There are a lot of dieticians and weight loss coaches out there who preach the benefits of tracking your food. They suggest tracking every bite you eat, entering all of your food into an app each …
My name is Patrick McGilvray, and I’m an experienced marathoner, ultra runner, Sports Nutritionist, Master Life Coach, and weight loss coach for runners. I’ve dedicated my life to helping runners just like you properly fuel your body and your mind. So you can get leaner, get stronger, run faster, and run longer than you ever thought possible. This is Running Lean.
Hey there, and welcome to episode 211 of Running Lean. My name is Patrick McGilvray, The Weight Loss Coach for Runners and today, should you be tracking your food? There are a lot of dietitians out there and weight loss coaches who preach the benefits of tracking your food, they suggest tracking every bite to eat, and drink all your food into an app every day. And then sticking to this routine for basically, forever.
And honestly, I’m not a big fan of this particular approach for many reasons, which I will share with you here on today’s podcast. So today on the Running Lean podcast, I answer the big burning question, should you be tracking your food? If no, why not? If yes, how should you do it?
But first, I know I share a lot of information here on the podcast about nutrition, weight loss, improving your running, getting stronger. And if you’re new, if you’re just listening to the podcast, you might be like, oh my gosh, this is very overwhelming. I don’t even know where to start with all this.
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Okay, let’s get into this episode here, should you be tracking your food? So, I’ve had a lot of people that I’ve been talking to lately, and they’ve told me that they have worked with dieticians in the past, or coaches in the past, who have suggested that they track their food and do this very meticulously, and they have to track every single bite that they eat.
And they have to enter everything into an app, and they have to hit certain macro numbers and calorie numbers. And if they don’t do everything exactly perfectly, then they’re not going to lose weight, they’re not going to be healthy things are not going to work for them, okay.
And I understand sort of the concepts behind that and that they want to, you know, get people to this place where they’re eating exactly what they’re supposed to, quote, unquote, supposed to be eating. The amount of food they’re supposed to eat, eating the number of calories they’re supposed to be eating, the right percentage of macros, the right macro breakdown that they’re supposed to be eating.
And, and I understand that part of it, you know, you gotta be getting 1500 calories a day. And if you don’t, you know, you got to make up for it somewhere, so you got to make sure you’re getting exactly the right amount of calories every single day. Okay. So I understand that part of it.
The problem I have with this is that this is a very new concept in the history of human beings. You know, we have been around as some form of human being for around two and a half million years. And they’ve tracked us back to two and a half million years ago. And we’ve been growing and evolving in that span of time.
That’s a large span of time, think about that. Two and a half million years. For the 2.4999 million years, we did not need the Food Track. And we didn’t have all the obesity and overweight issues and the diseases, and the metabolic dysfunction and diabetes and all that stuff that we have today.
We’ve only been tracking food for how long, you know, maybe a few decades? We’ve only been using an app since we started using apps on phones, so maybe 15 years, 12 years, something like that. So in the grand scheme of things, I look at this and I kind of shake my head a little bit because I’m like do we really need to be logging everything into an app, and counting all of our calories?
And, you know, making sure we’re getting this exact right breakdown of macros every single day. And if we don’t do it perfectly, then we’re going to basically die. You know, and I just think this is a kind of a silly concept. I’m a big fan of going back to our ancestors and trying to mimic what they did.
What did they eat? How often did they eat? What kinds of foods did they eat? How much did they eat, I want to go back to that, I think that is a much better way of approaching your health and your fitness than, you know, looking at an app on your phone, and making sure you get a bunch of numbers, right? I just don’t think it is necessary.
Number one, I really don’t think it works for most people. Because is this something that you can do sustainably? Is this something you’re going to do forever? Do you have to now track all your food forever, or else you’re gonna like all of a sudden balloon up and gain a bunch of weight?
Because if so, there’s something very wrong with what you’re doing. Because we shouldn’t have to do that. So my initial take on this is that I think tracking your food, there are some benefits to it. And I’ll get into some of that in a minute here.
But I think tracking your food and logging all your calories, and making sure you hit all these numbers and stuff. I really don’t think it’s a sustainable practice. And remember, whatever you do has to be sustainable for you.
The right diet for you is the one that you can sustain. The right method for you when it comes to your nutrition and how much you eat and the kinds of foods you eat and what you eat, all that has to be something that you can do forever.
If it’s just something you’re going to do for a short period of time, and it has some benefits to it, and you can learn some things great, that’s fine. And just know it’s going to be a short-term fix.
