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Meal Tracking - Worth The Effort?

by Bartley Creasman |

I'll be honest, "meal tracking" feels like it sucks the very soul out of eating, which is probably the last thing you need when you're trying to improve your diet. Images of a calculator hovering over plates of fruit and vegetables (usually with a tape measure lying around for some reason) have turned us off to the idea of keeping track of what we're putting in our bodies (ignorance is bliss when it comes to admitting that ice cream...). But does it actually work? Does writing down that you had ice cream (or pizza, or the good stuff too) lead to better results?

The research points to a very clear "yes," and you don't even need to count calories (although for some people this can be helpful). One study concluded that those who simply kept a food journal were more likely to keep weight off, while another review of studies concluded that those who keep track of their intake lost nearly twice as much as those who did not (where both groups were dieting and exercising).

My own personal experience with tracking meals was very eye-opening. When I looked back at the week, I realized that the simple awareness of what you're actually putting in your body forces you to think about it and see the bigger picture, not just mindlessly go from one meal to the next. And this awareness can be a key to make the necessary changes to improve (admitting the ice cream helped me adjust for and around it, basically). It was difficult not be judgmental of myself for giving an honest account of what I was actually eating - for some this can be the hardest part. Meal tracking is NOT about inducing shame or negative self-judgment, or trying to have the perfect diet (remember the 80/20 rule). Instead, it allows you to take a clear picture so you can make the changes that fit best with your lifestyle and goals.

We're not ones to shun scientific research, so we've created a simple meal tracker (image below, link to downloadable and interactive version here) to help bring awareness to those who want to use this tool. It's very un-complicated, as there's no calorie counting involved, just simple spaces to track your meals. If you've hit a plateau or are struggling to reach your goals, try it for a week and see for yourself if those scientists were right.

We used this Lifehacker article as a resource for our blog post.