Food Logging

If you’d like to raise your awareness about what you’re actually eating and how it affects you, food logging is a simple and effective way to do this.

Six weeks ago I decided to start keeping a log of everything I ate in a small notebook. I also keep track of calories. I wanted to raise my awareness of what I was eating and how calorically dense each meal was.

Computing the calories is easy. I use a small kitchen scale to weigh quantities of foods, and then I just ask a nearby smart device what the calories are. Usually Google or Alexa can give the correct response to a question like, “How many calories are in 200g of strawberries?” And if not then I can just look it up online.

Once I’ve already figured out the calories for a given meal, I don’t have to recalculate it, so this gets easier over time.

I know that some people use apps for this purpose. I prefer to use the small notebook and a pen.

I also don’t worry about perfection, so sometimes I just guesstimate calories, especially for water-rich veggies which don’t have many calories anyway. If I’m off by +/- 50 calories at the end of the day, that isn’t a big deal. I want to keep the tracking simple.

In the six weeks that I’ve been logging, I lost 8.2 pounds without really trying, so about 1.4 pounds per week. I felt no deprivation, didn’t skip meals, and always ate when I was hungry. I could tell that I was eating less food and making slightly different choices though.

The daily logging helped me see how satisfying each meal was relative to its calories. While calories alone aren’t a perfect measure, they’re a useful data point. Just seeing the calories connected to each meal and reflecting on my satisfaction after eating helped me make some simple changes.

I learned that large green smoothies don’t give me much enduring satisfaction. They’re tasty and I enjoy them, but the satiety doesn’t last long. It’s easy to make a 500+ calorie smoothie, drink it, and feel hungry an hour later. I might feel equally satisfied by eating two large peaches, which would only be 140 calories total. Or I’ll make a simple shake with a banana, 10g of walnuts, some maca powder, ice, and water for about 200 calories.

Similarly, I learned that I can easily make a 700-calorie salad, but I might actually be more satisfied with a bowl of brown rice and steamed broccoli for half the calories.

I’ve been eating far fewer bananas lately, probably just one per day on average. I’m eating a lot more peaches, strawberries, blueberries, apricots, and clementines. A couple of apricots makes a nice little snack for only 50 calories.

Peaches have been one of my favorite foods lately. A ripe peach or two is so delicious and satisfying relative to its calories. I’ve eaten as many as five in a day, which is still only 350 calories. I also love combinations like a bowl of sliced peach with strawberries or blueberries. Steel cut oats with peaches, blueberries, or strawberries is my most common breakfast these days.

I’ve also learned to be very conservative with oils and other fats, which can be nice for extra satiety by slowing the digestion of a meal. Adding 4-6g of coconut oil to a bowl of oatmeal adds 35-55 calories, but it makes the meal feel more satisfying. Same goes for adding 1 tsp of hemp seeds or 6-10g of walnuts to a modest smoothie or shake. A little bit of added fat here and there can be a nice addition, but it’s really easy to add extra fat to a meal and not make it any more satisfying.

I still eat salads often, but I greatly limit the sources of added fat like avocados and olive oil. In the past I would often have half of an avocado on a salad, and now I just have a quarter or skip the avocado entirely.

The tracking is super easy and doesn’t feel tedious at all. Actually I enjoy doing it because it’s an interesting learning experience. Doing this is a simple habit now, so I’ll continue doing for more weeks ahead as I keep learning how different trade-offs affect me.

Another thing I’ve learned from this is that I usually get hungrier on days when I don’t exercise. I go for a morning run 5-6 days per week, which burns 700-800 calories before breakfast, according to my Apple Watch. On those days I’ll typically eat around 2100 calories. But when I don’t exercise, I’m more likely to eat 2300-2400 calories. Again, I’m not trying to hold back on food intake, so I eat when I’m hungry. I just found it interesting that running in the morning doesn’t make me want or need more food; I actually feel satisfied with less on those days.

I’ve also learned that if I come in relatively low on calories one day, I’ll naturally want to eat more the next day. Having a lower calorie day will especially make me feel hungrier the next morning. So I haven’t seen any value in deliberately trying to cut calories by eating less.

Overall this experiment is helping me see that more food doesn’t necessarily mean more satiety. I actually feel more satisfied with my daily meals now than I did before this experiment, perhaps because I’m paying more attention to satisfaction and thinking about that when I prepare meals. I’ve also removed any potential justification for not eating when I’m hungry.

I’ve done a lot of different diet experiments over the years, including those involving raw foods, juicing, intermittent fasting, and water fasting, and this has to be the easiest one I’ve ever done. It would be no sweat to keep doing this for several months since it only takes a few extra minutes per day and doesn’t involve any kind of deprivation or sacrifice.

I’d recommend trying this for yourself for several weeks if you’d like to raise your awareness in this area and especially if you’d like to lose some weight with relative ease. Lately I’ve heard people saying that they’ve been gaining weight (against their wishes) while spending more time at home due to the coronavirus pandemic. This may be an easy way to counter that effect while also learning more about your body’s responses.

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Steve Pavlina

Steve Pavlina is an American self-help author, motivational speaker and entrepreneur. He is the author of the web site and the book Personal Development for Smart People.

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