“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{6e74c841b8f362d8aea590534016dc569fd3035eeb9e530df8846b42682c6656} 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{6e74c841b8f362d8aea590534016dc569fd3035eeb9e530df8846b42682c6656}, Fats 30{6e74c841b8f362d8aea590534016dc569fd3035eeb9e530df8846b42682c6656} and Protein 20{6e74c841b8f362d8aea590534016dc569fd3035eeb9e530df8846b42682c6656} – 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{6e74c841b8f362d8aea590534016dc569fd3035eeb9e530df8846b42682c6656}-65{6e74c841b8f362d8aea590534016dc569fd3035eeb9e530df8846b42682c6656}, fats are 20-30{6e74c841b8f362d8aea590534016dc569fd3035eeb9e530df8846b42682c6656} and protein are 10-35{6e74c841b8f362d8aea590534016dc569fd3035eeb9e530df8846b42682c6656}.

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{6e74c841b8f362d8aea590534016dc569fd3035eeb9e530df8846b42682c6656} instead of 20{6e74c841b8f362d8aea590534016dc569fd3035eeb9e530df8846b42682c6656} and then I remove 5{6e74c841b8f362d8aea590534016dc569fd3035eeb9e530df8846b42682c6656} from both carbohydrates and fats bringing my carbs to the lowest recommended amount of 45{6e74c841b8f362d8aea590534016dc569fd3035eeb9e530df8846b42682c6656} and my fats down to 25{6e74c841b8f362d8aea590534016dc569fd3035eeb9e530df8846b42682c6656} 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.


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.