Food Tracking

The ABCs of Food Tracking: Weighing the Benefits

April 29, 2024

Food tracking: you either love it or hate it. If you are a hater, read on with an open mind. Most of the lifestyle habits that we put in place for a successful journey post-weight loss surgery are about mindset. Let’s think about food tracking as just another tool in your toolbox that you can pull out when you need to fix something.

When you are on a weight loss journey, even when you have achieved your weight loss goal, it’s important to stay focused on your “why.” When we get distracted from our goals, we get busy, or we fall off track, it’s always good to reflect on our deepest reason for staying healthy. We are human, and setbacks are bound to happen over the course of a lifetime. And we know weight management is something that takes a consistent level of commitment and focus through every season of our life.

It’s easy to find reasons not to track our intake. Here’s a few I have heard from my clients (and that I have used myself as well!):

  • It’s too time consuming, and I’m too busy
  • I feel like tracking allows food to control me
  • Tracking makes me feel deprived
  • Tracking allows good or bad choices to define my actions as good or bad
  • I eat almost the same thing every day at the same times
  • It’s too time-consuming to weigh and measure food, and then to log it all too

Tracking may not be for everyone and can be detrimental to people who struggle with disordered eating behaviors. Working with a registered dietician or professional who specializes in eating disorders can provide some healthy strategies for those impacted by these conditions.

However, when we remove judgment from our food tracking, tracking has a number of benefits!

Awareness and Accountability

First, let’s look at food tracking as data. It’s just information about what we consumed. The data would be the same whether we track it or not. Instead of judging ourselves as “good” or “bad” based on what we see in our tracker, just look at your food journal as facts.

As post-weight loss surgery patients, we must focus on hitting our protein goals. Using a food tracker is a great way to ensure we are doing that or to help us see where we are coming up short. As humans, we’re not perfect. There are days where we may be 100% on top of our game, but in all reality, there’s many days where we fall short of perfection.

Tracking also keeps us mindful of what we are consuming. Grazing and snacking are often the culprits behind weight regain. Every little bit can add up and put us in a calorie surplus, so the accountability of logging food is helpful to remind us to pause before snacking to check in with ourselves to see if we are really hungry or just eating due to an emotional trigger or boredom.

Food journals are also a helpful tool to remind us of foods that worked for us when we were feeling at our best. When you get off track, review your past logs for inspiration for meal prep and shopping lists. I encourage clients not just to track their intake but also how foods make them feel (energized, full, sluggish, satisfied, etc.).

Tracking is also an important tool when you have specific fitness goals. When your goal is body recomposition, the simultaneous process of muscle gain and fat loss, it becomes very important to ensure that you are consuming sufficient protein and carbohydrates while also staying in a calorie deficit. Tracking your macros helps you ensure that you are getting enough overall calories, eating enough protein to build and repair muscles after intense exercise, and replenishing your carbohydrate stores that you used during exercise. You also make sure that you are not overconsuming any macronutrient group, so you can stay focused on fat loss as well.

Back to Basics

Early in your weight loss surgery journey, your intake will be very simple. You’ll be focused on getting in your protein and fluids. In this time after surgery, if you can learn to build the habit of food tracking, it will get you used to being mindful of your intake and learning to use your tracking method, whether it’s a notebook or an app. Tracking can help you create a mindset of focus on your nutrition. As you progress through food stages, your intake will get more varied, and having this habit on board will be quicker once you develop the skill of tracking.

Food journaling becomes a powerful tool when we’re trying to focus on losing regain weight, when we are troubleshooting plateaus, and when we’re feeling our eating patterns are losing their structure. If you don’t really have a clear picture of what you’ve been eating to cause regain, tracking can help you get control of your eating patterns and help you reset not only your eating habits, but your mindset as well.

Here's one tip: Use your food journal as a planner. Set an intention to get back on track. Start by planning out your day. Decide what you are going to eat for one day and log that in your journal. Stick to your plan. At the end of the day, go back to see where you stayed on track and make any modifications or substitutions in your journal. This should only take you a few minutes at the beginning and end of the day, and it sets the tone for a successful day. Make any notes about what worked well for you or where you can improve the next day, and just build upon that. Consider this a big win!

Another trick: if you pack your food for your workday, log your food as you put it in your bag. Be sure to pack what you need for your meals and snacks and enter them in your journal at that time. If you have leftover food at the end of the day, just adjust your tracker.

Using either of these methods requires one thing: planning! Be sure to have your go-to foods and meals on hand. Make a shopping list and get organized. Food planning is a habit that can take some time to build, but it starts with the first time. Be sure to include your favorite proteins, veggies, and other foods on your list so your healthy choices are there for you when you need them.

Creating Habits that Last

No one says you have to track food for the rest of your life. In fact, once you develop a healthy eating pattern that works well for you, you can continue living that way without needing to track. Choosing similar foods every day and eating in a consistent pattern for timing and quantity works for many people for many years. There’s also no rules that say you have to use an app to track your food. You can take pictures, jot down notes in your planner or a notebook, or use whatever tool that works best for you.

The key is for you to recognize when it’s time for some extra accountability and awareness. That’s when it’s time to pull food journaling out of your toolbox and spend a couple of days or weeks checking in with yourself to make sure your nutrition is on point and working effectively for you. Just remember, this is information that’s helping you make choices that are in alignment with your goals, not an indicator about whether you were good or bad. Knowledge and data are powerful tools for your journey! Happy tracking!

Food Tracking

Marilyn Clark is a certified Nutrition & Lifestyle Coach, a certified personal trainer and runs her website Off The Plate.

Marilyn Clark


Marilyn Clark is a certified Nutrition & Lifestyle Coach, a certified personal trainer, radical self-care advocate, an obesity survivor, a bariatric patient, and runs her website Off The Plate. She is a certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, a Level 1 Precision pro certified in Sports & Exercise Nutrition, & a personal trainer by the National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer program! Read more articles by Marilyn!