Jill Koegel is a registered dietician based in Omaha. She blogs every Wednesday for LiveWellNebraska. Read more from Jill here.
No matter what your health and nutrition goals are, writing down what you eat in a day can be an eye-opening experience.
By simply jotting down your food intake, you can learn a lot about your body and the reasons you eat when you do and what you do. It makes us more aware of our choices and can be well worth the time it takes.
Keeping a food diary has long been recommended by weight-loss experts as a way to decrease calorie intake, increase energy levels and lose weight. Doing so, in conjunction with a program that calculates and analyzes the data, is a quick and easy way to get some great information. Instead of calculating everything yourself, simply enter some info and let the computer do the math.
Go ahead, record for a day and see what you learn!
Popular programs include:
• Livestrong.com (free)
• Myfitnesspal.com (free)
• Fitday.com (free)
• BodyMedia (requires a monthly fee and involves using an armband to calculate calorie burn. It also includes a food diary program.)
When using a tool that calculates food intake, you'll get an analysis of what type of calories you consume. "Analysis" can throw back a lot of information, so here's what you should focus on.
You'll be looking at the number of calories and type of foods you're consuming. Calories come from carbohydrates, protein and fat. Your body's preferred distribution of these calories depends on your age, gender, activity level and amount of muscle. For the general population, about 45-55 percent of calories should come from carbohydrates, 15-30 percent from protein and 20-35 percent from fat. Your food choices obviously influence these numbers.
At the end of the day, most programs will provide a pie chart of some sort, explaining the amount of carbohydrates, protein and fat you ate. If your numbers are far from the ranges above, look deeper. Determine what foods are having the greatest impact, positively or negatively.
But however important food numbers are, they mean nothing if you don't know how many calories you burn. So use the "calories burned" tool on any of the websites above to get an estimate. But be careful – these tools can't possibly know exactly how hard you exercise or just how sedentary your desk job really is. So think of all the numbers as an estimate, not an exact science.
Then determine how close your consumption total is to your burn total. For weight maintenance, the goal is to make those numbers even. If you have further questions, consult a registered dietitian for help.