GUYS! Logging caloric intake is difficult!

Ford85622
Ford85622 Posts: 3 Member
Hello MFP community, and thank you in advance for your replies.

I love the idea of counting calories on MFP.com - I really appreciate that these tools exist to help make the task of tracking calories easier. I've used calorie counting in the past to lose 15 lbs, so I know it works. The concept is familiar. In my workplace we're constantly dealing with metrics, and the adage "What is measured is improved" is more of a prayer chant than an insightful observation. However, I've found my previous successes difficult to repeat. I've started counting calories maybe a half dozen times, and seem to suffer from some kind of 'failure to launch', or inability to persist and consistently log calories.

I feel like I'm going about it the right way. I've got well defined goals, which aren't too ambitious. I'm interested in changing my behaviors instead of focusing only on how much I weigh. I've got a relatively supportive group around me keeping me active, and sometimes I'm lucky enough to have time to spend working towards bettering myself. These things are important, but everyone should know by now that achieving weight loss goals takes hard work, even with favorable circumstances.

What I'd like to ask is this: How do you make the task of logging your food intake easier? Because not every thing that I eat comes out of a package that I can scan into the app, and I just don't have the time to weigh out every ingredient in the meal that my wife is so graciously making me (she may or may not have the patience for that either!). It can also be very difficult, and maybe counterproductive to try and stick to eating the same things for sake of easy logging.

I don't think I'm the only person who has struggled with this hurdle. There are success stories everywhere. MFP posted an article on what people who have achieved their goals ate in 2016, GREAT! But what about how they got there? What tips, tricks, hacks, perspectives, opinions, threads, articles, or experiences could you share that may help myself or others use MFP.com to effectively log intake?

Once again, thank you for your replies, and thank you for reading.
Dillon
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Replies

  • deannalfisher
    deannalfisher Posts: 5,601 Member
    if she is using a recipe online -you can import recipes - it takes 5-10min...and then guesstimate how much you ate - but at the same time - why not talk to her and explain your food goals and see if she is willing to help you
  • vikinglander
    vikinglander Posts: 1,547 Member
    Once you have weighed and measured everything for a while, like 6 months or so, you get pretty good at 'eyeballing' what you're eating. You know what 6 oz of chicken looks like, or a tbsp of dressing. But there is still no substitute for weighing everything to the gram, or measuring to the milliliter. It's the only way to know EXACTLY.

    Good Luck...!
  • HeliumIsNoble
    HeliumIsNoble Posts: 1,222 Member
    1) I've got very good at eyeballing, as @vikinglander said. If I estimate first, then weigh, I will get it about right.

    2) I do most of the cooking, so I am on the spot to weigh ingredients.

    3) I sometimes batch cook huge quantities, using the MFP recipe calculator to add up the value of the whole lot, and then divide it by the number of servings. The calorific values next time I make that recipe will be broadly similar.
  • ncfitbit
    ncfitbit Posts: 1,058 Member
    It would be tougher if someone else is preparing your meals, but chances are your wife prepares things in similar ways each time. I would invest a little bit of time figuring out what's going into those meals and creating a meal in MFP you can tweak as needed. I'm sure your wife won't mind you showing a little interest in the food she is preparing, especially if you offer to help prep. ; )

    I agree with others that you don't have to be perfect to be successful with MFP. And if you can't be exact all the time, I would just focus on being highest calorie items you tend to eat. For example, I always make sure to weigh and measure peanut butter, oils, butter,cheese, to the gram, but I'm pretty lax about lettuce and non-starchy veggies. Good luck!
  • deonbfit
    deonbfit Posts: 75 Member
    I usually find a recipe online then search the calories and other components of each ingredient (that has a substantial impact on the caloric results. I don't log lettuce for example). I put everything into an excel sheet and then I add up the total calories of all the ingredients and divide by the number of servings. Then I create a new food and plug the calories in. That food is now saved in my database forever so if I ever make that recipe again it is in there. Yes it takes some time initially to add new foods and meals but if it becomes a staple in your diet then you can just pull it from meals you already created.
    Another thing you can do if you don't have time to do this is find recipes that already have the calorie breakdown for you. A lot of time people have already logged the recipe into MFP so all you have to do is search the website and name of the dish and voila!
    If your wife is making something at home then I suggest you have her write down what she puts in it and how much and then do the first suggestion I made where you find the cals of each ingredient etc. Unfortunately weight loss takes some preparation and time but if you are serious then you will make the effort no matter what.

    Good luck!
  • Jruzer
    Jruzer Posts: 3,501 Member
    Mrs Jruzer makes our family dinner most nights, and usually breakfasts on Saturday and Sunday.

    When I was starting out in the calorie counting game, I bugged her pretty often to give me recipes or at least ingredients. She knew what I was doing and was on board, and would often point me to the recipes or write down the ingredients. (Most of the time! Sometimes when things were busy or otherwise off-kilter, we didn't close the loop.) After doing that for about a year, I had a pretty good repertoire and didn't need to ask much anymore. Occasionally I'll still ask if she makes something new.

    I still don't think there's any way around having to estimate, however. In a family situation it can be trying to figure out exactly how much you're eating: just how big where those meatballs? How much pasta did I get out of the pot? Did I get more vegetables and less sauce in the stir fry? But luckily this is mostly unnecessary. If you estimate honestly, you can always look at long term trends in weight and fitness and make adjustments as needed.
  • AFGP11
    AFGP11 Posts: 142 Member
    edited March 2017
    I weigh every ingredient raw and use the recipe creator. It isn't really that hard. Being fat was a lot harder and trying to eat "intuitively" doesn't really work for someone like me. It probably doesn't work for anyone here since we're all here to lose weight. Being exact means you will be able to see EXACTLY what went wrong on a week where you don't lose instead of trying to remember and guess. Humans have been scientifically proven to be very, VERY bad at guessing portions. I want to say the average person will underestimate by 50%. If you don't weigh it, you will almost certainly eat too much. If you loosey-goosey it, I suggest dropping your target calorie goal by a few hundred. You will almost certainly be way over if you don't.

    Also I used to not log things like vegetables too. Guess what? In some dishes the vegetables can account for up to 100 calories. Make that mistake a few times in a week and you've lost a lot of your deficit goal. I guess it comes down to how much do you want this and do you want to do it the most efficient way possible or be eating at a deficit for twice as long as you need to?
  • estherdragonbat
    estherdragonbat Posts: 5,285 Member
    I put each recipe into the recipe creator. In the case of a vegetarian main, if it gives me 4 servings, I'm the only one eating them (married to a meat eater. I cook him something else), so while I don't weigh each portion, I know that if the whole thing is around 2,000 calories, each meal is going to be roughly 500 and I don't sweat it if one meal is 460 and one is 540.

    I put the recipes in in advance. When the time comes to cook, I make modifications as necessary. (There was a vegan Asian noodles in spicy peanut sauce I wanted to make, for example. Each individual serving was over 800 calories. I decided at first to recalculate and get 6 servings instead of 4... which was better. But then I decided to try switching out the rice noodles for shiratakis. And suddenly, I was back up to 4 servings, at around 430 calories per!) I'll admit that I sometimes take the shortcut of plugging in "1 large onion" "1 medium carrot" or using measuring cups for stuff like corn and frozen peas. It's a habit I got into on other weight-loss programmes, and one I will need to break eventually. For right now, though, I've got 87 pounds to lose, and the inaccuracies aren't tripping me up... yet.
  • Ford85622
    Ford85622 Posts: 3 Member
    Thank you all very much! I feel supported by your considerate and thoughtful responses. The experience you've shared should help me immensely. In addition, best wishes to all of you in the process of reaching your goals!

    Since that worked so well, I'd like to pose some more questions:

    How often do you log entries in your food diary? Do you log every time you eat? multiple times throughout the day? or only once? Do you have a few scheduled times when you log your caloric intake? Verity1111 mentioned that logging the day before was super helpful if you have already planned your next day's intake. What are your thoughts?

