There are two ways you can track what you are eating; by establishing a plan (and sticking to it), or by journaling as you go.
Some people like using diet tracking software or websites. They just plug in the foods they’ve eaten during the day – and make sure they stick within a calorie limit.I’ve always found this too time-consuming and prefer setting up a plan in advance. Sometimes it’s handy to plan a bunch of different diet plans and simply rotate between them.
Who is this for?
This style of food planning can help if you are:
- The sort of person that plans your finances using a spreadsheet.
- Looking to maintain or lose weight. If you find that when you “wing it” (i.e. no food planning) you start gaining weight – then this approach can help. Having a plan to eyeball from time to time can help to gauge your daily eating.
- Fine with a calorie-controlled diet, are familiar with macro-nutrient ratios, and like repetition.
If you are a person that likes plenty of variety and gourmet meals – then this probably isn’t for you.
Here’s what you do.
- Load up your spreadsheet software of choice
- Choose some of your foods you are going to be eating and list down nutritional details from the label. For items that don’t have a label — consult an on-line reference such as Nutrition Data, CalorieLab or Diet Facts (good for harder to find items).
- List the grams of carbohydrate, protein and fat.
- At the bottom of the list — sum the grams and create a new row called “Calories”. In this row multiply total carbohydrate grams by 4, protein grams by 4 and fat grams by 9. This effectively gives you the total Calories for the day.
You can mix in different foods or delete them. Printout the plans and stick them on your fridge. It’s not so much that you need to follow them to the letter — but you get a handle on how much you are eating compared with a plan.
The biggest issue is eating out – whether restaurant, cafe, bakery, deli, or whatever. This type of plan suits if you are going to make or take your lunch to work.
Taking it Further
I’ve included a formula for calculating daily calories on the sample spreadsheet (note that this is a guideline only). This allows you to alter variables such as current weight or activity level and get a fresh daily calorie estimation.
Certainly there are many great sites out there for tracking food intake – but that doesn’t suit everyone. I’ve found that having such a plan helps me to get a handle on portion sizes without having to obsessively record every single item of food I eat, sniff, or think about.
Download Sample Diet Plan (right-click, Save As..)