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Turn Your Food Journal Into A Food Prep Tool

In last week’s blog, Food Journaling Adds Accountability and Success to Weight Loss we talked about your food journal, why it is important and how to get started with MyFitnessPal, the food journal that I recommend to my clients.

This week, I want to talk a little bit more about how your food journal can also be your food prep tool.

I cannot say this enough. Plan and prep, plan and prep, plan and prep.

Planning your meals and preparing everything you can ahead of time is one of the best offenses you have in the fight against obesity.

Using your food journal to log your food makes your mindful and accountable for what you are eating. It’s a great defensive strategy. But when it comes to trying to lose weight, being on the defensive side of the fight sometimes leaves you struggling to get the results you want.

It’s time to get on the offensive, which means don’t just follow the age old “If you bite it write it” adage. Start using your food journal to plan your offensive strategy. Use it to decide what is going to be on the grocery list and what you’re going to be preparing each day.

For right now. Forget about today. Instead open MyFitnessPal and from the homepage go to “Diary” and press that little arrow button that says “Tomorrow” and start planning. Pick the meal that requires the most preparation for you and decide what you’ll be having.

I personally always start with dinner. It’s the meal I must put the most thought and creativity into, especially if I am cooking for more than just myself. Today I’ve decided that tomorrow I am going to cook pork chops with green beans and a salad.

I bake my pork chops so no need to allow for any oils there; I steam my green beans and usually just throw some spray butter on them, so no need to count for oils there either. My salad on the other hand will have some fats.  I’ll be putting some balsamic vinaigrette on and probably some goat cheese. My salad will likely include mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, cucumber and radishes as those are the fresh veggies I usually have on hand already cut up in the fridge. Great, I’ve got that all in MyFitnessPal now.

I typically make a protein shake for lunch, it’s an easy prep and take to go with me way of getting my protein and energy in on my way to work. My protein shakes usually consist of 12oz of non-fat milk, a scoop of protein powder, a cup of frozen mixed fruit, a ¼ cup of Greek yogurt and about 4-6 ice cubes. Great I’ve got that all logged in for tomorrow in MyFitnessPal now.

Next, I’m going to add in my dailies. The things I typically do every single day. I drink a lot of coffee. Like a lot of coffee. I use about 2 tablespoons of fat free half and half in each cup which typically comes to about 8-10 tablespoons per day. I put that under “snacks” in my food journal.

Let’s take a break and talk about alerts.

MyFitnessPal has this neat feature. It alerts you when you go over your goals in your food selections. For example, with everything I just entered it altered me that my sugar goal for the day (a setting it decided not me) was to stay under 45 grams of sugar.

Sugars add up fast. I had 10 grams in my berries, 12 grams in my non-fat milk, 1.5 grams in my Greek yogurt, 2 grams in my protein powder, about 10 grams in my logged vegetables, and 2.4 grams my balsamic vinaigrette. Adding my Fat Free Half and Half 8 grams of sugar knocked me over that goal of staying under 45 grams of sugar each day. Clicking on each one of these foods in my food journal told me what the sugar content of each food was and allowed me to see where all those sugars were adding up on me.

Now if this is a big deal for me, and I really want to keep my sugar and thusly carbohydrate and calorie counts lower, I might move some things around. I might decide to use almond milk instead of non-fat milk in my protein shake. Almond milk is lower in sugar, but higher in fat than non-fat milk. That quick change, because I was planning my food ahead, got my sugar intake back under the 45-gram goal. I also got a feedback alert from MyFitnessPal letting me know that almond milk is high in calcium. Kudos to me for a good swap there.

Food Journal Screen ShotNow I need to plan for the meals I have a hard time with.

I hate breakfast. Don’t love eating it. So, breakfast must be something quick, painless and effortless for me. Tomorrow I think I’ll go for a couple hard-boiled eggs. Egg yolks can kick your fats and cholesterol up real fast though. I typically throw one of the yolks out to avoid those numbers getting high on me. When I added my eggs MyFitnessPal just told me that food was high in protein. Another good choice! See how easy this can be?

Time to plan my snacks. A quick glance at my nutrition stats in MyFitnessPal let’s me know I still need some more protein. I’ll throw a protein bar in there. I also need some more veggies; 3 ounces of baby carrots and 3 ounces of celery will help me get my veggies in and give me something crunchy to snack on in the middle of the day. Even with all that I still need more healthy carbs and protein, so I’ll throw on my typical greek yogurt for dessert, add an apple as a snack and add some brown rice to my dinner selections.

