We repeatedly recommend that you track your calories in order to achieve your goals. What we mean by that is that you check the calories of the food you are planning on eating before you eat it, and then record it somewhere, either a notebook or in the meal tracker. Not after you’ve eaten it, and not only if it makes the tracker or your book look good. We want you to track absolutely everything that you eat and drink – including those bits you pinch off someone else’s plate or out of the fridge when you are making a brew.
No matter how much we implore you to track your food, we know there is huge resistance to doing it. We know that most people think it will take up too much of their time, they tell us they don’t understand it, that it is boring so they just can’t be bothered, or because they think that they can still lose weight without tracking properly and by just ‘eating healthily’. Some people can lose weight this way and some people can’t. If you are in the latter group of people, then we are going to try and convince you, once and for all, that you should start tracking your food and more importantly your calories.
If you aren’t currently achieving your goals, we would love you to give one ‘Check It Before You Wreck It book‘ or ‘#21daychallenge‘ a go – just one – and see what the result is. If you aren’t currently getting anywhere and you really do want to lose weight, then surely it’s worth a try.
Why avoiding tracking leads to failure
If you don’t track there will be a number of reasons that you probably won’t succeed in achieving your weight loss goals.
- No accountability – if you don’t write it down, you didn’t eat it
- We forget what we have actually eaten
- We can’t easily calculate how many calories we have had in a certain day
- We mindlessly pick at food without conscience
- When we are big, we are clearly unable to moderate our food intake, so we will overeat if there is nothing keeping us in check.
What does tracking do for you?
When you track your food and calorie intake by writing it down, subconsciously you will only want to enter food in your book or diary that fits with what you are ‘allowed’ within your calorie allowance. It makes you accountable to your choices.
Tracking shows you where your big wins are. If you track every day, you will start to see patterns of eating, that you can learn to manage. If you spot in your book that that you eat a lot later in the day, or you like a higher calorie evening meal, then tracking allows you to manage that by eating lower calorie food throughout the day, to give you enough calories left over at night.
Tracking also allows you to see what your most sensible sacrifices are. If you think you are eating a particular type of food in moderation, tracking will confirm that or show you that you are actually eating more of it than you realise, giving you an opportunity to cut back on this, save some calories and start winning!
Tracking before you put the food in your mouth, means that you are checking the calories before you eat it, so you will be more mindful of making better choices.
Tracking stops you picking mindlessly and without conscience, because if you put it in your mouth it has to go in the book. If you don’t want to write it in the book, you won’t eat it.
Tracking allows you to save some calories every day throughout the week, for weekend treats. If you have tracked, you know what you have spare, and therefore what you can have on another day potentially, and still be within your deficit for the week.
Tracking teaches you lifestyle change, and how to manage your food sensibly. It teaches you how to eat normally. It teaches you that if you have a full English breakfast one morning, if you still want to lose weight and stay on track, you need to eat food which is really efficient in calories for the rest of the day. It teaches you that if you have a day where you drink lots of alcohol and have a take away, then the following couple of days, you bring that calorie deficit back, by eating lighter foods. You know like all those people do with a ‘normal weight’ and ‘normal eating habits’ that never seem to put any weight on?!
Tracking gives you the freedom to eat what you choose, when you choose, but when you run out of calories, you just have to be a little more efficient with your choices. This is what lifestyle change is all about.
But doesn’t it take too much time?
It does take a bit of time at the start. But this isn’t a long term game – this is short term effort for long term success. If you really want to lose weight and keep it off, this is how you learn about food and how to manage your diet forever. If you have been yo-yo dieting for 10 years and never managed to keep the weight off long term, then why waste another ten years yo-yo dieting?
Why not take a few weeks to a couple of months to get to your goal weight and stay there? Most people only have a couple of stone to lose – by tracking for 14 weeks, you could be there, and have learnt how to keep it off for the long term.
There has been a recent scientific study which has accurately analysed the success of people who track their food intake, whilst trying to lose weight. In the past, scientists had to rely on self-reporting methods of research into this area, which is unreliable, but now with the advent of tracking apps, they can actually get data on how tracking helps those who want to lose weight, based on how long they spend in the app and how often they make an entry.
In a study published in ‘Obesity’, a research journal, 142 people with an average BMI of 35, took part in a 24 week study looking at tracking. With regards to time taken, it showed that over a period of time, people spent less time tracking, there were two reasons given for this – the participants learnt more about their food so had to spend less time looking things up, and the participants were eating less food, so had less to log.
In month one of the study, on average people spent 23 minutes in total each day in the food tracker. By month six, this had reduced to just 14 minutes in total each day.
So, is it really that time consuming? If you think about how many times you might check your phone each day or how long you spend scrolling Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Insta, I bet 23 minutes writing in a book is less than your total screen time!
The more you log, the more you succeed
The same study showed that the more entries that were made into the food tracker, i.e the more frequently a person used the tracker throughout the day, the more weight they lost. The conclusion being drawn from this was that more frequent entries correlated with recording food at the time of eating, rather than waiting to do it all in one sitting at the end of the day. So if you record food and calories each time you eat (preferably beforehand, in our opinion) then you will lose more weight.
The results showed that those with the most time spent on the food tracker, and the most entries, lost over 10% of their body weight in a 6 month period. Those with the least time spent on the food tracker, the least entries and also who stopped tracking altogether at some point during the six-month study period, had lost less than 5% of their body weight at 6 months.
Results from another study carried out by the Diabetes Prevention Program in the US, showed that for every entry made in a food tracker, your chances of getting to your target weight increased by 7%. By the end of a month of tracking calories, the study tells us that you are 32% more likely to hit your target than if you didn’t track.
In a third study of 1700 people in 2008, by Kaiser Permanente Centre for Health Research, they showed that those who kept hand written food tracking records lost twice as much weight in a six month period as those who didn’t track their food at all.
If weight loss is what you really want – give yourself 15-23 minutes a day! You are worth that!
One ‘Check It Before You Wreck It‘ book, or ‘21 day challenge‘ lasts three weeks. Three weeks could see you lose between 3 and 6 pounds, maybe more. So one book equals almost half a stone, potentially. Two books and your weight loss potential is 6 – 12 pounds. Three books is the equivalent of 9-18 pounds gone, forever. This goes on infinitely.
If you want to lose 2 stone, it will take around 14 weeks. In those 14 weeks, you will learn how to keep that weight off forever, because you will learn what fits into your calories, you will learn how to manage your social life, you will learn how you get to where you want to be by still doing the things you like doing.
If you have been struggling – losing a quarter of a pound here, and half a pound there, gaining a bit, losing a bit, then now is the time to stop ‘trying’ and start tracking. Tracking is what you do, when you are really serious about losing weight. When you have accepted that some things need to change. When you are ready to make some sacrifices. That sacrifice is 15 minutes a day!