When I hear people say they need to get back on track or get refocused, my first recommendation is to start tracking food intake. But recording isn't just for those folks, it plays an important part in your diet progression right after surgery too.
There is so much research on the benefits of recording to prove it makes you more successful, and if you've kept an honest record, you know this to be true. Notice I said an honest record. I've had people tell me they don't record "the bad stuff". It's not calorie-free because you didn't write it down or had selective amnesia.
Track Protein Intake as well as Calories
Many people think the most important thing to track is calorie intake, and for some people, it is. But after bariatric surgery, it's equally important, if not more important, to track your protein intake. Recommendations vary depending on your surgeon, but typically the goal is 60-90 grams of protein a day. This can seem daunting in the early post-operative stages if you've had a gastric bypass or sleeve. This is a time when it is critical to track your protein intake. Further out from surgery, it might be more important for you to know where your calories are coming from: the distribution between protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
Use Easy Electronic Tools to Track
There are different tools to track your intake. Paper and pencil is better than nothing but to have any sort of meaningful analysis you have to look up your foods for their nutrient value. Let technology do the work for you. All you need to know is what did you eat and how much, and let technology figure out the rest. In a study presented at the American Heart Association meeting last year, a group of 210 obese adults tracked food and activity intake with either a handheld electronic device or a paper diary. Those who used an electronic device had significantly more weight loss than those using a paper record.
Most of us have cell phones and 15 percent of us have a health app for our Smartphone. There are also online programs like WebMd and Spark People and 27 percent of internet users track weight and fitness goals online. If you have looked at using an app or an online program you know there are a multitude of choices. So, how do you pick the best one for you?
Know what you need to track
There are many free programs available or apps that are a minimal investment. You will need to know what is important for you to track. Are you good with the basics of calories, protein, fat, carbs, and exercise or do you want more detailed information to include fiber, sodium or other nutrients? Read the reviews, comments, and look at some sample pages. Most programs allow you to enter custom foods or labels, but a feature I find helpful is the one that allows me to enter a meal. For example, when I make a leafy salad I usually use the same veggies. I entered my salad into my meal program as Vicki's Salad. Now when I eat it, I can just enter Vicki's Salad rather than spend the time entering each salad component.
Take the time to set it up right for most accurate tracking
It may take a while for you to be comfortable with the program or app you select. Initially you will be spending more time recording as you enter your custom foods. If you don't like the program after a few days or a week, it's easier to switch to another before you get too many of your custom foods entered. If you have a lot of time invested in setting up your database, you will be less likely to switch and if you don't like the program, you will be less likely to use it. Keeping track with technology isn't time consuming after you've got your custom foods and meals entered. You should be able to track your food and activity in less than five minutes a day. Recording as soon as you have eaten something makes it easier than trying to remember at the end of the day and you will less likely to forget what you ate.
It's also a great idea to track when you take your supplements especially those that you need to take more than once such as calcium.
Set a reminder on your phone to help remember or use a post it note if you don't have a smartphone.
Whichever program or app you settle on, just use it. Remember, research continues to show that people who record are more successful.
Vicki Bovee, MS, RDN, LD, Wellesse Bariatric Nutrition Expert
Here are a few apps to try and most have fitness trackers as well:
Spark People Diet and Food Tracker
MyNetDiary Calorie Counter
Shroomies Nutrition Menu
Pew Research Center, Pew Internet & American Life Project. (2011). Half of adult cell phone owners have apps on their phones. Retrieved from www.pewinternet.org
Styn M. Et al. (2012, March). Overweight, obese adults use electronic device to stick to diet, exercise. Meeting report presented at American Heart Association scientific meeting.