The Art of Food Tracking (Part 3)

The Art of Food Tracking (Part 3) | Workout NirvanaI haven’t always been so enlightened about clean eating. In my 20’s and early 30’s I suffered from severe digestive issues that caused me to lie down every day in pain. Every time I ate, my stomach blew up like a balloon, and I felt fatigued and groggy on a daily basis.

I accepted this as the norm and didn’t even consider that my diet was contributing.

It was something of a transformation when I became aware of what I ate. Once I began slowly reducing prepackaged, commercially prepared food and restaurant meals, my digestive woes immediately subsided. My transformation continued over the years, and today I’m an autopilot clean eater – downright picky about what I put in my body.

How I Use Food Tracking

Being an autopilot clean eater means that I do not track my food every day, but only two or three times a year as a spot check (I wrote about the last time here). I feel that eating intuitively for fuel is the end goal, not obsessing about every morsel, and that’s what I teach my clients.

When I tracked again recently, I wanted to find out my total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) so that I could possibly lean up for a photo shoot. Plus I wanted to know how much potassium I was getting,  as my cardiologist recommended I get more to help control heart palpitations. Plus I was experiencing a lot of bloating and I hoped tracking would help me identify why.

Tell Me Baby… What’s Your Story?

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series I talked about why, how, and when to track your food. In Part 2, you found your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). Now you have part of your story. It’s time to determine how many calories to cut in order to lose fat at a sustainable rate without losing muscle.

Tracking is useless unless you analyze the data. In fact, don’t be surprised if you start out tracking with one goal but end up with lots of other valuable information leading to other goals. Here’s what I discovered after tracking for two weeks and how you can apply it to your own tracking experience.

Sample Day

As you can see in this sample taken from early in my tracking period, my protein was sparse and carbs heavy. My breakfast, in particular, was too small and low in protein.

To see how I adjusted for these issues, continue reading!

A day in the life of food tracking | Workout Nirvana


Every eating day is different for most people, and this is normal. Some days are low in calories, others high. As long as it averages out to be within your target range each week, you’re golden.

I average 1900-2000 calories a day to maintain my weight. So if I want to lose body fat, I’d need to reduce my intake to maybe 1400-1500/day, depending on how fast I wanted to lose fat (500-calorie deficit per day = 1 pound lost per week).

If you already eat clean and have only one or two percent body fat to lose, where in the world do you make changes?

Macros reveal much more about your diet | Workout Nirvana

As you can see from the macros in my sample day, my targets are 45% carbs, 25% fat, and 30% protein. On this particular day, my carbs were way too high and protein was low. Protein helps make you a fat-burning machine, and carbs can lead to more fat storage in some people. Plus, enough protein is essential for muscle building.


I began the quest to get a better protein intake at every meal by adding beans, dairy, and meat (more about dairy later). My goal was 20-30 grams per meal.

Nonetheless, I did decide in the end that my goal was a tad high. After all, I have been able to build respectable muscle with a lower intake. Again, the benefit of observing your diet for a time period is that you can see if what you’ve been doing is working. Instead of 135 grams per day I can probably do just fine with 122 grams.

I do recommend getting protein at every meal, including snacks if possible. I like my breakfast, in particular, to be high protein for many reasons I’ll discuss in a future post.

Fat and Carbs

When you aren’t getting enough protein, you’re getting more fat and carbs. This was definitely the case for myself. So what’s the problem?

Just to back up a bit, carbs and fats aren’t the devil. Carbs are essential for fueling your workouts; fat is essential for brain function and much more.

However, foods high in carbs and fats aren’t as satiating as high-protein foods, so there’s more potential to overdo the calories when your diet is high in carbs and fat. Fat also has 9 calories per gram, whereas protein and carbs have only 4 calories per gram, making “high-fat” foods also high in calories.

