Food Tracking Is Huge This Time of Year—Here Are the Most Self-Compassionate Ways to Kick Off Your 2020 Food Goals

Photo: Getty Images/ Hispanolistic; Graphics: Well+Good Creative
Each January, millions of people throughout the world choose "healthy eating" as a New Year's resolution. Many turn to apps in order to track their progress. But research indicates that calorie-tracking apps may be triggering to people with a history of disordered eating. When you shift the conversation beyond "calories" and diet culture to acknowledge how food makes you feel physically and emotionally, however, health experts say you'll finally start to gather some nutritional wisdom. That's what we're all about in 2020.

Below, dietitians offer fresh food tracking strategies for a holistic, personalized approach to the year ahead.

3 methods for tailoring food tracking to your exact needs, according to dietitians

1. 'snapshot' your weekly meals—and set a specific nutrition goal

The only problem with striving to eat healthier in the new year, says Brigitte Zeitlin, MPH, RD, CDN, founder of BZ Nutrition in New York, is that it's just too broad. Luckily, you'll be able to narrow it down with just one week of tracking.

"I think a week is a good time frame to get an understanding so it includes a weekend and a week's worth so you get your work life," says Zeitlin. "That would only work if you measure a typical week. It's not the week that you are backpacking through Italy because that's not what we're trying to do."

The dietitian recommends writing down what time you eat each meal along with a list of everything on your plate. "Portion sizes don't really need to be there when we're just trying to assess what's going on in the first place. If you're focusing on trying to include portion sizes at this point, it can be a little more daunting," says Zeitlin. However, you will want to track your beverages down to the exact amount so you can see how your hunger levels change on days where you skimp on water or have an extra cup of coffee.

At the end of the week, you'll be able to identify more qualitative goals for your eating patterns. For example, if you find that you aren't eating many greens on the weekend, you can make a point of adding breakfast salads to your brunch rotation or whip up a big batch of kale chips to munch on all Saturday afternoon.

2. Track your emotions throughout a meal

"I recommend keeping a journal to reflect upon your emotions at eating events as well as your hunger level," says Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD, the owner of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness, a virtual private practice that specializes in intuitive eating. "Check in with yourself before, partway through, and after a meal. How does your body feel? Where do you fall on the hunger scale?"

From here, Rumsey says you'll start to experience some major self-discovery. Like, how long you stay full when you eat specific foods, how your energy levels wax and wane depending on the contents of your plate, and what snacks actually make you think, Um, that was delicious. "Try to approach these observations with curiosity, not judgment," says Rumsey. "Keeping this journal puts you back in touch with your body and gives you an opportunity to respond appropriately."

3. Keep a gastronomic photo album

Last year at an event for The Well+Good Cookbook, chef and restaurateur Seamus Mullen, shared that he used a photo diary to get to the root of how food played into his health issues. "I took a photo of everything I ate or drank,” he previously told Well+Good. “Anytime I was about to put something in my mouth, I took a photo.”

After flipping back through his photos at the end of the day, Mullen could journal about how his body felt and adjust his patterns from there. “I could look back through my food journal and see what I was eating on the days my body felt great, and the days when my body didn’t feel so great,” he says. Also, you get to relive that damn delicious meal you whipped up for yourself or the life-changing soup you ate in, say, Italy.

A dietitian breaks down intuitive eating:

Make 2020 your healthiest year yet with Renew Year. Here's how to tackle food and fitness fort he next month. 

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