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The food tracker - good, better, best advice

Friday, February 10, 2012

I discovered an addictive "carrot cake jam" at a friend's house and felt very guilty but put some on the fresh rolls she had made for breakfast. Oh so good. Gingery and sweet. I saw the same label at the health food store and decided I would get some as a treat. Well it really is! I just added the food to my tracker and it has very little sugar per tablespoon and no fats. Woot! So I put it on my healthy wheat free toast this morning. I also am pleased that there are more gluten free bread choices that have FIBER in them. The industry is changing with demand. So much so that someone had already put in this particular bread to the system. I'm glad I keep looking for new foods and don't stick to the ones I am used to. It also means I have to add these new foods into my tracker and food groups. Groan.

I wanted to write today about the food tracker. I was reading a new sparker's blog today and remembered how frustrated I used to get with the food tracker. Canadian vs. US values meant I was always double checking labels and I could not just assume when I opened up a food that it was "my" values. Plus there were so many foods not on the tracker. I felt like it took ages!

To those still struggling with the tracker:
1. It's a tool. You are going to learn something about the way you eat. For me I learned that what I was eating was not what I thought. I was not realizing how many fats and calories all the butter I ate was adding. I was not realizing how few veggies I truly I was eating on a consitent basis. I realized where empty calories were because for me I needed foods with lots of fiber.
2. It's good, better, best. I think it is better to find an "approximate" than nothing at all. If you can't find your food, choose something similar and see the result. The best is when you can find your brand and the actual food and measure out the portion... but as a tool it is still good for me to put in an estimate and better to find the same item even if I have not measured or checked that the values are "mine". Ah... it's hard being a perfectionist even if it is only in theory. Sometimes you do have to check because not everyone puts all the nutritional ingredients in. Sometimes, you can do your own "audit" of a food you eat a lot. See if what is on there is "true". Plus it can be funny. I remember finding a substitute for "home made peanut butter cookie" when I made a batch up. When one day I broke down and put my recipe into the system I was happy to see they were a reasonable snack portion... the substitute was a whole MEAL of calories and fat. It must have been a wopper of a cookie! Even if you only track one meal and decide to focus on that being your healthy meal, it is a start. For me though the aha came seeing a whole week of eating. Yikes my perceptions were off.
3. On a day when you can, put a new food into the tracker. This is great especially if it is something you eat all the time. You can add it to your favourites or "groups" to make tracking that much easier. So if you always buy the same brands and have the same few breakfast groupings (bagel and cream cheese with flax seed and a banana)... then that becomes a group. One click you have tracked breakfast.
4. Use the tracker not just to record what you eat.... you can use it to plan. Put in your foods for a day that you think is "perfect" and then look at the summary charts. You may be surprised at what you think is perfect and have to change the portions. For me my perfect day had too few proteins so I had to adjust.
5. Ultimately the tracker has encouraged me to read labels and measure portions. Not forever, but to be accountable. Every once in a while I have to go back and check. It's a learning process. It teaches me to be mindful of what I eat... I don't have to be anal about it, just make better choices.
6. The food planner option. Hmmm. I don't love it. In fact I got frustrated when one day the only proteins suggested were peanut butter and cream cheese and the only vegetable on that day were baby carrots. In fact when I clicked all the items and checked the bottom chart there was NOT enough protein and fiber choices. But what I have learned is I can pretty much have as many "free" vegetables as I want. Broccoli, asparagus, lettuce, green and yellow beans, zucchini.... the diabetic "shopping list" on spark people has the complete check list. Plus it is pretty good that I can look at the list and realize it is lacking in fiber and protein. I would have hoped the SP meal plans are better but I think they are sometimes only good. At least they get you eating frequent small meals and that has its benefits too. When I look at the portions I sometimes think... oh... that's what they mean by a meal. Not the buffet version. But since I already have a problem getting enough fiber and protein I wish I didn't have to adjust what they suggest. Sigh. I have learned my own shortcuts.
7. Finally, and I'm sure there are more things to say but this is all that is in my head this morning... did you know that if you choose to make a SP recipe that you can click on "add to my planner" and it will put the info in automatically? How easy is that? It has encouraged me to try some of the recipes.

I hope you end up with a customized tracker that is quick and easy for you to use. I think the investment of time at the beginning to explore it is worth it. I broke down and started because so many people successful in SP said they used the tracker and my heros were doing it. I have to say I really hated it at first... but now... hey, I'm recommending it!
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
  • POPSY190
    This is very good advice, especially for anyone living outside the US. Adding your country specific items does take time but is well worth it and is part of the process of learning what you are really ingesting.
    The jam sounds lovely - ginger is a favorite with me. An example of how reading food labels can be rewarding!
    2321 days ago
  • DIDI_60LBS_BY60
    Hi Justyn emoticon great blog!

    When I joined SP almost 3 years ago, I found the Food Tracking to be very time consuming. I tracked food by other members for about a year. Not a fan of the Food Planner (I get bored too easily never know what I feel like eating)

    A year and a half ago I realized that I needed to track good and bad (healthy food, junk food, fast food, all condiments, alcohol etc.) It was a slow process at first however it's defintely worked for me!

    I now have 315 individual items entered (anything and everything I purchased)
    and 14 groupings (easier to choose ) for let's say hamburger(meat/bun/relish/mustard) sandwiches, breakfast.....

    When I was at Stittsville's Farm Boy's a couple of weeks ago, I was tempted by their "Low fat chicken salad" however no nutritional label. I walked around wondering emoticon should I, shouldn't I ask and finally went to the meat counter and asked if they had the info. emoticon . They gave me a photocopy from their book and then I bought it!

    I have my cheat days and overindulgence... I track them!

    I'm at a point now that I enter what I will eat for the day....first thing in the morning.


    P.S. This coming from a woman who had no idea or cared what a food label looked like..... before joining SP!

    2321 days ago

    Comment edited on: 2/10/2012 11:58:44 AM
    Absolutely, the food tracker is my friend, still. Very well worth the initial time to set it up, and to maintain it.
    Not crazy about the Sparkpeople meal plans though.
    Actually, they don't give me choices that entice me and I don't use them.
    2321 days ago
    I adore the food tracker!!!! We are ONE!
    2321 days ago
  • ANJELIA1968
    I love the tracker and I really feel like it has helped me.
    The only thing I don't like is that EVERYONE seems to be inputting their own foods rather than using what is already there. As a result, you might have 8 or 10 entries for the same food with exactly the same nutrition info. I wish there was a way to delete entries that are duplicated.
    I do like the way recipes transfer to the tracker. I have tried several new recipes and even input my own favorite recipes then transferred them to the tracker. It's a wonderful tool!
    2321 days ago
    I agree with you about finding a close enough item to use. I do that all the time. I know that it isn't a perfect tool but I find I eat so much better when I use it consistently.
    2321 days ago
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    Disclaimer: Weight loss results will vary from person to person. No individual result should be seen as a typical result of following the SparkPeople program.

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