That gets my stats to: 1370 Calories for the day. My caloric goal is 1350 so I’m okay with that. My carbs are at 143 for the day, a little under my goals but it’s a single digit number so I am okay with that. My fats are 1 gram under, again I’m good with this and my protein is at walloping 115 grams, 14 grams over my goal. I’ll consider that a successful day very inline with my micronutrient needs.

Now I have tomorrow’s meal planning done. I know what to eat when, and if I change anything along the way during the day it will be easy for me to account for it and see how my changes affect my  day.

I typically plan my days out like this a week in advance. I try to have all my planning done by Thursday or Friday,  print out my days and make my grocery list for the week. Then I do all my grocery shopping on Saturday and any meal prepping I can do ahead of time on Sunday to get me all prepared for the week ahead of me.

Your software platform can make a difference.

It is probably worth noting that I tend use my desktop computer or laptop computer for my pre-planning as the view on the PC version of MyFitnessPal allows me to easily see my entire day at a glance and allows me to see the amount of carbs, fats and protein, sodium and sugar in each of my food selections all at once.

The app version on your phone makes you have to hunt these numbers down in different areas and can make the process a little more time-consuming. When I can see all the details at once it’s easy for me to see where I need to adjust if the numbers at the bottom aren’t where I want them to be.

I also do it because it this way because it allows me to put two different foods in at the same time and compare them to see which one is going to get me closer to where I want to be with my micronutrient goals. For example, when I wanted to get my sugar intake down for the day it was easy for me to see that switching out my non-fat milk for almond milk would help me.

Knowing how to use your food journal in both the mobile app and website version can be the difference between loving or hating your food journaling experience. Since using your food journal to plan ahead can be a big tool in your weight loss journey I hope this little guide helps make it easier and more pleasant for you.

If you have any questions about how I use MyFitnessPal to make my food journaling life as simple as possible don’t be afraid to leave a question in the comment section below. Otherwise, happy food logging.

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Pandora Williams author of Desperately Seeking Slender is an ISSA Certified Personal Trainer and Cooper Institute Approved Wellness Coach Trained in Weight Management Strategies. Her training and coaching services are offered exclusively through GoGirl Fitness Studio.

Food Journaling Adds Accountability and Success to Weight Loss

“My favorite thing to do is fill out my food journal and track my calories and macronutrients.” I’ve never heard those words come out of a client’s mouth.

Let’s start with a basic understanding that nobody likes to keep food journals. They are tedious, time-consuming, and the action in and of itself makes us mindful and accountable for what we are putting into our bodies and let’s face it, while accountability is something many of us that struggle to lose weight need, it’s not something many of us embrace.

But if you want to lose weight, you must be willing to do some things that you ordinarily wouldn’t do. Food journals is one of them. Studies show that those that keep food journals are 85% more successful in their weight loss endeavors.

My job as a weight loss coach is to try to make this task a little easier for mt client. It’s my job to take all the things doctors and science say you should do to lose weight and guide you in how to implement those things into your life in a sustainable way.

Many, and I mean many of my clients come to me wanting a detailed meal plan.

There’s two big problems with this. First, as a Fitness Professional and Weight Loss Coach it is out of my scope of practice. I am not allowed to tell you what to eat and when to eat it. If you want that sort of detailed food plan you need to employ a Registered Dietitian or Nutritionist.

Second, providing someone with a detailed meal plan like that, in my not so humble professional opinion, doesn’t teach them the ins and outs and hows and whys of their nutrition strategy. It’s a quick fix to a long-term problem. It’s a “diet”, which if you ask me is the nastiest four-letter word in the English language. Diets don’t work for people. There is no one size fits all meal plan that everyone can miraculously follow and lose weight.

The key to weight loss and weight maintenance is long-term healthy nutrition strategies.

That is why my nutrition strategy is to focus on education, implementation, and sustainability. I work with my clients to help them come up with their own meal plans, because in the end, the only meal plan that is going to work for you long-term is one you like and the one you will stay consistent with. For my clients, that means you pick the foods in nutrition wardrobe and you decide how those foods are prepared.

