Thursday, 22 January 2009

Yes, I write down everything I eat

One of the details of my diet I am most paranoid about discussing is the fact that I record everything I eat in a database. Because I am paranoid about it, I figured the ultimate anti-paranoia thing to do would be to blog about it. So, here goes.

I use a freeware program called the CRON-O-Meter. I know some people use SparkPeople or other programs, and some simply write down what they eat. I use the the CRON-O-Meter because I find it to be particularly convenient and user friendly. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

I first got into journaling food when I began with CRON. Both elements of CRON, restriction and optimal nutrition, are aided significantly by tracking what you eat. First, most people have no idea what or how much they really eat during the day. I've watched people forget not just nibbles here and there, but whole slabs of lasagna they've had for lunch. Also, people generally have no idea how many calories are in things. Especially when it comes to processed food, things usually have far more calories than people expect. Beyond that, I seriously doubt most people know or care whether or not they're getting their RDAs, even if they are relatively educated and careful about food.

The CRON-O-Meter was an absolute revelation for me. One facet in particular which is very effective as a visual aid is the fact that it shows, in pie chart form, the macronutrient distribution of different foods. Imagine my surprise the day I saw that ~75% of the calories in almonds are from fat, not protein. Or that skim milk has more carbs than protein. Beyond that, I was amazed to see what I was consuming, in what proportions. I can tell you that when I first began paying attention to what I ate, the picture was not pretty. I was eating more than I thought calorie wise, a 60% carb diet when I thought I was getting loads of protein, far too little fat, and my RDAs? Totally hit or miss.

Journaling is helpful to me in many respects. 1) It allows me to track my calories, which is comforting for me because I have the hard visual data to counteract water weight swings on the scale (I know for a fact there is NO way I had put on three pounds over night). 2) It allows me to see that I am getting enough protein and fat, and controlling my carbs-I was fat phobic, as I think a lot of women are, for a long time, and seeing that my weight remained steady even as I upped my fat intake was psychologically important for me. 3) It allows me to ensure I am getting all my vitamins and see my deficiencies. 4) It provides me with data over the long term so I can analyze myself: for example, I was able to link food cravings I had to certain nutrient deficiencies.

Now, journaling is like a game to me. For example, if I'm low in C one meal, I figure out how to add it to the next. Unlike some people, I don't find writing down what I eat to be a huge hassle. It takes me about 10 minutes a day, and for that investment the dividends are hugely rewarding. But I know it looks disordered and anal retentive, hence the insecurity. I hid my journaling from my SO when we first started dating. Luckily, he's an engineer, so when I showed him the CRON-O-Meter, he thought it was cool--it was just a tool for analysis to him, not a symbol of anything else.

I think that if you're interested in improving your nutrition and trying to lose weight, one of the best things you can do is track your food for a week and see what happens. I'll bet you'd be surprised how your diet compares to what your perception of your diet is. I'm not saying journaling like I do is necessary or desirable for everyone, but from personal experience, it is a very useful tool in my toolkit.


Sara said...

My parter was distinctly unimpressed when I showed him Cron-o-meter the last time I used it in earnest (he's a programmer, too). He didn't believe it contained correct data.... I think it's close enough though; it's always going to be an estimate of calories and nutrition because of variations in the source of the various foods. If that makes sense.

Wish I could get a hang of this protein-carbs-fat thing though. It's forever escaping me! Maybe because I journal, but I don't plan.

Cave Cooking said...

Sara-Interesting. I completely agree with you that the best the CRON-O-Meter can do is be 'close enough.' We can't calorically test every morsel. For example, some apples just taste sweeter than others and probably have a higher sugar content and more calories. I just go with the law of large numbers and believe it all balances out.

I think you also have more difficulty with the balance because you don't eat meat. Much of my fat/protein comes from meat and the things I cook the meat in. I am always impressed when I read your blog. It looks to me like you get a lovely variety of healthy unprocessed food!

Anonymous said...

I've done that before and found it to be really useful the first few times (loved FitDay). Then I started getting obsessive about it and veered towards disordered eating tendencies so I don't do it anymore. But doing it for healthy reasons is a great way to learn more about what you're eating! I find it so fascinating to see which nutrients I'm getting in. And I like to think of it all as a game too:)

- Sagan

Cave Cooking said...

LHITRW-I agree, it can be a fine line. But when it's a game it's fun, eh :)?

TrailGrrl said...

I used to do it, but not anymore. I was getting way too weird about how much I thought I should be eating, and keeping track.

If I stick to Cave Foods, and control my carbs, I do ok. I weigh less, am leaner looking, and fit into smaller clothes without journaling. When I was doing it, I wasn't in any better shape. I think it's a double-edged sword. It's good if you are training for an event like a triathon... if you wonder why you are sore, usually it's in your dietary log somewhere.

I was happy to let go of the neuroses, but I know it works for a lot of people if they haven't ever seriously looked at what they are eating.


Cave Cooking said...

Trailgrrl-interesting, I am totally going to bring up the soreness/dietary correlation to my marathon running friends!