If you find yourself struggling to make healthful choices most of the time when it comes to eating, keeping track of your food intake might help. A 2008 study of 1,700 overweight or obese participants found that the more participants kept track of their food intake using a food diary, the more weight they lost. As a written record of what you ate, a food diary can help you identify areas for improvement, as well as keep you accountable for the foods you choose. Recording the food and amounts you ate during the day can also be helpful in making you more aware of mindless snacking and portion sizes. Alternatively, pre-recording the food you plan to eat that day can be a great method for menu-planning.
How you track food intake – whether on computer, with paper and pen, or a with a smartphone app – does not matter. While one weight loss intervention study reported that using a smartphone app resulted in better adherence and retention of participants, the best bet is to stick with whichever method works best for your individual lifestyle and preferences.
For folks who prefer hard copies to computers and phones, a handwritten food diary can be a good alternative. Carry a small notebook and pen and record all foods and drinks as you consume them. Make rows in your notebook for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and drinks. While this method doesn’t let you instantly analyze the calories and nutrients you consume, it’s fast and creates an accurate snapshot of one’s diet.
These tools are popular and work well.
Countless free websites and apps can help you take a closer look at your eating habits. Use one of these alongside the various of Power 20 apps to keep your eating and exercise habits on track.
- USDA SuperTracker: Great for those who are always on their computer! This food tracker has a database of ingredients as well as some prepackaged foods to choose from and add to your personal diary. For meals you cook yourself, simply enter in the ingredients in the My Recipe tab to save the meal in your personal database. A quick and simple report can be generated to help you see which nutrients you may need to eat more or less of. A downside to this is that the USDA MyPlate recommendation does not align with a Whole Food, Plant-Based (WFPB) approach, and the list of meat and dairy alternatives in the database is minimal. At this time, there are also no smartphone apps for this tool.
- My Fitness Pal: A great app for those on-the-go! The website includes all the food and physical activity functions of SuperTracker, plus added support from community forums and a blog. Download their Calorie Counter app (Android, iOS, Windows Phone) and you can even enter in foods using a bar code scanner. The app syncs to your personal account on the website, as well as fitness trackers such as FitBit, so you won’t have to worry about doing any extra data entry.
- Lose It!: While the Power 20 method does not advocate calorie counting for a healthy lifestyle, this app may be a good fit for those who need to monitor calorie intake for weight loss. A calorie budget is provided to emphasize weight loss goals, and food is logged using a large database of dishes and restaurant foods, as well as a bar code scanner. Besides weight loss, additional health indicators such as blood pressure, blood glucose, and body measurements can be recorded and kept track of using the premium version of the app ($39.99 per year), but the basic free version (Android, iOS) works just fine for those simply looking to track food and/or physical activity.
- ShopWell (Android, iOS): This app is great for helping you choose WFPB foods while shopping! While it doesn’t track food or physical activity, the ShopWell app has an enormous database of a variety of brands of foods. Depending on your dietary preference and restrictions (vegan, lactose-intolerant, gluten-free, allergies, etc.), this app will rate foods using a color scale based on how well they fit into your dietary needs. Search or browse for your items or use the bar code scanner to see how your grocery staples rank. As an added bonus, nutrition tips and suggestions for healthier swaps for your selected foods are also provided with the help of a dietitian who works on staff.
That said, the Power 20 Method doesn’t require any portion control or calorie counting.
Power 20 urges everyone to adopt a whole-food, plant-based diet (WFPB) for its many benefits, including reduced for cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, as well as for maintaining a healthy bodyweight. The WFPB diet requires no calorie counting or portion control. Calorie counting tools and standard dietary recommendations from sources like the USDA are often blind to the ecological, ethical, and health impact associated with consuming meat, dairy and processed foods. Some of these websites may even rank processed foods, meat, and dairy products high in nutritiousness. To avoid all the confusion and frustration, stick to eating mostly plants!