15 January 2013 New to Calories Tracking?

This is the time of year when many folks decide to make a New Year's Resolution to lose weight. If you have decided to track intake and activity, then good for you – it is an effective tool for weight control. This post will help you track more effectively and accurately, especially if you are using MyNetDiary mobile apps or web program.

Rate of Weekly Weight Change?

Be wise and realistic about how much weight you can lose or gain per week. If you are mostly inactive and barely fit in a 30 minute walk a day, then losing 2 lbs/week is going to be difficult since it will require achieving a 1000 calories deficit, mostly from reducing calories intake. This might not be a big deal for a few weeks, but it is hard to do for the long haul. Instead, opt for a more gradual weight loss such as 1/4 - 1/4 lb per week – that requires only a 125 – 250 calories deficit a day. That is much more realistic to achieve if you do not get much exercise. Here is information on setting a healthy target weight.

Reducing Error

People typically overestimate their calories burned and underestimate their calories consumed. This is a problem since it can prevent people from achieving their weight goal – whether it is weight loss, maintenance, or weight gain. So, let's take a look at how you can minimize error.

Calories Burned

    Folks often overestimate their true calories burned and it tends to happen in several places:
  1. Choosing an overall activity level that is too high. Most folks should use "sedentary", especially if they log exercise. If you read just one article, please make it "Calories & Weight Goals: How It Works with MyNetDiary".
  2. Logging an exercise item that is too high in intensity. There are many activities in the database – look for one that best matches the intensity level of your exercise. Check the kcal/min for items to find higher or lower intensity choices.
  3. Logging too much time for high intensity activities. Only log actual minutes engaged in high intensity activity. This is more of a problem for stop & go activities such as skiing, weight lifting, team sports, etc. When in doubt, estimate fewer minutes in these activities to avoid overestimating calories burned.

Food & Drink Intake Accuracy

    Here are some common sources of error that can thwart one from getting an accurate calories count:
  1. Not knowing how to search for food items or picking the wrong food item.
    1. MyNetDiary has a unique and powerful manual search mechanism – enter the first 3 characters of each word in your food item's name. This will help you quickly reduce the search results to the most likely list of possibilities. For instance, if my food item is "Nature's Path Organic Pumpkin Flax Granola," I can simply enter "Nat Pat Pum Fla Gran" and find the item pretty quickly. If I just searched "granola," I would have to wade through a lot of food items before I found the one I was looking for.
    2. Type of processing or cooking. Pick the correct type of processing for the food – raw, cooked, boiled, fried, etc.
    3. Generic vs. brand. There will be more complete nutrition information from generic foods than from brand foods. Brand foods are required to list about 12 nutrients on their food labels - other nutrients are voluntary. If you want to learn how generic items are named, then view the USDA's nutrient database. All of the foods contained in that database are also in MyNetDiary's database. For instance, generic skinless roasted chicken breasts can be found by using "Chicken Broilers or Fryers Breast Meat Only Roasted" (or, if you use MyNetDiary just enter "Chi Bro Fry Bre Mea Onl Roa").
    4. Use the barcode scanner to find items if you use a smartphone.
  2. Using food items with incorrect data.
  3. Most people are not good at data entry and a minor typo can cause big errors in calories and nutrient totals. Check your entries before saving. Also, check your daily and weekly reports – do you see odd portion weights, calories, or nutrient totals? That is a clue that one or more of your food items used in a record has an error.
  4. "User-contributed" foods are more likely to have errors. Consider hiding "user-contributed" food items from view so that you only choose from Support-entered items and your own customized items. To do this, go into your Settings and turn off "Find Contributed." Just note that any user-contributed items that you have used in previous records will still remain in your list of food options.
  5. Barcode scan to find the item, but then check the food label to make sure the information is accurate. If you have access to PhotoFood Service (iPhone app users, Pro HD iPad app, and Pro and Max Android users with Samsung phones) then use it to correct food label information as well as to request new food items.
  6. Winging It with Estimating Portions.
    I know it is a hassle, but learn how to be a good judge of portion size by measuring and/or weighing your intake at home. The more accurate you are in assessing how much of a food or beverage you consumed, the more accurate your calories log will be. Be especially accurate with items that have a high calories density (e.g. fats, oils, nuts, seeds, mayo, cream, butter, avocado, alcohol, sugars, syrups, etc.). You can read my article on measuring food portions.

Know your tool – what it can and cannot do for you. The more upfront time you put into learning about your app or web program, the less time it will take to log in the future. Enjoy!

More Resources

MyNetDiary Blog. We post on Tuesdays & Thursdays on a variety of topics related to weight control. Here is tips on creating recipes in MyNetDiary.

Diet and Weight Loss MyNetDiary Articles. Contains a library of nutrition, diet, diabetes, and exercise articles – read all of them if you can!

Katherine Isacks, MPS, RD, CDE
Have questions or comments about this post? Please feel free to comment on MyNetDiary's Community Forum or Facebook page – We would love to hear from you. And consider visiting our new Pinterest page!

Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.


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