But I’ve been hearing from a lot of people lately, who’ve been telling me that they’ve worked with other dieticians or coaches who expect them to track all their food and hit all these numbers every single day forever. And the other thing about this is that it’s not really teaching you much in the way of like, oh, these are the foods that are healthy for me, these are the foods that keep me full, these are the foods that work for me, you know, I feel better when I’m eating less often, or I want to get in tune with my natural body. And my body’s natural senses.
Like there are satiety sensors that we have in our body that tell us hey, we’re done eating, we’re full, don’t need to put any more food in us here. We want to get in touch with that. We want to get in touch with our hunger signals to understand, hey, you know what, I’m actually hungry right now.
Not just like, you know, I’m kind of bored. I’m like rifling through the pantry to see what crunchy salty stuff I can eat that will just satisfy my boredom or something like that. So anyway, I know I went off on a little bit of a tangent there.
But listen, the way we have been trained to like focus on calories and numbers and macros and all that stuff. I think there’s some benefits to that for a short period of time just to get some ballpark numbers and to get some awareness of what you’re doing.
But the real key here is that whatever you do has to be sustainable. And I don’t think logging all your food, every single bite you eat every time you you know, lick or taste something that you need to track and I think that is not a sustainable practice, okay?
Now, there are some benefits to keeping track of what you’re eating. And you don’t have to be super detailed about it. But if you’re keeping track of the foods you’re eating, let’s say you’re just keeping a food journal. I think this is a great first step for everybody. To start keeping a food journal just write down the foods that you’re eating as you go through your day, and you eat something you write it down.
If you have a snack in the afternoon, you write that down. If you have a bite of your kid’s cookie, you write that down, you just write down everything you’re eating for the day. If you do this for a short period of time, a few days a week, you are going to start to have a lot of self-awareness about what it is you are actually eating and not eating.
Because so many people are like yeah, I eat pretty healthy. I’m like okay, what does that mean exactly? Oh, you know, I eat healthy foods. I eat lots of fruits and vegetables and stuff. I’m like, okay, you don’t ever eat chips or crackers or cookies or french fries. No, I really don’t eat that stuff. Okay, well keep a food log and then you tell me what is really going on?
And then it’s like, oh, yeah, well, I did eat, you know, some ice cream from my kids. And then oh, yeah, we went to pizza. And then oh, yeah, I did eat a couple of large fries this week or whatever, it just starts to create a lot of awareness about what you really are doing.
And you’ve got to be honest with yourself, if you’re doing this food logging, this journaling. And people who journal their food, people who write down what they’re eating every day, they tend to make better choices, they tend to eat healthier, they tend to not overeat as much, they eat less often. And they tend to lose more weight.
So if you want to get started on a weight loss journey, I think one of the best things you can do is start keeping a food journal, and just writing down what you’re doing. So just create that self-awareness, that one little step right there will start moving you in the right direction, towards making better choices.
Because you’re starting to have this awareness of what it is you’re actually doing, as opposed to just thinking about it. Because when we think about it, and we’re disassociated with it, you know, we’re not writing it down in the moment, we can just remember the good stuff that we do, we don’t remember all those times we sneak the french fries, you know, from our kid’s plate, or the you know, dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets or whatever it is we’re eating.
And I suggest you do this in the easiest way possible. And easiest way for me would be to just write it down using a piece of paper and a pen, or a pencil in a diary or a journal or, you know, some sort of a notebook or something simple like that. Don’t make it more complicated, we don’t want our method of logging or journaling to get in the way of making it easy, it has to be something that is very simple for you to do.
So I used to keep this little tiny notebook, I would carry it around with me if I went out. And it was something that was very small. And then I would just write down what I was eating each day. And I did this for a long time.
And it really worked, it really helped me to begin to create better habits and make better choices around what I was eating and stuff like that. So it doesn’t have to be anything complicated, it can be as simple as just getting a little tiny notebook. And then write down what you’re doing every day as you do it.
You’ve got to do it like sort of in the moment, that’s the best way to do it. So keeping a food journal is great. But there’s even a better way of doing this.
So when you are logging your food after the fact, you are basically saying, here’s what I did five minutes ago, here’s what I did an hour ago, here’s what I did earlier today. And that is fine. And again, you’re starting to create a lot of awareness about what you are doing throughout the day, or what you have done throughout the day.
But there is a much more powerful approach, what we want to do is we want to set ourselves up for success ahead of time. And so I’m a huge fan of pre-planning your food, and writing down what you’re going to do ahead of time.
