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Stay Healthy During the Holidays By Tracking Your Food

Food tracking

Happy Holidays blog readers! ‘Tis the season to eat, drink and be merry–and many take the “eat and drink” part pretty seriously!

Recent research suggests that the average American gains a pound during the holiday season. You’re probably thinking “big deal, it’s one pound,” but research also suggests the average American will never lose that pound. So while one pound a year might not be a big deal, 25 pounds over 25 years is a pretty big deal!

I’ll admit it can be difficult to stay on track during the holidays. Thanksgiving is one of my top three favorite holidays and it revolves completely around eating, watching football and consuming high calorie beverages. I even have a designated pair of “Turkey Pants” that allow me to consume a few extra servings of mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie and stuffing (is it Thanksgiving yet?). Then I end up taking the “Thanksgiving Nap” and wake up hungry for round two.

A vicious cycle isn’t it? I haven’t even begun to mention the ridiculous amount of sweets that are made between Thanksgiving & Christmas. I’m getting hungry just writing this post! So what’s a girl (or guy) to do to make sure she (he) doesn’t gain weight over the holidays? The answer is easier than you think–track your food.

 Calorie Counts–Often Underestimated

Tracking your food can play a huge role in how much food you actually eat. The majority of people will drastically under estimate the amount of calories they eat in any given meal, especially if it is a meal they consider to be healthy. You might think you’re making the healthy choice by choosing that salad when eating out but even “healthy” items can be extremely high in calories. Here are just a few examples:

Chilled Shrimp & Soba Noodle Salad (Panera Bread Co.): 700 calories

Chicken Salad w/ Black Beans & Salsa (Chipotle Grill): 720 calories

BLT Cobb Salad (Wendy’s): 760 calories

Chipotle Steak Fully Loaded Salad (Tabo Bell): 900 calories

Even if you are making a good effort to watch what you eat it is impossible to know your calorie intake without actually tracking.


We all know how important accountability is and the most important thing that tracking your food does is hold you accountable for what you’re eating. I’ll admit, I’ve rationalized a 2nd or 3rd brownie with “it’s only 100 or so calories.” However if I were to look up the actual portion size and calorie count it was probably more like 400 calories per brownie!

Tracking your food can be an eye opening experience. I really never started doing this until 2012 when I decided I wanted to know how many calories I eat in a day. I was working for a company near Milwaukee at the time that had an in-house cafeteria with a full display of yummy baked goods. (Disclaimer: I have no self-control when it comes to sweets.) Anyway at the end of the day I had eaten over 4500 calories–and really had not felt like I ate any more than a normal day. I’m fortunate that I exercise often (and at the time had a 22 year old metabolism) that allowed me to eat that way. Since that eye opening day I have begun to track my food and have noticed some real benefits that you can experience from tracking your food too.

  •  Tracking your food shows you what you’re doing well. Perhaps you are eating enough protein or are getting enough servings of vegetables.
  • Tracking your food shows you how the extra calories add up–coffee creamer, sugar, condiments, one candy from the candy dish here and there–these can all add up!
  • Portion sizes are easier to recognize when tracking. You might eat a handful of chips and think it is one serving (roughly 150 calories). Counting out the 12 chips that make up that one serving will help you realize you’ve really been eating more like 3 or 4 servings each time.
  • You may learn you’re missing an entire food group. Whether it’s vegetables, fruit or dairy you may learn that you’re not eating nearly as much of a certain food group as you thought.
  • Recognizing a connection between eating and feelings. Many people are emotional eaters–they eat when they’re sad, happy, stressed or a combination of the above. Tracking your food can help you realize that you eat more (or maybe less) when feeling a given emotion and can help you learn how to control your emotional eating.

Simply put, tracking your food is a great way to monitor not only your calories but the overall nutrition you are giving your body.

 Tracking Methods

There are many different ways you can track your food. You can go it the old fashioned way–a notebook and a pen or you can use one of the many online tracking websites and mobile phone applications that are available. My two favorite are My Fitness Pal and Spark People.

Both MFP and SP are websites that you can use to track your food. They are both free and both have pretty decent mobile apps that you can download to your smartphone. I have used both programs in the past and have found a few pros and cons of each.

 My Fitness Pal

My Fitness Pal is the first tracking app I ever used. It is a free program and is pretty simple to use. One thing I liked about was its simplicity. There are not a whole lot of frills which makes it easy to use and pretty straightforward. One thing I didn’t like so much about MFP was their community boards. I don’t think they’re really monitored and there were a lot of people giving some pretty uneducated advice about health & fitness. There were also a lot of negative comments on the discussion boards and I didn’t think there was a great sense of community. My Fitness Pal lets you track not only your calories but your macronutrients and other categories as well. You can also track your exercise to see about how many calories you are burning.

 Spark People

Spark People is a little more complex but is another great, free program. Spark People is all about community. There are discussion boards for almost every topic. Spark People also has customized diet plans that they will create for you although there’s no way to set a budget so it can make it difficult to follow.  Spark People also lets you track more nutritional factors at once–you can track your vitamin intake, carbohydrates, fats, proteins, etc. I mentioned that MFP lets you track but you’re able to track more in Spark People which is something I liked. Spark People seems to have more of a community feeling which I found to be more encouraging to stay on track. There are workout videos you can watch online to help with your exercise plan.

I don’t necessarily recommend one website over the other as I think different websites work for different people. There are way more tracking programs available than the two I just mentioned but it is important to find one that works for you and that you can stick with. You may be surprised to see how much you are eating throughout the course of the day.

Do you track your calories? What website or program is your favorite to use?

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