Getting Started with Keto: The Importance of Tracking What You Eat

Hi everyone – I decided to write an ebook on living that good keto life. It’s currently in the works. If you’re interested or even thinking about it get on the early subscriber list and I’ll send it to you before anyone else. Now let’s dive in!

Put your training wheels on

When you’re first starting out on your journey to ketosis, it’s important to do whatever you can to set yourself up for success. When you first learned to ride a bike, did you start by placing yourself at the top of a big hill with no training wheels and just hope for the best? I really hope not. And no I don’t want to see your childhood scars. My point is, a lot of us started with training wheels…or at least starting on an easy surface with some grass nearby to cushion the fall.

Think about getting into ketosis like that. Sure there’s nothing stopping you from jumping into it with no prior knowledge, but the ones who use keto “training wheels” are usually the ones that have more success crossing over into the land of fat burning…and less scars to show too.

That’s why I want to get to the heart of tracking what you eat. It truly is one of the best secrets to my success with keto and many others, as well. I know a lot of people hear the word “tracking” and get a bit intimidated. But it’s okay, because I’m going to take you through this slowly AND give you options that take away any intimidation.

Importance of tracking what you eat

So you’ve done it. You’ve made up your mind. You’re going to give this keto thing a shot. Hooray! But now what? Well you’ve come to the right place. This is the starting line. The first thing you need to do is take a good hard look at your eating habits.

This means starting a daily habit of tracking every single bite of food you put into your body – calories, carbohydrates, fat and protein. Why?

 

  1. In order to change what you put in your body, it’s helpful to know what you’re putting in it currently.

    When I started out tracking what I ate, I was of the mindset that I probably ate pretty good, I would just need to make some slight tweaks. Tracking the first couple days had me flabbergasted! What I thought was around 1800 calories was more like 2700 – 3000 calories (especially higher on days where I had a long run). I also thought I ate a fair amount of whole foods – vegetables, fruit, whole grains, protein. In truth, it was a lot of processed food and very little of the good stuff.

     

  2. This is an accountability measure.

    When you see what you’re eating on paper, it might make you pause when you’re considering that second piece of cake. Also, when you think to yourself, “It’s just one bite of a brownie” or “it’s just one handful of chips”….that’s where you’re wrong. It all adds up. That glob of barbeque sauce may seem harmless, but in truth, it’s the smaller things that usually hold us up when we’re trying to reach some nutritional goals. The sooner you see how all these add up, the sooner you’ll be able to think more mindfully about what you eat.

     

  3. You’ll better understand the makeup of your favorite foods.

    When you’re starting out, you may have no clue what foods are best for your body other than what you learned about goes into the food pyramid. And that’s fine for now.  But here’s your chance to start looking at those nutrition labels and reading through their contents. A general guideline is – the fewer the ingredients, the better it is for you. In the next keto post, we’ll do a deep dive on macros (the stuff that makes up our food) so you can understand what do with this information.

    But for now, just start thinking about ways in which you could make slightly healthier swaps for the stuff you love that may not love you back. I’m not saying you have to give up everything you love, but just start to think about why you love a particular food and start to think about if there is anyway to achieve that feeling by swapping some of the less-healthy things out.

    For example, when I first started tracking what I ate, my achilles heel was sweet treats. One of the ways I started to overcome this was by swapping my kid’s halloween candy (yes, we still have some) for a really sweet honey crisp apple.** Sometimes I would cut it up and bake it for a couple minutes making it taste just like an apple pie. Which is way better than a snickers, in my mind.

    **Keep in mind, that was just how I started out. I still have a sweet tooth but I’ve found even better replacements that fit the keto lifestyle now.

     

  4. This will set you up for success later when you start to track what you’re eating during keto.

    Getting into a daily practice of tracking what you eat can be an adjustment for some. It does take some time to find the right foods, figure out how much you actually ate, and make sure it’s all being tracked. However, the longer you do it, the easier it gets. When you’re trying to get into ketosis or you’re trying to maintain a state of ketosis, you have a very limited amount of carbs to work with. So for me, tracking is incredibly helpful because it helps me keep an eye on my daily carb intake (along with calories, fat and protein). 

Now let’s get into how you start tracking your food. Here is where you can choose your own path because there are a couple ways to go about this.

How to start tracking what you eat

If you were to google how to track your food, you would find a multitude of answers on this. So I’m not going to speak to all ways of tracking, but I will point out the ones that I’ve personally used and the differences between them.

Option 1: Tracking with free apps (super easy and directionally useful):

There are a lot of ways you could track your food using free apps that can be downloaded to your phone or can be accessed through your desktop computer. Some popular ones include:

For the purposes of divulging my experiences, I’m going to focus on Fitbit because it also tracks my other activities, but a lot of the food tracking functionality discussed here can be found across the other free apps listed above.

Summary: Tracking food through these apps is super easy. There’s a database of food items that you can search through and add quickly, and the ability to customize your portion size. When it’s on your phone, it makes it even more convenient because you can track as you go, you don’t need to take notes throughout the day and come back to input the information on here. It can also let you put in custom foods.

Pros (easy):

  • Really convenient
  • Easy to use
  • No math required (other than figuring out your portion size)
  • Quickly gives you the big picture
  • (Bonus for fitbit users) Shows you the big picture of what you ate vs how much you burned that day

Cons (not super accurate):

  • The database of food is pulling from information gathered by users, so if you can’t verify the information they’ve pulled to the nutrition label, it’s a guessing game as to whether or not the information is completely accurate.
  • It’s not always easy to find the brand of food you’re eating, so you might have to settle for another brand – but that might have different nutrient components.
  • If you’re making a recipe from scratch you either have to input all of the ingredients manually into a “custom food” that you can then portion out, or you have to find a close match in the system but you have no clue if the ingredients and portions they used are the same as what you used.
  • You can’t meal plan ahead of time (like a full week’s worth of meals).

My own experience with this:

I used this for the first couple weeks when I was trying to get a baseline understanding of what I was eating. I found that even being directionally close is better than not tracking at all. For a lot of those home made items, I did a google search and tried my best to find something that was already tracked and used that as my own. What’s also great about tracking on something like Fitbit or your Apple Watch where you’re already tracking activity is that it gives you a sense of calories in vs. calories out. For me, in the beginning, just trying to get these more aligned was helpful – because even on keto, if your calories going in are significantly higher than what you’re exerting in any given day, you’re not going to lose weight (there’s more to this, but it still generally applies to keto).

Option 2: Tracking with a keto-specific app (Still easy – but more accurate)

After I’d been using Fitbit to track my food for a couple weeks, I learned of the KetoDiet App. Here’s my thoughts on using these types of apps.

Summary: It’s a free OR paid app -depending on what you want access to. Just like the others listed above, you can download it to your phone. Also it has the same huge database of foods to choose from. What makes it more keto-specific is that it gives you a recommendation of how you should be eating to get to the right macros (a topic for another post), and helps you track to those goals. Unlike other food tracking apps, it tracks NET carbs, not just total carbs.

Keto Diet App for iPhones

Keto Diet App for Androids

Pros (still easy, more accurate):

  • Really convenient
  • Easy to use
  • No math required (other than figuring out your portion size)
  • Quickly gives you the big picture
  • Helps you track the macros that are important – NET carbs
  • Gives you a personalized recommendation of what macros/total calories you should aim for based on your body type and goals.