I can make it a little easier, I can give you tips and tricks that will help you, recommend some items you perhaps don’t know about, but in the end, you’re the one that has to spend the time doing the grocery shopping, doing the food prep, and eating the food.

Now that we’ve got that all cleared up and we know what I can do, what I can’t do, what I will do and what I won’t do, let’s talk about how to make your food journaling life easier.

Start with a reputable food journaling program.

Personally, I use MyFitnessPal. I’ve tried other food journaling programs and apps, and I find this one to be the easiest to navigate and use. You can use any program you want, but if you are going to follow my little food journalism blog tutorial series, I’d recommend using MyFitnessPal so that you can follow along with my suggestions.

Getting started:

When you first launch MyFitnessPal, it is going to ask you for a bunch of information. Your height, weight, activity level, goal weight, how many pounds you want to lose each week. It will give you a choice between 1 or 2 pounds a week which is what is considered “safe and effective” weight loss. Selecting 1 pound a week is going to cause MyFitnessPal to put your caloric intake at the higher end of the spectrum, allowing you to eat more each day while selecting 2 pounds a week will put you at the lower end of the spectrum, limiting your caloric intake each day to create bigger calorie deficits and allow you to lose more weight.

Most of my clients choose the lose 2 pounds a week setting. But if you get into your first week of food journaling and you feel like you are starving all day long, you might want to move your settings to 1 pound a week until your body gets acclimated to a lower calorie intake then it is currently used to.

Now it’s time to set your macro nutrient goals.

There are certain rules when it comes to how many grams of carbohydrates, fats and protein you consume in a day. Your body needs a certain amount of each of those things to function properly. To get to these settings in MyFitnessPal click the drop-down menu and select “Goals” then under “Nutrition Goals” select “Calorie and Macronutrient Goals”

The Default goals in this area are going to be Carbohydrates 50%, Fats 30% and Protein 20% – because MyFitnessPal is sort of already assuming that since you want to lose weight, you are going to limit your carbohydrate and fat intakes and puts them on the lower end of the RDA standard recommended distribution ranges.

The RDA ranges for carbohydrate intakes are 45%-65%, fats are 20-30% and protein are 10-35%.

Unless you’ve met with a dietician or nutritionist that suggests a different macro distribution plan specific for your body and dietary needs, you need to stay within these ranges.

My suggestion for how you select your ranges would be to consider the types of foods you are going to be focused on eating the most and raise that number. Then take the types of foods you are going to be eating the least and lower that number.

For example, as a bariatric patient, I follow a high protein diet and my recommended protein intake is between 80-120 grams of protein each day. To get my goals set to meet that protein requirement I set my proteins at 30% instead of 20% and then I remove 5% from both carbohydrates and fats bringing my carbs to the lowest recommended amount of 45% and my fats down to 25% each day.

Nobody is Perfect. Please Remember that.

Once you set these goals, at the end of the day if you are striving for perfection in your macronutrient distribution you are going to drive yourself crazy. I rarely have a day that I don’t have a red number somewhere in my food journal signifying that I went over my goal for carbohydrate and fat intake.

I personally don’t beat myself up over that too much. If I went over in my carbohydrates or fats because I elected to have some low-fat dairy, nuts or seeds, or because I chose to make a protein shake with almond milk instead of nonfat milk that morning, I shrug it off.

But if I went over in my carbs or fats because I went through the drive through for breakfast or went out dinner and had pizza and beer or indulged in some no sugar added cheesecake while trying to lose weight, I give a little more credence to that red number that is glaring at me. If I only do that sort of thing once a week or so, big deal, but if I am ending each day with red numbers because of food selections that are not in line with my goals, then I can’t be surprised if the scale isn’t going in the direction I want it to.

My long-term rule of thumb is to focus on meeting my protein goals, and only worry about my carbs and fat if those red numbers are double digits.

Next week in part two of this series, I’ll talk about logging food in your food journal and how I use my food journal as a method of planning ahead. But for now, I recommend that you open up that food journal and start playing with it, familiarize yourself with it. Log your food for a week and see how close you are to your macronutrient goals each day.

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Pandora Williams author of Desperately Seeking Slender is an ISSA Certified Personal Trainer and Cooper Institute Approved Wellness Coach Trained in Weight Management Strategies. Her training and coaching services are offered exclusively through GoGirl Fitness Studio.
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Author: Pandora Williams

Author of Desperately Seeking Slender

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