A Note About Protein and Fat: When you add in healthy fats, you’re adding in more calories – this is what happened to me. So moderate your healthy fats like olive oil, avocados, nutter butters, and nuts. Many proteins are not “lean.” Aim for nonfat or 1% fat dairy and lower fat meats, like chicken breast, turkey, and pork tenderloin.

Vitamins and Minerals

If you eat the same foods frequently, you might be surprised about vitamin and mineral deficiencies in your diet. I’m not saying you should freak out about it, but it’s good to be aware of so you can slowly introduce new foods.

For example, I found that I’m not getting enough potassium and iron. I do eat a lot of the same foods over and over so I need to introduce more variety.

It’s a fine balance between controlling your diet for fat loss and getting enough variety. I know how effective and easy it is to stick to what you know – I do it myself. But you can add variety to the existing foods you eat pretty easily by mixing up your veggies and grains and adding in more protein.


There’s no real problem with sugar, per se, unless it’s the refined kind. My sugar intake was high because of fruit. The way I see it, fruit isn’t very satiating but has fabulous nutrients. Again, priorities and moderation are key.


Fiber’s hugely important in digestive health so I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. I’m also working on getting different grains as I talk about next.

Dairy and Gluten

I decided to start restricting dairy and gluten while I was tracking to see how it affected my macros, calories, and belly bloat. I did notice decreased bloating upon reducing these two food groups, but there are drawbacks.

It’s much more difficult to get lean protein when you cut out dairy and it’s harder to get fiber without grains like whole wheat. In fact, I found it so difficult that I added dairy back in. The effects weren’t drastic to my belly bloat, so I figure I can live with it. Gluten, on the other hand, seems to affect me more, so I’ve began replacing it with non-gluten grains and more veggies. But I’m not going completely gluten-free unless there’s a bigger need.

Check out Part 1 and Part 2 of this series if you haven’t already. Now that you have everything you need to know about food tracking, in a future post I’ll give you tips and tricks to maintain your weight without counting.

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10 thoughts on “The Art of Food Tracking (Part 3)

  1. Those calories from healthy fats really do add up, don’t they?
    When I’m tracking (just to check in), I often find that even though I’m eating clean, those extra nuts and avocados are working against my total calorie goals for the day…
    #moreprotein for the win!


  2. Hi Suzanne,
    I’m really surprised that you eat so few greens or even vegetables but don’t mention this at all as something you strive to eat more of! The only vegetable you ate was a tiny bit of sautéed spinach. Vegetables are so full of phytonutrients and vitamins that I try to eat greens every day at least for breakfast and lunch. If I’m in a hurry or not too hungry I’ll make a green shake with romaine, spinach, kale or swiss chard or a combination of all three. Boxed cereal is to me pretty much a processed food. I think we’re all better off eating eggs or oatmeal with fruit for breakfast and sticking to foods with 3 or fewer ingredients. It’s always interesting to see what others consider “clean” eating! Thanks for sharing. Love your blogs.


    • Are you kidding, this is an improvement for me. I aim to eat a salad every day and veggies at dinner. Small steps. And like I said, what’s a typical day? Other days I might eat more greens. I’m not a purist when it comes to clean eating. If my husband cooks a package of healthier prepared risotto more power to him. We always strive to eat low sodium, low fat, organic, etc. Sure, cereal is a processed food, and so is oatmeal, cheese, milk and yogurt. I suppose everyone needs to adopt the lifestyle that suits them best, and that’s one reason I love “clean eating” – you can adapt it to your own family, preferences, and schedule. Three ingredients is a noble goal and I’m glad you can manage that every time you eat! Thanks for your insights!


  3. It’s definitely worth tracking properly. I used to “track” what I ate in my head but would always “forget” to add in the calories from drinks and fruit because its all good, right? (no)
    I would go over my daily RCI by up to a thousand calories a day sometimes because of this. no wonder I was gaining weight like crazy!
    I like your systematic approach, thanks for sharing.


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