And one of the big reasons why this works is because you are making decisions in advance, you are making a decision about what you’re eating, but you’re doing it for tomorrow. So you’re you’re deciding today, what you’re going to be eating tomorrow.
And why this works is because when you make decisions ahead of time, you’re using a completely different part of your brain than when you’re making decisions in the moment. When you make decisions in the moment, you’re using that little tiny almond-sized part of your brain called the amygdala, which is one of the most primal parts of our brain. It is responsible for our fight or flight, our fear center.
It’s what’s responsible for our primal urges, like, you know, just like food, sex. You know, whatever feels good in the moment, those kinds of primal decisions, those kinds of primal choices that we have to make in the moment.
So we don’t want to be making decisions using that part of our brain because typically we’re going to choose whatever just feels good right now, we’re going to choose the thing that is the most pleasurable.
We’re going to think, you know, we’re going to choose the pizza if that’s what when we decide that we’re going to have if we don’t decide ahead of time and we have a pizza sitting in front of us, we’re going to decide to eat the pizza because oh my gosh, it’s pizza. It’s amazing. There it is. It smells good. I want that I’m going to eat it right now. Okay.
The other way of doing this is making decisions in advance. And when you do that you’re using your pre-frontal cortex, your pre-frontal cortex that is a modern thinking part of our brain. It’s the part of our brain we use to make good decisions. It’s our planning brain.
And when we use our pre-frontal cortex to make decisions, we tend to make good decisions, we’re going to decide ahead of time, we’re going to use our prefrontal cortex to say, I’m eating, you know, a salad and chicken for dinner tomorrow night, even though I know the kids are probably going to want pizza. And my husband will probably bring home a pizza, but I’m going to eat what I’ve planned to eat today.
When you make that decision ahead of time, you are much, much more likely to stick to that decision. In the moment, you’ve decided you’ve made a little promise to yourself ahead of time. And then when tomorrow comes, and that pizza is sitting there, you’re going to remember that you’ve made this other choice. And that’s what your choice is going to use, you’re going to stick to that plan.
This is where things really can start to come together for you. Because you’re planning ahead, you’re making good decisions ahead of time, you’re making this promise to yourself that you want to keep, because you don’t want to break a promise that you make to yourself, you do this all the time; you break promises to yourself, but it never feels good, right?
You plan ahead, you make a good decision, you make this promise to yourself that this is what you’re doing tomorrow. And then when tomorrow comes the day is so much easier, you don’t have to think about anything, you just do what you said you’re gonna do. You’ve got it all planned out, you know, when you’re eating, you know how much you’re eating, you know, the foods you’re eating, and then you just stick to that plan.
This is how you build any new habit. If you want to create a new habit, you have to change your thinking patterns, you’ve got to change your daily activities, you’ve got to change your actions and changing your actions is hard. This is hard work to do. And when it comes to food, this seems to be the hardest area for people to make, change and make change last. So creating new habits around food is a lot harder than say going to the gym every day.
If you’re somebody who’s like, okay, it’s a new year, I’m going to the gym every day, you might stick to that pretty religiously for a while. I know a lot of people, who end up quitting the gym after February or whatever the gyms are crowded in January, and they’re empty again in March.
But for some of you, you’re like, I’m going to stick to this new running plan, I’m going to stick to this new workout plan and you do it and you’re really good about that. Because it’s important to you and you do it, you make that plan ahead of time you write out your training schedule for the week, and then you stick to it.
Do the same thing with food. That’s all I’m asking you to do here. Do the same thing to food with your food. Just make sure that you are planning ahead. Know what you’re doing tomorrow, or the rest of the week, you can plan a week in advance, you don’t have to.
But when you do this, when you make this plan ahead of time, you’re gonna stick with a plan, you’re gonna start to develop a good habit around that you already have done it for running, you’ve already done it around your workouts at the gym.
And this approach works in all these different areas. It works for planning your workouts, it works for planning your strength session, you know, just decide ahead of time, what muscle groups am I going to work tomorrow, what exercises am I going to do? How many sets and reps write that stuff down?
You already plan your runs, you know what days you’re working out, you know what your runs are going to be like, you know when your long run is this weekend, right? You know what the workouts are, and you know the goal for each of these workouts, just do the same thing with food.
Okay, if there’s any area of your life where you need to create healthy patterns, better habits, or make better choices consistently, then plan them ahead of time until you get the hang of it. And those habits are formed. Once those habits are formed, it becomes so much easier.
