I don't suggest that people count calories or even track with great accuracy the macronutrients they eat. I believe if you just focus on avoiding the macronutrients that can be a problem for most of us (carbs) and eating good quality, real foods, then the rest will take care of itself. That has worked pretty well for me in the last several years. I don't count calories, at all. I just watch what I eat in terms of avoiding carbohydrates and focusing on real food.
Even with that, when I was learning to eat better three years ago, and when I've talked with others about how they eat and can improve, I see that tracking what you eat with a food journal can be very helpful. That snapshot of where you are at a point in time can give insight as to how you are doing, allows you to focus on the right balance of food, and can help you learn if changes are needed.
I thought it would be interesting to take a look at what I typically eat today and compare it to how I used to eat years ago. In other words, my "before" and "after" snapshots, using food journals.
I didn't actually capture a food journal for before, but it is pretty easy to think about a typical, representative day, and recreate a food journal that's probably pretty accurate. While I knew this exercise would be pretty educational to demonstrate the use of a food journal for the purpose of this blog post, I was quite surprised by the insight it gave to me about how and why this diet works.
Here is my diary from a typical day of food a few years ago was when I was trying (not always successfully) to follow the "conventional wisdom" guidelines for diet.
During my typical day years ago I estimate I would consume a total of about 2,900 calories, 43% from carbs, 44% from fat, and 13% from protein. The protein intake would have been around 96 grams.
I was also consuming roughly the recommended, or slightly higher, calorie intake for someone my size and activity level. I was consuming around 2,900 calories per day with the recommendation being around 2,700 - 2,900 calories per day. I also remember that I often felt hungry and that I had to eat something every few hours or suffer shakes, headaches, etc, despite my eating on the high side of the recommended range of calories.
The protein intake was probably right where it should have been based on my current understanding, while the carbohydrate intake is much higher and fat lower than what I understand today to be the best approach for me. The carb intake is on the low end of the conventional recommendation (about 43% versus the recommended 45-65%) and fat intake is above the conventional recommendation (about 44% versus the recommended 20-35%.)
My diary from a typical day of food today is a bit different, to say the least.
During my typical day today I estimate I consume a total of 2,200 calories with a minimum recommendation for someone my size and activity level being around 2,600. Keep in mind that I do not feel like I'm starving and am almost never hungry despite the lower calorie intake, and can go for hours, or even a day, without feeling like I need to eat or risk having the shakes or headaches.
My protein consumption works out to be exactly the same at 96 grams! (This was not a setup, it actually came out exactly the same.) If you ever hear of this being a "high protein" diet or the dangers of a "high protein" diet, realize that this is not, and that is not what I recommend.
I now consume around 76% of my calories from fat (well above "conventional wisdom" of course) and my carbohydrate intake is around 7% (well below "conventional wisdom".)
WHAT I'VE LEARNED
This was a very interesting exercise for me and I've learned the following from it:
- I ate more calories before, and too many for my size and activity level, so I was having issues controlling my weight.
- I ate a little less fat in terms of total grams before as I do now (141 grams vs. 187 grams) but not nearly as much difference as I would have thought.
- I ate many more calories before, and most of the additional calories came from carbohydrate.
- I ate more calories before, BECAUSE I was eating more carbohydrates and had poor control of glucose/insulin swings and the resulting hunger. This also lead to most of the other health issues I was having.
- I may be eating too few calories today, so it might not hurt to consciously increase consumption a bit, but I'll look to add a little more healthy fat instead of carbohydrate. I'm pretty convinced that these added calories won't lead to increased weight but probably increased energy. When I had done this previously while I was adapting to this way of eating, I observed that when I increased consumption of fat, my weight decreased even faster.
- Although not obvious from the food diaries, I eat much better quality food, and much less processed food today.
I don't believe that anyone should constantly calculate these detailed numbers about their food, or constantly count calories, fat, carbs, or anything else. But occasionally tracking exactly what we're eating can lead to discovery and ensure that we're on the right track.