I’m a little bit of a fitness junkie; I’ve worked for a gym since I was 16 years old, keeping a shift or two in my schedule even when working full time somewhere else. After I graduated high school, I turned my health around, becoming a workout devotee and changing eating, sleeping, and life habits. All the patterns of my life changed, and as a result, my body totally did as well. Over the past few months, I’ve noticed a plateau in becoming more and more fit. A large portion of that is due to the fact that I graduated with my Associate’s degree and moved onto a campus to finish my Bachelor’s, going from a commuter student to a resident student. That brought all sorts of changes, such as cafeteria food and utilizing an entirely different gym.

Yet, in the back of my mind, I was quick to realize that an equally significant portion of the problem was due to the fact that I had stopped being as mindful of what was going into my body. I’m a snacker, and I’m one to definitely eat a lot of different food all day long. Since I had stopped being as mindful and intentional about consuming healthy foods and the right portions, I had fallen off track.

So, I decided to track everything I ate for a couple of weeks, and it was eye opening. Here are five things I learned in doing so:

1. Calories add up much more quickly than I expected.

I already know from some tests and measurements that my body burns roughly 1600-1800 calories at rest, and when I add in working out 5-6 days a week, that equals out to be even more. Thus, I set a daily calorie goal of 2,000. Holy cow. The first couple of days, I was consistently going WAY over the calorie goal because I didn’t realize how many calories each food truly has. It was enlightening.

2. I eat more than I thought I did.

Tracking food led to me looking at the proper portion size for everything and quickly realizing that I frequently eat way more than the portion size actually is. I don’t mind going over portion size when I’m eating fruits and vegetables; after all, that helps me get more servings in. Yet, I learned so much about other foods that I typically consume. There were some pleasant surprises mixed in though; for example, I use plain Greek yogurt to replace sour cream and as a thickener, and I learned that I typically only use a quarter of a serving.

3. Ignoring a substantial breakfast leads to binging later.

There were a couple of nights where I consumed a LOT of calories. Looking back throughout the day to try and figure out why I felt like I could eat the entire fridge by the evening, I realized that those days, I didn’t have much for breakfast, and I was specifically lacking protein. Folks, breakfast is SO important. It starts your day out well, and by eating a hearty meal that fills you up (and is good for you), you’ll be more on track for the rest of the day.

4. Healthy foods may not always be labeled so by their calorie count.

Just like I believed before I started tracking, it is SO important to look at the full picture when it comes to the foods we pick. For example, the brown rice I had with my red curry this afternoon had almost 150 more calories than the Kit Kat I let myself eat yesterday (hah…). Calorie counts are just a number; they can’t tell you about the protein levels of the food, or the ratio of carbs to fat. They don’t show you the differences between complex and normal carbs, or show the nutrient levels of certain foods. We need to take in ALL the factors when choosing foods, not just the calorie counts.

5. Tracking is easier than I thought, but not something to become an addiction.  

Honestly, I never tracked what I ate before because I thought it would be difficult. However, I already have my phone with me most of the time, and especially if you get an app that can scan packaging bar codes, it becomes really simple. As simple as it actually is, I refuse to make it an addiction; food choices should be based on more than calories, and life is WAY more than calorie counts. It’s a helpful tool, but not something to become absolutely consumed by.

Everybody has different health and fitness goals, and I refuse to live life attached to my phone, religiously tracking food. However, this is definitely a habit I’ll try to keep up as I head back to school this fall, and it gave me a much better look at what I was actually feeding my body. After all, your body isn’t built in the gym as much as it’s built in the kitchen.  

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