And you don’t have to do this forever. You don’t have to make this plan ahead of time and stick to it forever. When I first started out on this last, you know journey of losing weight improving my body composition and developing these good habits, I was very very religious about planning and tracking my food every single day.
I did this consistently for like eight months straight every day. I don’t think I missed a day in there. Maybe I did here and there but I pretty much never missed a day because I was afraid that if I stopped doing it, I would like just fall apart and I would fail.
I was kind of paranoid that I was going to slip up and just go back into my old habits, if I didn’t continue to make this plan and stick to it every single day, and listen to it doesn’t typically take eight months to train your brain and develop good habits. But I was a little bit paranoid, I kind of tend to do things to the extreme.
So I was like, I’m just going to do this until I know without a doubt that I can live my life without it. And then I eventually gave it up, I eventually quit tracking. And those first few days, I was like, oh, my gosh, what am I going to do, but I figured it out. And it works that my point with all this is that it did work for me.
And it doesn’t take that long, you know, I usually say if you can be religious and track consistently every day for like 30 days, or 60 days, somewhere in that range, you typically can start to, you know, create those new neural pathways in your brain create good habits, and this becomes kind of effortless for you, it becomes your new normal.
And if it’s your new normal, then you don’t have to effort your way through the day, you can just you just know what you’re doing. And you can do it. Okay. So make a 24-hour plan. This is the way I’ve worked with people who have planned a day in advance.
And that works really, really well just make sure you’re doing this at least one day in advance. I did have somebody who wanted to plan a month ahead of time, and she wrote out an entire month’s schedule of every meal she was eating for a month. Now that was awesome for her, but I don’t think we need to go to that extreme.
If you want to plan a few days ahead of time or a week ahead of time, I think that’s great. A lot of people love to do meal prepping. And so they’ll prep once a week for the week. And they’ll do their shopping for the week. And if that’s you, and that works for you, I think that’s great.
But a few days is plenty of time a day in advance is really that’s all that’s required. But we have to be making these decisions ahead of time. Don’t wait until the day of or it’s like lunchtime, and you’re like, I wonder what I should eat today. No. Decide in advance.
And you don’t have to use some app. And you don’t have to, you know, track every calorie and every macro and all that I love just using a notebook or a journal or a diary. And just write down what you’re doing tomorrow, just write it down, use a pen, when you use a pen or a pencil and you write it down by hand, it kind of cements that into your brain better than like typing into an app, there’s sort of a disconnect when you do that.
But when you write it down on a piece of paper, it tends to cement that decision into your brain. So now you’ve made the decision, you’ve made it in advance, you’ve made this promise to yourself.
Now you just have to keep that promise to yourself tomorrow. Because when you do that, when you keep the promises that you make to yourself every single day, you start to build this immense amount of trust in yourself.
You start to build integrity with yourself, you start to build confidence. And you know that you can do this, you know that you can stay consistent with this. And you’ll start making progress. I promise you that if you make this plan every day, and you stick to the plan every day.
That is how you make progress. That is how you lose weight. And that is how you keep it off. Because now you’re training your brain that this is how I do things now. Okay, everyone I’m working with right now, this is January of 2024. Everybody I’m working with this month, we are making this 24-hour plan every day. And we are committing to do it for the month of January.
So we’re challenging ourselves to do this. And everybody’s being super consistent with this with this. And they’re setting themselves up for success not only for this month or the next few months but for the year.
They’re like restarting the year on this really positive vibe of like, I’m being consistent, I’m making good choices. And I’m promising these things to myself. And I’m keeping these promises to myself, and they’re making great progress too.
Several people that I’m working with have said their weight loss has been a little bit slow. Or maybe they went out you know, took a few steps back during the holidays, you know, things have stalled out a little bit.
But lately, they have been planning every single day they’ve been planning ahead and now they’re starting to see their weight go down again. And all they have changed is this one little thing of making a plan every day making an advance and then sticking to that plan.
This is how powerful this little daily habit can be. So this is the work that you need to start doing for January. Should you be tracking your food? I think there’s some benefit to pre-planning your food. I think there are benefits to journaling your food if you’re just getting started with all this. Really, the most powerful way of doing it though, is planning ahead of time. Okay.
If you want help with all this I always got you covered you can go to my website runningleancoaching.com, click on Work With Me and we can talk about working together.
Cool, all right, that’s all I got for you today. Love you all, keep on Running Lean and I will talk to you soon.