Have you ever opened a bag of chips or candy only to realize that you mindlessly consumed the whole bag?
Have you gone out with friends on a Friday night and had the munchies so bad that eating half a pizza seemed like a great idea after a few drinks?
The worst part is the crash that usually follows—feeling sluggish, tired, and foggy-brained.
If you relate to any of this, a ketogenic diet (low carbohydrate, higher fat diet) could help you kill your cravings and have more consistent energy throughout the day all while preventing diseases associated with a Standard American Diet (SAD).
I easily rationalized the occasional carb binge.
“I ran today!”
“I had a rough day, I deserve it.”
“Life is meant to be enjoyed!”
However, these cravings for junk food were only getting stronger and more frequent.
The crunch, oil, and salt lit up the pleasure centers in my brain in the moment, but I never felt satisfied and always felt a carb hangover. I had to do something to get back in the driver’s seat of my body.
Before you start the ketogenic diet, tracking your current eating patterns will give you a baseline of what you are putting into your body instead of winging it and trusting your memory.
So how do you do that? I’ll show you.
Tracking Macronutrients (Macro-what?)
Macronutrients (macros) are the major groups of nutrients that your body uses as the big building blocks and fuel to keep you alive—carbohydrates, protein, and fat.
Just as “money” is a general term for currency and can take the form of credit, cash, or virtual currency, there are a lot of different types of carbohydrates, protein, and fat under these broad categories.
These macros serve different purposes and your body responds to each differently.
The goal of a ketogenic way of eating is to find the right balance that optimizes your health, energy, and enjoyment.
First, you want to understand your baseline macros and calorie intake—a state of the union so to speak.
The first week, I suggest tracking everything you are eating or drinking for at least 3-5 days including at least one weekend day. This will give you an idea of what you are actually putting into your body.
Will it be a little bit of an inconvenience? It might initially, but you’ll learn a ton about your eating habits. Plus, you can keep doing what you are doing…for now.
You’ll need a few tools:
- Food scale (I bought an Ozeri food scale on Amazon) NOT an affiliate link.
- A measuring cup (1 cup)
- Measuring spoons (1 Tbsp and/or 1 tsp)
- MyFitness Pal (Free to use online or as an app on your phone. Check out the links to the how to guides at the end of the post.)
1) Tracking Meals at Home
I have found that preparing meals at home to be the easiest way monitor food intake. I weighed and measured everything I was eating if I prepared it myself.
For example, if you are preparing a meal, weigh or measure the individual ingredients before cooking or combining them. Note the measurements on a piece paper or on your phone.
My breakfast one day was a blueberry coconut milk smoothie and an almond milk latte.
- So Delicious – Coconut Milk Yogurt – 7.5 oz
- Frozen organic blueberries – 1/2 cup
- Trader Joe’s – Almond Butter, Raw Crunchy – 2 Tbsp
- Unsweetened Cocoa Powder – 1 Tbsp
- Almond Milk latte – 8 oz
You’ll enter this all into MyFitnessPal and the app will calculate the macros for you.
2) What if you are eating out?
MyFitness Pal also has many pre-loaded menus from popular chain restaurants. I found the entire menu for Panda Express and Chipotle.
It gets a little trickier if you are eating at your favorite hole-in-the wall restaurant, but again, do the best you can to either estimate the amounts of individual ingredients or you can find a generic best fit.
For example I found some generic “pad thai” entries that offer a good estimation.
Alternatively, take a picture of what you ate, so you can analyze the meal later. You can’t always trust your memory.
3) What about packaged food that’s not in MyFitnessPal?
Let’s say you bought a bag of Kettle Chips and it wasn’t listed. All the nutrition facts are on the label on the back. Rather than digging right in to the bag, you will want to measure how much you are eating first.
The nutrition label tells you the amount of total fat, total protein, and total carbohydrates per serving and often there is more than one serving per container.
If a serving size is 1 oz, and you ate 2 servings, you would multiply all the nutrition values by 2 to get the total macros you consumed.
4) Should you measure alcohol intake and other beverages?
Absolutely! Alcohol and beverages can have a lot of hidden sugar that absolutely effects your total macros.
Tracking Improves Food Awareness
Once you have measured your food and beverage intake for the day, you will want to enter each meal as a diary entry. The nice thing about MyFitnessPal is that it has a large database of most brands and almost any type of unlabeled food you could imagine.
Good enough precision with measurements is good enough, so just do the best you can.
Within MyFitnessPal, you can either scan the UPC code of each ingredient or search for a close, generic match for things like vegetables and fruit.
The other nice thing about MyFitness Pal is that it will save frequently eaten foods, entire recipes, or you can add total nutrients for the meal.
For example, if you meal prep at the beginning of the week, you can create and import those recipes. I made a beef stew with 8 portions a week ago and entered the recipe. This way, I just selected this recipe and noted how many servings I had.
Once you have entered this information into MyFitness Pal, you will be able to see your macros over the day.
Note: The free version of the app automatically generates macro goals based on a standard dietary intake that is not low carbohydrate. You can change this to match the ketogenic diet (see the 70/20/10 Rule for macros here).
Tracking what you are actually eating can be an eye-opening experience. It might be a rude awakening that you are eating way too much, way to little, or your diet isn’t as conducive to your health goals as you thought.
Most importantly, these is no judgment. Think of yourself as a scientist running an experiment and just trying to understand yourself and the world around you a little better.
After you have tracked your macros for a few days, what was the biggest thing you noticed about what you were eating?
MyFitnessPal Resources for learning how to use the app: