Food Logging for Beginners


For many of us, food can be an emotional issue.  We hold certain foods to be good and others to be bad.  We like to think that the good ones will give us six pack abs and the bad ones will give us heart disease.  How we determine which foods are good and which are bad often comes down to a mix of personal experiences, anecdotes and diet books or blogs.


But, what if there was a better way to look at food.  One where there were no sides.  Where morality was removed and food was just food?  When it comes to nutrition, what is most important is not the type of food, but the quantity.


As the French physiologist Claude Bernard stated, “Everything is poisonous, nothing is poisonous, it is all a matter of dose.”


In fact, if you look at our nutrition hierarchy that we use in our nutrition planning service, you can see that creating a proper energy balance is one of the most important steps you can take to create change.


nutrition hierarchy of importance


If the “dosing” of our food is the most important part, then we need to have an understanding of the quantity of food we are consuming.  For instance, carbs are the current whipping boy of the nutrition world.  It’s popular to say that too many carbs will make you fat.  But what is too many? 50g, 100g, 200g?  Does it depend on the individual?  What about his/her training goals or current bodyweight, or age?


The answer is it depends.  We need more information.  And for starters, we need to know what you are consuming now.  If you’re looking to gain or lose weight, but don’t know roughly how many calories you are consuming, it’s the equivalent of wanting a bigger back squat but never tracking your training results.  


The take home point is that we need to assess and not guess about our nutritional needs.  What does a starting assessment look like for a nutrition program?  It starts with a food log.  A food log is just like your training journal, but instead of writing sets, reps and weight, you’re noting what you ate and how much of it.


Food Logging 101


How long you need to food log and how accurate you need to be depends on the rate of progress you have left to make and the timeline for reaching your goals.  However, for most people who are interested in looking and feeling better, a good start prescription is to track for two weeks.


We highly recommend using MyFitnessPal for your food tracking needs.  MyFitnessPal is a free app you can download on your phone and it makes tracking much easier.  We recommend MyFitnessPal because it has the largest food database and easy logging features like barcode scanning, quick meal add and a recipe scraper.


When you first sign up for the app, it will ask you a bunch of questions and then assign you a goal calorie total.  Since we only care about food logging right now, feel free to ignore this.


How to Log


The easiest way to log your food is right after each meal that you consume.  This way you’ll remember more accurately than if you wait until the end of the night.  To log, open the app and click the “+” button in center.


myfitnesspal app homescreen


Click the food icon and then select which meal you’re logging for.


myfitnesspal app food logging


Then add an item.


myfitnesspal app recent foods


In the beginning, it we’ll take a bit longer to log as you don’t have any recent foods or meals created.  But, after the first week, you’ll be able to log a whole day’s worth of eating in less than a few minutes.


Barcode Scanner


For almost any packaged food item you buy, you can scan its barcode and have its nutritional information appear automatically.  To scan a food item, click the scanner icon in the top right.

myfitnesspal app barcode scanner


Saved Meals


If you have a couple of go to meals for either breakfast, lunch or dinner, it’s best to save the meal so you can don’t have to add it manually every time.  To create a meal, click the “more” icon in the bottom right.

Then click on “Meals, Recipes & Foods”.

 


myfitnesspal app meal creation


Now click “Meals” and then “Create a Meal”.


myfitnesspal app meal tool


If you meal prep, this is a great feature (and if you don’t, check out our Meal Prep for Beginners article).  Simply measure out all the ingredients and add them to the meal.  You can either measure out the ingredients for a single serving or your can total all the ingredients and then adjust the serving size when you add it.


Recipe Scraper


If you get recipes from food blogs online you, can give the app the url to the food blog recipe page and the app will scrape the page for the ingredients and quantities.  This can be a little hit or miss and may require you tweak some of the values, but this feature can be a huge timesaver.

myfitnesspal app recipe scraper


Overall, the app is pretty easy to navigate and just taking some time to click through the different options will get you up and running in no time.


Using a Food Scale


For those who are looking for a higher degree of accuracy, purchasing a digital food scale is key.  You can buy one for about $20 from either Target, Walmart or Amazon.  When using the food scale, make sure to measure before cooking.  Cooking alters the water content which affects the food’s weight.  Since it’s unlikely you’ll cook something exactly the same every time, an easier option is to measure it pre-cooked.


Serving sizes for most meats in MyFitnessPal are measured in ounces but most everything else is measured in grams.


Pro-Tip:  Liquids are challenging to measure on a food scale.  A better option is buy a set of measuring cups and use those instead.


In Review


You don’t need to food log for the rest of your life.  But, starting a food log for at least two weeks is an excellent way to increase your awareness about how the foods you eat affect your nutrition.  This awareness allows you to start the process of changing your diet to create alignment with your goals.

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