August 13th, 2013
The Disastrous Diet Diary Mistake: Why Planning Succeeds When Tracking Fails
Many people track their food intake with apps, software or old-fashioned paper and pen and that’s a good thing because tracking food intake has many benefits. But many people don’t realize there’s a difference between tracking food intake and working off a meal plan. Some people fail because they don’t know the difference between the two. It’s a simple and logical insight – it’s the difference between being proactive and reactive – and not grasping this could sink your diet efforts…
But today, I’d like to introduce you to the topic by sharing the 2 top strategies for effective meal planning and tracking, explaining the powerful positive effects of them both and the difference between the two…
Method 1: The spreadsheet meal plan
This is a method I’ve used for years. I create a meal plan template on a spreadsheet such as Microsoft Excel or now, using the online software equivalent.
The grid has spaces (cells) for food, quantity, protein, carbs, fat and calories. It also has rows divided out into the number of meals I want to eat.
I then use the spreadsheet software to plug in the “Atwater factors” (the multipliers for the energy content of the macronutrients:
Protein = 4 calories per gram.
Carbs = 4 calories per gram.
Fat = 9 calories per gram).
I also use the sheet’s built-in math functions to add up meal subtotals and daily totals. Along with the daily totals, the macronutrient ratios for the entire day are also tabulated.
Why would you bother to do meal plans by the numbers like this?
Well, it’s a proven fact that people who guess at their calorie intake are not only almost always wrong – they miss by a country mile! One study showed that even registered dieticians couldn’t estimate their calorie intake with more than 85% accuracy when they only guessed and didn’t have a tool or method to track their numbers.
The odds are overwhelmingly against you getting your nutrition right if you don’t have a plan, by the numbers, in writing – on paper (or electronically).
Success is not just about having goals. Success is about having a goal and having a PLAN to achieve it… and then beginning at once to take action on your plan.
If your goal is improving fitness or body composition – half of the plan is the workout – the other part is the MEAL PLAN.
Millions of people stumble into each day with no plan for what they’re going to eat… THEY “WING IT!”
Maybe it’s “in their head” what they intend to eat, but vague ideas give no real direction, and good intentions… well you know what they say about where that road leads.
The fact is, people without a plan usually eat whatever is convenient, available and accessible.
Method 2: The Food Journal / Diary Method
The second method is the food journal or diet diary method. This is where you eat something, and then write it down.
People were doing this long before the internet or software – they just used a notebook – and some people still do. Today more people use mobile apps, software and online tools.
Most people don’t understand that this is a totally different method than creating a meal plan in advance and I believe it does not take the place of having a meal plan in hand before you start your day.
However, tracking food intake in a nutrition journal or diet diary DOES have many benefits.
For example, the moment you start tracking and writing down food intake, you have created self-accountability. The simple act of writing down what you eat – by itself – can change your behavior. What is measured and tracked is improved.
Writing down what you eat is also another way to be sure you’re eating the correct amount of calories and macronutrients for each day. As long as you have a calorie and macronutrient goal for the day, if you’re journaling in real time, you can adjust your food intake in real time based on how many calories you have left for the day.
Food journals can also provide a learning experience about nutrition that you cannot equal any other way. Nothing will teach you about nutrition like tracking food, calories and macronutrients for an extended period of time. It’s like taking a nutrition class – except you come away with street-level learning, not just book learning.
Just like you go through school for a period of time at least once in your life, I consider keeping a nutrition journal an absolutely mandatory experience to go through at least once in your life for at least 4-12 weeks. Otherwise, you go through life uneducated.
Some people make it a habit and it becomes a part of their healthy lifestyle. Others find it a chore to journal forever, so they only do it in the beginning, the first time they are pursuing a body transformation. Anyone can come back to it in the future if they find they’ve started to slip or if they have a big new goal they want to pursue with more precision.
The Difference Between Planning and Tracking
Let me finish this lesson by pointing out a vital difference between these two strategies…
Creating a meal plan in advance, on paper is a PROACTIVE strategy: You decide in advance what you are going to eat and then you eat it.
A food diary (or electronic equivalent) is a REACTIVE strategy: You eat something and then you write it down.
Tracking food intake with a food journal is not the same thing as meal planning and in many cases, tracking alone is not sufficient.
Eating completely at random and then writing down your haphazard day of random eating is tracking, but it’s not a very good strategy is it? The better strategy is to have a well-thought-out plan created in advance, before you take action.
That’s why I believe that whether you journal food every day or not, having at least one good meal plan on paper is a must.
In upcoming newsletters and articles, I’ll write more about some of the best methods for creating individual meals and how to put those meals together into daily meal plans. I’ll even share some of my favorite recipes with you, to spice up your meal variety.
If you’d like to learn a lot more about how to succeed with meal planning, the classic bestselling “bible of fat loss” – Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle is being released in a new print edition. I have meticulously expanded, revised and updated the chapter on meal planning.
This book is the definitive guide to fat-burning, muscle-building meals, because it’s all about having a plan… and planning succeeds where tracking alone often fails.
“Have a plan. Follow the plan, and you’ll be surprised how successful you can be. Most people don’t have a plan. That’s why it’s easy to beat most folks.” – Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant, football coach, University of Alabama
You can be the first to get the new book delivered to your door in hardcover by pre-ordering from your favorite book seller or visiting: www.BurnTheFatFeedTheMuscle.com
Until next time,
Train hard and expect success!
Author of Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle
Founder & CEO Burn the Fat Inner Circle