Sometimes, it's just hard to eat a balanced and nutritious diet day in and day out. Try as you might, there are bound to be calories hidden away in that perfectly innocent looking sandwich or that frozen entree that swore it was a healthy option for lunch. Even those cookies are bad for you. Who knew?
To help those of us (me) with tracking calories and activity and water and all that other stuff you have to worry about when you want to at least hold your own in the mid-thirties battle of the bulge, technology has provided us with many new tools. We have digital food scales to accurately weigh our portions and keep us mindful that four ounces of chicken is about the size of our palm and not the super-extra-large chicken breast in the bucket. We have people scales that will not only tell us our weight, but also our Body Mass Index and our body fat percentage.
One of the tried and true methods of a serious diet change is keeping a food diary. From helping achieve weight loss goals to pinpointing problem foods and ensuring proper nutrition, a food diary or record helps keep us accountable and provides some documentation for professionals who may be advising our diet.
Before, these could be exhaustive notebooks filled with lists of foods, ingredients, portion size, calorie counts and more. Or it could be an old envelope pressed into service to make sure those mixed nuts and mints eaten at the baby shower are properly accounted for.
Technology offers a number of options for those keeping a food diary. Many even have the ability to scan barcodes of foods and import that data immediately. They keep a running total of calories consumed and calories expended through physical activity and can even track water consumption for those having trouble getting their eight eight-ounce glasses a day.
I had used one before, but the holidays, and the after holidays, made me not want to log my food. I didn't particularly want to know how many calories I was eating in a day. Even though I would usually make sensible food choices, I knew many times I ate too much of a good thing, like cake. I'm a huge fan of cake. And cookies, too, especially if the cookies have icing like cake. I have a sweet tooth and I don't do a whole lot to rein it in.
But winter and spring came and went and suddenly, really suddenly, it's 80 degrees outside and none of my summer clothes from last year will fit. So there it was, a wardrobe emergency. I decided it might not be a bad idea to track what I was eating and my activity for a few weeks and maybe see where I was going off the rails, other than the aforementioned sweets.
But my food app had developed a few new habits since the last time I had logged in. Now, instead of just taking my entries and showing me the results, it was adding commentary.
Much of it was positive reinforcement, like noting that my lunch choice is particularly high in protein or that my salad contained lots of vitamin A.
But it wasn't all so positive. There were gentle reminders that I had set goals and that a calorie count was in place, along with other nutritional benchmarks, like sugar content.
Because that's what I need, a Judgy McJudgerson food app that sees my hard boiled egg entry and says, "This food is high in cholesterol." I suppose eggs have become a "bad" food again. I can't keep up. Next time I log an egg, it may say, "Good job! This food is high in protein."
These little notes are in green, for go ahead and enjoy, and yellow, for pause and think about what you're eating. I haven't come across a red note yet. I don't know what it would take to get a red note, other than logging straight lard. That might set off some alarms in the food app world.
But most foods can be enjoyed in moderation, and we have to celebrate the little victories that come in our day, like choosing fresh fruit over those delicious cookies with icing.
If I chose the fresh pineapple over the cookie with the icing, I think the app should be saying, "Way to go! You didn't cave and get the cookie! Good job!" And there are plenty of days in the history of using this app that have me choosing the cookie. I went to the trouble of creating the nutritional data for this particular item because it wasn't found in the food database when I scanned the barcode.
This technology should know that I am a processed sugar-holic and that choosing the fruit was a huge step in the right direction. But it didn't. Instead, it gave me a yellow light and reminded me of my sugar goals.
Now, I'm not on a restrictive diet of any sort. The nutritional goals are the default settings the app includes based on my age and weight. I have no idea if they are in any way accurate for me. All I know is, I chose fresh fruit, and I'm enjoying it in moderation as part of a balanced diet. Who cares if, at the end of the day, I am three grams over the goal?
Right now, I don't. If I keep this up for a few weeks and see no movement on the scale, a dietitian or nutritionist or my doctor may be able to look at this log and say, "Well, silly, if you'd just watch that sugar intake a little more closely, you might see a difference."
Until then, I'm going to enjoy moderation. I've got my eye on a cookie to enjoy later this week, and it will be delicious. But, because I will be logging it in the app, I'm going to think long and hard on having that second cookie, no matter how delicious it looks.
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Heather Mullinix is assistant editor of the Crossville Chronicle. Her column is published on Tuesdays. She may be reached at email@example.com.