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For many, keeping a food diary and tracking calorie intake is an effective strategy for successful weight loss. Paying closer attention to both the quantity and quality of what you’re eating can increase accountability and help you to gain a better understanding of your diet and how it’s affecting your goals.

Of course, just because it’s a practical and useful tool doesn’t mean that it’s easy. Keeping tabs on every single thing you eat can become tedious and bothersome, especially because keeping a food diary is a habit that takes time to build, and like with any other worthwhile weight loss method, results won’t come right away.

There are, however, simple ways to make your calorie-counting efforts a little less mind-numbing and a lot more efficient.

1. Start small

Commit to tracking only what you know you can achieve. In the beginning, this may be as little as one meal every day for a week, or three complete days out of seven. This will begin to develop the habit without making it feel overly burdensome at the start.

2. Don’t focus on calories too much

The number one mistake that people make when using calorie-counting for weight loss is getting stuck in the “calorie is a calorie” mindset.
People focus too much on calories as a number and not enough on the composition and quality of those calories. 1,500 calories of empty calories, like refined carbohydrates and added sugar, will leave someone feeling vastly different and likely much worse than 1,500 calories of fiber-filled carbohydrates, high quality protein, heart-healthy fats, and vitamin and mineral-rich fruits and veggies.
How can you make sure to avoid this common mistake? Pay close attention to the foods you eat by always thinking about what types of nutrients they’re made up of. Make every calorie count by getting the majority of your calories from nutrient-rich foods.

3. Track what you eat, when you eat

Taking a minute or two to log your breakfast just before or after you eat it will makes it feel less burdensome and seriously cuts down on the chance you’ll miscalculate what or how much you ate.

4. Pay attention to the bigger picture

Looking at nutrition intake as a whole, rather than just calories consumed, is the key to learning what makes something a healthier choice. A food diary can shed lots of insight on what you are and aren’t getting from the foods you eat. By learning from this it’s possible to make small adjustments along the way that, over time, can make a big impact.

5. Keep up the good work

Make sure not to fall back on old, unhealthy eating habits once you’ve reached your goal.
It’s important to realize that weight maintenance takes work, too. It’s all about sustaining those healthy eating habits and looking at food primarily as fuel and nourishment for the body.
Continuing to track your food and exercise even after you’ve reached your goal weight can be a simple and beneficial habit to stick with simply because it continues to bring mindfulness and accountability to eating. For those who do continue to track, they should be sure to adjust their nutrition goals and enjoy the bump in calories.

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