How to track my food intake (or simply being mindful about it, which is how I prefer to think about it) without being obsessive was a skill that took me a very long time to learn.
These days, I know what I eat and I know how much, more or less.
I could use this method to try to lose weight – which is what my clients and the women who use my program Weight Loss Unlocked do – but I am not trying to do that, so I don’t. I choose to instead simply be mindful, and use this information to help me figure out what foods, meal times, quantities, and the like, work best for me.
For most of my life, I panicked about every single thing I ate. I weighed and measured, and I critiqued, and I binged, and I purged, and I cried.
Sometimes it wasn’t all that dramatic, but I was still unhealthy and unhappy with the way I was eating.
A big part of learning how to do better was to learn to accept my body. This was huge. If you hate your body, it’s pretty hard to eat peacefully. Here’s a recent post I wrote about my cellulite – 5 Reasons I love about My Cellulite – that might help you on that journey.
You might also want to check out my best-selling self-loving manifesto, Sexy by Nature, which is what most of my audience swears is my best resource in that regard.
There’s a lot of other important changes you can make, too, to help you achieve your weight loss or other health-maintenance goals without going crazy.
Here are the most helpful ones:
How to Track Food Intake 1. Have the right mindset
The most important aspect of any plan you have around food is the mindset you have about it. You will never be able to be happy and peaceful on a mealplan if you are anxious about it. You will also never be able to sustain such a plan.
In order to healthfully sustain any eating plan, you have to be two things: you have to be forgiving, and you have to be open to change.
You have to be forgiving because you are human. Some days will not be “perfect.” In fact, I encourage you to throw the whole notion of “perfect” in this sense completely out the window. Having a meal plan doesn’t mean strictly adhering to a set of numbers. It instead means setting guidelines, and choosing to do your best to meet them as much as possible.
Your body and your psychology are inevitably subject to change. If you have a rough day, forgive yourself and let yourself deviate. If things are stressful, prioritize the ease of your life and your mental health. Of course you want to choose good adherence as much as possible, but it is totally okay when you don’t.
That way, you can keep going on your good path all the more smoothly and sucessfully. When you don’t beat yourself up for small missteps, you won’t be derailed by self-punishing thoughts and disordered behavior.
You have to open to change because you may find that your plan needs changing! Say you decide to eat a certain amount of food at each meal. But what if you are still hungry at the end of the day? Then you have to change your plan. It is not a good idea to be overly restrictive. That can (and in fact almost always inevitably does) lead to increased food intake and bingeing in the long run.
Let your plan change with the course of your experiences. After a few days eating a certain way, evaluate how it is working for you. Add or subtract food, change meal times, or alter macronutrient ratios however you need to in order to stay loyal to your plan and enrich your health.
How to Track Food Intake 2. Prioritize health
Speaking of health, it is of the utmost importance that you prioritize your health over and above weight loss. Of course, weight loss is a reasonable and good goal – I like it so much that I in fact have a whole program dedicated to super-charging weight loss on paleo. (You can check it out here.)
When you make sure your health is the number one priority, you may in fact speed up weight loss. This is because the healthiest metabolism for you is going to be your fastest metabolism. The healthier you are, the more efficient your thyroid gland, the more balanced your hormone production, and the sharper and healthier your insulin and leptin levels.
Focus on your health and energy with your weight loss plan, and let the weight loss be a great (and important) secondary effect to troubleshoot. Health and energy will be great ways to guide your decision making (do you feel good after a meal? full enough? energetic? is your skin clear? does your gut feel good?). All of these things will help you craft meals that are awesome for your health and metabolism.
This will also help you from becoming obsessive about small deviations throughout the day. It’s not about the minute-to-minute details. It’s about the long-term arc of your health and life.
How to Track Food Intake 3. Keep ballpark figures, not exact amounts
One of the best things I ever did for my mental health was to stop tracking my food intake to the minute detail, and instead to start thinking in generalities.
Nowadays, I think: “I had a few servings of carbs and a few servings of fat with breakfast, and that felt sufficient.” “I had plenty of carbs with breakfast so I don’t need as many at lunch.” “I ate two servings of protein this morning, which was just the right amount I wanted.”
Think in handfuls, not numbers; in cups, not grams; in bowls, not quarts. Don’t weigh your food. Don’t measure. Just ballpark guess.
Or, if you insist on weighing your food, give yourself a few weeks of weighing and then see if you can start to simply ballpark and guess without putting the food on the scale. This will help you reduce the amount of obsession you feel when you eat.
You will know that the amount is roughly right, and that’s enough for your health and weight. The more and more you can inch away from scales and measurements, the less and less you will obsess. I cannot overstate that fact. It’s so important I will say it again.
The more and more you can inch away from scales and measurements, the less and less you will obsess.
You will see that it’s not necessary to be obsessively tracking. It really isn’t. You only need to prove it to yourself by trying the experiment yourself.
How to Track Food Intake 4. Don’t think in terms of calories: think in terms of servings
In the last section I mentioned that I think roughly in terms of serving sizes. I don’t necessarily mean the serving size that you might find on a nutrition label. It could be that – but instead I have a different plan.
This is my plan:
I use different ballpark serving sizes for “dense” carbohydrates, protein, and fat.
For “dense carbohydrates” (which are fruits and starches), one piece of fruit or starch is roughly one serving. One banana is a serving. One large apple is a serving. For small fruits like grapes, berries, and cherries, one cup is a serving.