Cons (some good parts are hidden until you pay for the app):

  • In order to make custom foods and re-use that information you have to pay for the app.
  • In terms of being user friendly, it’s slightly less easy to use than more widely accepted apps like Fitbit or MyFitnessPal
  • Like the first option, the database of food is pulling from information gathered by users, so it may not be completely accurate.
  • It’s not always easy to find the brand of food you’re eating, so you might have to settle for another brand – but that might have different nutrient components.
  • You can’t meal plan ahead of time (like a full week’s worth of meals)

My experience: I liked that it gave me a personalized recommendation for what I needed my macros and total calories to be at in order to meet my goals (which was, at this point, to get into ketosis). All of the other apps gave me high level insights on what macros are historically better, but none of them gave me a personalized recommendation. Even after I stopped using this app, I still keep it on my phone to re-compute my macro recommendations. I also liked that it focused on NET carbs, not total carbs.

Option 3: Tracking with a spreadsheet (Not easy – but super accurate):

Here’s where I start to let my keto freak flag fly. This is the system that I created in order to be as accountable as possible after trying options 1 and 2 above.

Note: If you want access to the one I’ve created, you can get a starter template as a complimentary gift when you sign up for the Keto ebook.

Summary: I’m not going to sugar coat it. This isn’t the easiest way to track your food. BUT it is the most accurate way I’ve found so far. How it works is you have to manually input every food you eat – meaning all of the nutrients that make up each food and also make sure you have serving sizes captured. If you’re starting out you should capture serving size, calories, NET carbohydrates (see below for more on how to do this), fat and protein. To take it to the next level, you can also include formulas for calculating out macro percentages. But since we’re not going deep on macros in this post, feel free to hold off on that for now.

Pros (super accurate and customized to you)

  • Whatever you eat is exactly what you track…not just someone else’s version of the brand/serving size you eat.
  • Not only can you track food as you eat it, but this is one of the only ways you can actually plan out a whole week’s worth of food and see all of the nutrients laid out before you eat it. Options 1 and 2 say they allow you to “meal plan” but it’s either something you have to pay for or it’s just them saying you can put in all your food items, but it will track it like you have eaten those things, not that those things are in the future.
  • Tracking in this manner allows you to duplicate a day if you found a mix of foods that works well and you want to use that as template for the future. Example: I routinely eat the same breakfast and lunch foods over the course of a week. I can copy/paste that over into future days and then all I need to figure out is how to calculate what we’re having for dinner.
  • Also great if you like to really analyze your food intake closely. With the other options, they do a great job of distilling the information down to high level information that you can understand in a glimpse. But what if you really want to understand the makeup of your food? Or what areas you could tweak to get closer to your goals? Or how you’re doing on a daily, weekly or monthly basis? This is where spreadsheets are great because they allow you to dive into the details and really examine the food you eat.

Cons (time intensive, not user friendly)

  • Not very accessible in a pinch: If you save it to google drive and you download the google drive app to your phone, you can technically access this spreadsheet from your phone or anywhere internet is available…however it’s not that easy to do this from your phone so you’ll likely be limited to maintaining this from a desktop or laptop computer.
  • This requires math. Sure the nutrition label has all of the information for one serving…but what if you ate 1.5 servings? Instead of an app that calculates this difference for you, you’ll have to calculate this on your own – either with excel formulas or a calculator…or I guess your brain if you’re better at math than I am.
  • It’s accurate if YOU are accurate. Obviously there’s room for a lot more human error with this method. What if you mistype? What if you added an extra 0 that didn’t belong? This can throw things off and leave you wondering if your spreadsheet is right or if you just didn’t realize how many calories something has. Diligence is key. Go slowly when inputting this information.

My experience: I’m no stranger to doing things the hard way. For me, the level of control and the amount of data at my fingertips is primarily why I’ve continued with this. I started doing this in late November and a part me thought at first that it wasn’t a sustainable method, but honestly, I still do it to this day and it continues to work the best for me. So I was wrong. It is sustainable!

I like this option the best because it:

  • Keeps me super accountable because everything is accounted for down to the smallest macro.
  • Allows me to plan all my meals for the week so that I can figure out one big grocery shopping list (clutch!).

