The food I eat isn't really that healthy. I am aware of it and I know that it is something that has to change. However, I'm not the kind of person that wants to adhere to a specific diet or rules, I just want to try and have general healthy eating habits.

As a result, I decided to try tracking what I eat for a week. My initial mentality would be that by tracking myself, I would be more inclined to eat better food so that I would be able to record that food, kind of like an extra motivation. I noticed that when I did an exercise log when I tried bullet journaling, I was more inclined to exercise so that I would be able to fill up my log in my journal, so I was hoping that tracking my food consumption would do something similar: encourage healthy eating habits.

However, while I had my own motivations, I was curious as to what other people thought regarding tracking food consumption.

According to Bon Appetit's healthyish, keeping a food log can make you more mindful of your food intake, potentially double a person's weight loss, understand what's making you feel the way that you feel, and just have a bit more accountability in what you eat.

Read more: Healthyish - How to Keep a Food Journal Without Losing Your Mind

In order to track my eating habits, I didn't quite know where to start. Should I just write down everything that I ate and leave it at that? Or did I need to record all the nutrition facts of everything? Should I make an excel document? A general list?

Overwhelmed, I realized that there was an easier solution. There are apps for literally anything nowadays, so I turned to the app store and found the app, Lifesum, that can track your diet. Because I'm cheap and I didn't pay for the full capabilities, I had a very limited view of what I was eating. I could mostly only see the calorie consumption, but I couldn't really see the breakdowns of what was in what I ate (aka how much fiber, saturated vs. unsaturated fats, sodium, etc.) so it was slightly limited.

what I realized throughout the week

On the first day, I also found myself surprised that I ate more than the recommended calorie consumption. The app generate a recommended calorie consumption, I'm assuming it's based off of your age, height, and weight, and mine suggested 1727 daily calories. On the first day of the week, I ate 2093 calories, which was quite a bit over the suggested amount. That really surprised me because generally when I go out to eat with people, people tell me that I didn't eat a lot and I often eat the least out of the group.

I Tracked What I Ate for a Week
The Lifesum app

Granted, it could be that there were difficulties tracking the calories, but nevertheless I felt more aware of how much food I was putting into my body because I found myself making an effort to eat a little bit less the next day. Moreover, I felt more motivated to exercise, mostly because when you exercise I a) get to document it, which makes me feel good about myself, and b) the app increases the amount of calories that you should eat (because you burned some), thus allowing myself to feel better about eating more.
penne with basil, tomato sauce, and ricotta

As a result, I felt like I was hyper-aware of my calorie consumption. I probably wasn't even looking much at how healthy the food I was eating was, I felt myself really zoning in on calories only, which isn't what I intended to occur in this experience. While it was good that I was becoming more aware of the possibilities of overeating and taking measures to prevent it, it felt wrong that I was focusing so much on calories when there were so many other indicators of a healthy diet.

However, the good thing was that in order to cut back on calories, I found myself actively avoiding having extra sweets such as sugary drinks and ice cream.

During the week, I was craving ice cream, but I didn't eat it because I didn't want to have to document the ice cream, thus increasing my calorie count. Therefore it was beneficial in discouraging unhealthy eating and indulgent treats.

On the other hand, a downside would also be that I felt a little confused regarding the calories. There were some days that the app stated that I had already overeaten, but I still found myself to be hungry. I'm not sure if it's because I was simply used to overeating, but I usually use a rule of thumb that if I'm hungry, I should eat. I think that it may be due to the types of food that I was eating rather than the amount. There are some kinds of food that keep you full longer (protein, complex carbohydrates) and some that you can burn faster (simple sugars) and I think that is something that I didn't really take into account much throughout the week.

issues that I encountered

On the first day, I realized that it was quite difficult to accurately track the exact amount of calories. I had gone out for breakfast with some friends, meaning that I had eaten something that I did not know the exact nutrition facts for. It was also difficult to gauge the exact amount of food that I had consumed. Yes, I had eaten 3 pancakes, but the size of those pancakes were relative. How many grams or ounces had I eaten? I wasn't really sure.

personal pizza topped with sausage and basil
Another problem that I encountered while recording what I ate was that it was difficult to pinpoint the extra calories by sauces, seasoning, and other additional aspects, especially for restaurant food. For example, I could record that I ate grilled chicken, but I didn't know exactly what was on the chicken because I didn't have the nutrition facts from the restaurant. As a result, the tracking that I did in terms of the calorie, protein, fat, and carb intake, is not the most reliable, but rather it is simply an estimate.

Additionally, I found that the app was a little deceiving. The Lifesum app gives each of your meals and the things that you eat a rating. Because I have the free version of the app, I do not know what goes into that rating.

The app ranked my breakfast of chocolate chip cakes as the best rating. I'm not sure if it's because the calorie amount was right or it thought that chocolate chip pancakes were healthy, but surely they're not very healthy. I knew that when I ate them and I was expecting the app to be mad at me for eating something so indulgent, which is why I was so confused by the rating. I noticed that issue pop up more times throughout the week, but I'm not going to go too in depth with that because this isn't a post about the app, but rather the process of tracking what I ate.

Lastly, it was difficult to really gauge how many calories I had burned. I usually just clicked the full body workout option when the app asked me to describe my workout, but a problem was that the only way to track it would be through how long your workout was. I couldn't document if it was cardio, strength training, high intensity, low intensity, and other indicators.

the takeaway

I've done quite a few "lifestyle challenges" on this blog before and one of the most difficult things of them is often getting into the habit. This was the problem when I tried bullet journaling and meditating. However, this habit of tracking my food was one of the easiest changes. I found myself easily remembering to track my food and I even looked forward to it, especially when I ate food that was healthy. Even after the week was over, I still found myself itching to note down what I ate. It easily became a habit.

I think that what I realized is that a healthy diet is quite complex. It's a difficult balance of eating the right amount of protein, carbs, and fats, as well as eating the right kinds of protein, carbs, and fats, along with the calories as a whole. I wish that while I was tracking the app I could become more aware of more specific things like fiber consumption and complex carbohydrates vs. simple ones, because I think that those are also important indicators of a healthy diet.

should you track what you eat?

I think that it is a very personal decision. Going into this, I didn't want to be the kind of person that became obsessive about calories and dieting, which is why I was a little nervous about beginning to track my diet. I never want to be that kind of person. I enjoy eating, I am not looking to lose any weight, and I am frankly uninterested in dieting. However, that doesn't mean that I don't want to eat healthier for my own body's sake.

Self care is more than just putting on a face mask and lighting candles, it's about taking proper care of your mind and body – and what you eat affects your body. 

As a result, I think that I am gaining a new appreciation for having a food log and may even continue using one. It provided me with some interesting realizations and a new outlook on food tracking. For example, I learned that I am overeating, which is something that I hadn't even realized before. I felt more motivated to exercise, which is always a good thing. I was more aware of the kinds of food that I was eating and felt excited to eat healthier with the extra incentive of getting to record it with pride.

Throughout this week, I have definitely seen the benefits of tracking your food consumption. 

I think that it is worth giving a try if you are interested in the following and take it with a grain of salt. I've had quite a few issues throughout the week that indicate that there can be some issues with the app and the tracking method that you use, I think you just have to be aware of that. While the app might not think that chocolate chip pancakes probably aren't the healthiest eating option, I am aware of that and I understand that. As a result, it's important to also be aware that there are many indicators of the health of certain foods beyond just the calories.

At the end of the day, if you choose to track what you eat, it is not impossible to feel the benefits and discover a newfound mindfulness of what you eat. You just have to understand that the data does not define you and also be aware that the data is an estimate, not the end-all be-all.

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