    I'm very interested in what you've found to work personally. From a behavioral point of view, my (*! UNINFORMED !*) opinion is that setting the bar too high (i.e. weighing every gram, with constant focus on logging) can cause my hardships, shortcomings, failures, and mistakes to seem like justifiable cause for giving up. This is why my bias right now is to focus on logging entries ("what is measured is improved") consistently and just sticking with the calorie counting efforts. To this point I'm currently watching my net caloric intake with a very passing interest.

    However a few of you responded with the idea that there is no substitute for accuracy. I appreciate your input and would not want to sway you from the methods that you are using to reach your goals. Have you held that view the entire time you've been using MFP? In your opinion, has being very accurate with your reporting helped you to make lasting changes to your behavior?

    I seek to benefit from your experience! Opinions are great! What works for you? What hasn't worked for you?

    Thanks again,
    Dillon
  • AnvilHead
    AnvilHead Posts: 18,345 Member
    Ford85622 wrote: »
    How often do you log entries in your food diary? Do you log every time you eat? multiple times throughout the day? or only once? Do you have a few scheduled times when you log your caloric intake?
    I log at every meal or snack. If it's packaged foods, I scan the barcode on the bag/box/whatever, do a quick double check of the MFP database entry for accuracy against the label, and enter them. Many of my most commonly eaten foods are already in my diary list, so it makes it faster and easier to log once you have that built up. IMO, if you wait until the end of the day to log, things are going to slip through your memory (I've tried it and it's happened to me more than once!).

    Ford85622 wrote: »
    Verity1111 mentioned that logging the day before was super helpful if you have already planned your next day's intake. What are your thoughts?
    I'll say to each their own on that one. I've never once pre-logged my meals because I don't plan that far ahead. Most of the time, I literally have no idea what I'm going to eat until I walk into the kitchen, lol! Pre-logging works for some who like/want that degree of accountability and order, it's just not my style. With that said, I don't think there's anything at all wrong with doing it if that's one's preference and I can see where it could be advantageous for some people.

    Ford85622 wrote: »
    I'm very interested in what you've found to work personally. From a behavioral point of view, my (*! UNINFORMED !*) opinion is that setting the bar too high (i.e. weighing every gram, with constant focus on logging) can cause my hardships, shortcomings, failures, and mistakes to seem like justifiable cause for giving up. This is why my bias right now is to focus on logging entries ("what is measured is improved") consistently and just sticking with the calorie counting efforts. To this point I'm currently watching my net caloric intake with a very passing interest.

    However a few of you responded with the idea that there is no substitute for accuracy. I appreciate your input and would not want to sway you from the methods that you are using to reach your goals. Have you held that view the entire time you've been using MFP? In your opinion, has being very accurate with your reporting helped you to make lasting changes to your behavior?

    In all honesty, what has worked for me has been a lot of "winging it". I don't pre-log (as I already said), I eyeball/estimate a lot of my portions (after weighing things for a while to get a feel for it), but I do log every bite I take of any and everything. There are some things I do always weigh just because I know from experience that I can't accurately judge their portion size, so a quick trip to the food scale takes the guesswork out of it.

    Just as some people are good at math and others are not so good, so it goes with eyeballing portions - some can get away with it just fine, others will find that it sinks them big time and they have trouble losing weight. I understood what I was doing and what the potential issues were - if my weight loss had stopped for a prolonged period, I would have known exactly what was wrong and exactly what I needed to do to fix it. Throughout most of my weight loss, I lost it at just under 1 lb/week (on average - weight loss is not a linear process!), which was pretty close to the rate I had set for myself.

