and gram measurements of single-ingredient foods.
Then, track how portion sizes match you, and your hunger.
After you have a reliable external measure for foods, track how much you ate according to internal hunger signals. Meaning, how much did you eat according to how it felt?
Did you eat to 80% full?
Or were you still hungry and unsatisfied? Or over-full?
3. How are you eating?
Are you eating slowly and mindfully?
When we sit down, slow down, pay attention, and savor our food, we enjoy that food more, digest it better, and are more likely to eat the right amount for physical needs.
Could you slow down just a tiny bit more? Are you eating slowly at all your meals?
Breathe. Relax. Smile. Enjoy. Tune in to your stomach.
Stay checked in and present.
To track this metric, note in your journal whether you were stressed, settled, or distracted when you ate.
If you want to get more specific, time your meal to track exactly how slowly you’re eating.
With these metrics, you and your coach will be able to see patterns about when it’s easier to eat calmly, and what potential stressors are impacting you.
4. When are you eating?
For a general idea, note the approximate time of day. For example, early morning, noon, midday, evening …
To get more precise, note the hour. For even more precision, note the exact start time and end time.
How much time are you dedicating to loving and enjoying food every day?