But yes, it is a bit of work and it takes some getting used to. However, nothing falls through the cracks. Again – this is where the data geek in me thrives and so I get that not everyone will love this method, but if you ever want to try it and want help making your own, I will totally go out of my way to help you with this.


Cool…but what about when life happens?

Life isn’t perfect. Tracking your food will be harder some days and easier others. On the weekend? I have lots of time to track and plan things out for the week. However, when someone springs the idea on me of eating out, I have to give myself some leeway. There are times when I go out to eat and I find that it’s really easy to keep track of what I ate. There are some times where the items aren’t straight forward or I have no clue what ingredients to even track. When you’re starting out, it’s just important to do your best. And also know that not tracking one thing doesn’t mean the rest of the day or the rest of the week is shot. Just move on and don’t dwell on the one area you couldn’t track. When you start diving into more detail or wanting to increase accountability, you have options.

  1. You could plan out what you’ll eat ahead of time.
  2. You could eat something before you go and then keep the fare light when you’re eating out.
  3. You could simply choose not to go (I know, not fun! But sometimes it really is the best choice).

The other helpful advice I found when you’re out with friends – instead of putting it on them to find things you can or cannot eat, just make yourself focus more on whole foods and get sauces on the side. And if you’re already down the path to keto – a good guideline is to stick to meats and veggies.

There are a lot of other tips and trick around navigating the ways of keto when it comes to real life. Did I mention I’m writing a keto ebook and that will be tackled extensively? Sign up today to be among the first to read it.

Yes, another shameless plug. I’m new at this – bear with me!

Conclusion

Tracking your food intake is a great thing to do regardless of your nutrition goals. In order to figure out where you want to go, it’s important to know where you currently stand. For the majority of people – this is a habit they continue on even after they’ve “got it figured out” because there may be times where you wonder why something is happening – why am I not losing weight? Why am I feeling tired? Why do I crave mango chunks? A lot of times, the truth is right there in front of you – in the form of what you’re eating. When you have a record of this, it’s easier to diagnose what’s happening to you and get a plan in place to fix it.

Overall, just remember – bad days happen to everyone. Life gets hectic. Try to go easy on yourself in the beginning and just enjoy the process of learning more about the foods that fuel you.

Also, this isn’t related to tracking your food, but when you’re starting out with keto, it can be really helpful to hear other people’s experiences and also see some yummy recipes. When I first started, I got my hand’s on Leann’s cookbook and was very pleasantly surprised to see that it included SO MUCH information on getting started with Keto that really resonated with me. If you do one more thing to get started down this path (in addition to tracking your food), buy this book. It’s a great read that helps you go from “Keto is intimidating” to “Keto sounds awesome and is TOTALLY something I can do.”

The Keto Diet: The Complete Guide to a High-Fat Diet, with More Than 125 Delectable Recipes and 5 Meal Plans to Shed Weight, Heal Your Body, and Regain Confidence

 


Final plug (in this post, at least)!

Finally…I’m in the process of creating an ebook about getting started with Keto. This post was dedicated to JUST tracking your food. And that is just one small part of what has made me and so many others start living that good keto life. I have SO much more I want to talk about, and an ebook just makes sense. So – if this is of continued interest, sign up below to receive the ebook and as a free bonus, I’ll throw in a complimentary food tracking spreadsheet.

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4 thoughts on “Getting Started with Keto: The Importance of Tracking What You Eat

  1. Kate Puleo Unger says:

    I always love everything you write, so I signed up for the ebook even if I might not do keto. I did get Leann’s book from the library though, so I could get some recipe ideas.

    I look forward to your next post!

    Also, weird side note – I migrated one of my blogs from Blogger to WordPress this weekend, and I also chose this theme. It looks really great with your content, but it didn’t work from my post header images. 🙂

    • Jamie says:

      Yay! Also, I might need your help laying out recipes. I mean, you basically do that for a living. 😉 Also, funny about the theme. And welcome to WordPress!

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