For starchy vegetables, one diced cup is also a serving.
For rice and quinoa, one half of a cup is a serving.
That’s pretty easy, right?
For the other carbohydrates – which are vegetables – one large cup or small bowl is a serving. Broccoli spears, lettuce, diced peppers… all one serving in that size of container.
For protein, 25 grams, or the equivalent of one can of tuna, or a piece of protein roughly the size of your palm, is one serving.
For fat, one tablespoon is one serving. That’s one tablespoon of olive oil, coconut oil, ghee, or any other cooking oil. For animal fats that you cook on the animal (like bacon), use your best guess as to how much fat would be the equivalent of one tablespoon.
And that’s all you have to know to keep track of your macronutrients! Every single serving, from carbs to protein to fat, is roughly (though I know not exactly) 100 calories.
Some are slightly above 100 calories, some slightly below. When you eat a variety of foods this averages out, and you can peacefully know that you probably average about 100 calories per serving.
You are not obsesively keeping track of this, but you are doing your best to be mindful of the guidelines.
Then, choose how many “servings” of all of the things to eat every day.
I make my personal recommendations for how many servings you should be eating – depending on your health and goals – in my weight loss program Weight Loss Unlocked.
Some people do better with more carb servings than fat, and some others do better with more fat than carbs. Just about all women should have 2-4 servings of protein a day.
In general, you will want to eat at minimum eighteen total servings a day, and hopefully more like twenty. If you are an athlete, or even a “regular person” on workout days, it will be more than that.
Pick a number of servings and give it a shot.
If you feel hungry still before your next meal or at the end of the day, then you know you need to adjust and add more. If you feel overly full, then you can dial it back some until you find your happy medium.
How to Track Food Intake 5. Let your days fluctuate around an average
The cornerstone of this food tracking plan is averages. Don’t be obsessive about hitting a target every day. Instead, let your intake fluctuate based on the flux of daily life.
Some days you may be somewhat under (but not too much please!!). Some days you will be slightly over.
Some days maybe you will fluctuate a lot. But that’s okay because we already talked about how forgiving you are going to be. 🙂
This will reduce your obsession because it will help you be more natural, forgiving, and carefree with your food tracking. You will be able to keep track, but you won’t have to worry about hitting a specific target all of the time.
You will learn to trust yourself, and to focus more on long-term health than short term punishments.
How to Track Food Intake 6. Be realistic about how much food you need
Don’t trick yourself into thinking you can eat less and still function healthfully than you actually can.
And excessive restriction will backfire. It is pretty much a guarantee.
So be realistic about how much food you need. It’s not 1200 calories. I can promise you that. It is not 1500 either. It might be 1800. That’s the lowest I recommend (so 18 servings). It’s probably more, like 20 or 22.
Julia Ross in fact argues in her that women of reproductive age should be eating at least 2300 calories a day!
Listen to your body and your hunger signals. That will be your best guide, and will help you prevent any problems you may have with obsesion that comes from food deprivation. The better you feed yourself, the fewer biological mechanisms you have trying to increase your appetite and get you to eat.
How to Track Food Intake 7. Be willing to deviate and change the plan
I mentioned this already but it bears repeating: your plan will inevitably change.
This is a good thing, because it means that you are getting into better tune with your body. It means that you are listening better, providing better nutrients, and learning how to best meet your body’s needs.
You will be doing this all the while keeping track of how much you are eating and choosing to stick to your health or weight loss guidelines.
Remember that your whole food journey is about providing your body with the nutrients it needs to heal itself. Listen, and make changes where appropriate. Have patience for yourself while you experiment and tweak and adjust. You will find better and better habits for yourself the more willing you are to work with your body.
How to Track Food Intake 8. Love yo’ body the way it is
The more you respect, cherish, and love your body no matter it’s size (or health status), the less obsessive you will be about your food intake. You don’t need to be a stick, or to look any particular way at all, in order to be worthwhile.
You don’t need to have a particular body size to be sexy.
You don’t need to obsess over food in order to be beautiful.
The sexiest, most beautiful, most empowering thing you can do is own and love the skin you’re in. This doesn’t mean you have to stop trying to change and work with your body type. Change is good. I like change. But it does mean that you can embrace and appreciate your body while you are on your way.
To get the self-loving, ass-kicking jump start you need to feel your best, all the thoughts and tricks I use (and I am the most confident and self-loving) is in my best selling book, Sexy by Nature.
You may also want to check out this post I recently wrote about cellulite, and why I love mine so much.
Wrapping it up
I employ these 8 steps to great effect both with myself and with my clients. And this is really saying something! A lot of my clients come to me with super obsessive and restrictive behaviors. I personally exhibited them too… right down to calculating the very last grape.
Nowadays I am so peaceful about keeping track of what I eat. It’s because I don’t obsess over the small stuff… and I love myself, and I focus on my health.
I am also able to juggle carbohydrates and fat levels easily because of this plan, and how I utilize serving sizes.
This is the plan that I use in Weight Loss Unlocked, the one that thousands of women now use to peacefully be mindful about how much they are eating. I definitely go into more detail there on weight loss specifics, but I think what I describe here is enough to get you started on non-obsessive food tracking.
For more on how to implement the plan and other weight loss tips I have, check out the program here.
What do you think? Am I crazy? Do you track your food intake? Why, and how? Is it all about weight loss, or is it about health, or nutrient status, or adhering to a healing protocol? OR do you not keep track at all, and that’s the best thing in the world for you?!