    If you find it a hardship to weigh everything, try eyeballing it for a while. If the scale is moving how you want it to move, it's working for you. If you're not losing weight, then it's not working for you and you're going to have to tighten things up and break out that food scale. But whether you weigh your food or not, I'd still recommend that you log everything. The more data points you have (and the more accurate they are), the better - and if you don't have any idea how many calories you're actually eating, it makes it hard to adjust with any degree of accuracy. It will also make it difficult down the road to try to figure out what your maintenance calories are. You can keep experimenting until you dial it in, but ideally you'd give each adjustment 4-6 weeks to see what the effect is - and that's wasting a lot of unnecessary time with guesswork simply because you're averse to trying to make your data as accurate as possible. Measuring calorie intake and expenditure is a "loose" science by its very nature in the first place, and we only make it worse when we're sloppy with our data collection.

    I've seen a LOT of threads where people come in frustrated to tears because they're eating 1200 calories a day (or so they think) and not losing weight - but when they're questioned more closely it turns out that they're not logging accurately, not weighing/measuring their food, and they really don't have any kind of even reasonably accurate idea of how many calories they're really eating - which usually means they're eating substantially more without realizing it, which is why they're not losing weight.

    So if you want to try winging it, give it a shot. Try it for 4-6 weeks, keep an eye on the scale and see what happens. It works for some people, but it also doesn't work at all for many people.
  • Jruzer
    Jruzer Posts: 3,501 Member
    Ford85622 wrote: »
    How often do you log entries in your food diary? Do you log every time you eat? multiple times throughout the day? or only once? Do you have a few scheduled times when you log your caloric intake? Verity1111 mentioned that logging the day before was super helpful if you have already planned your next day's intake. What are your thoughts?
    ...
    I seek to benefit from your experience! Opinions are great! What works for you? What hasn't worked for you?
    @Ford85622 I applaud your interest and good questions - so often we just see posts of the ilk "1200 and not losing!" or "What am I doing wrong?"
    --
    Here's what I do. Apologies for length.

    I have slightly different habits for the work week and for the weekend. I'll focus on the work week and point out weekend differences at the end. As I said above, my methods are colored by the fact that Mrs Jruzer usually makes the family dinners and weekend breakfasts. She is a great and inventive cook, but she's also a harried mother of 4 who does her best to make nutritious meals for all of us on a tight schedule based on what's in the fridge or what's on sale. As a result I don't usually have a lot of control over these meals besides voluntary portion size control.

    My methods have evolved over time to be consistent with what I can support and what I'm comfortable with in my lifestyle and station.

    - I make my breakfast and lunch the night before. I hate doing all this in the morning, so I have it all set out and ready to go. I prelog these.

    - I also prelog what I intend to eat as snacks for the next day. I have a set of things that I often like to eat for snacks in the evening. Or maybe there's something I know I'll want to eat, such as some birthday cake.

    - Finally, I'll prelog my dinner for the next day. I've tried two approaches for this. The first is to put in 800 calories, which is larger than 95% of our regular dinners. Then, after dinner, I'll enter what I actually ate in place of that 800 calories. The second method, which I've just started over the last week, is to log today's dinner for tomorrow, or yesterday's dinner for today, if that makes sense. This second method gives me much more predictability, and I'm finding that I really like it.

    - Usually all of this prelogging puts me over my budget for the next day. This gives me my exercise goal.

    - Usually it works out that I have some extra calories at the end of the day. This translates into extra snacks.

    - I make room for craft beer every day. I make it a point to try as many different ones as I can.

    - I actively change my calorie budget for the work week to be 200 calories under my normal budget. This then gives me an extra 500 calories daily during the weekend.

    - I tend to be exact sometimes, but not all the time. I keep in mind that there are very large error bars on all these numbers, so precision better than the uncertainties isn't helpful. I tend to weigh things I can weigh readily or that are calorie dense, such as cheese or cereal. I usually don't bother weighing fruit, or slices of bread, or prepackaged foods. For the meals Mrs Jruzer makes, I just make best case guesses. For example, the other night we had Trader Joe's orange chicken with stir-fried broccoli and rice. I guesstimated all of these, including the oil used in stir frying, but I didn't weigh anything. Some busy nights we have frozen pizza, and I'll calculate what I had based off of the packaging: for example, 3/8 of a 1200 kcal pizza is 450 kcal.

    Regarding weekends:
    - As I said above, I typically give myself 500 extra calories on Saturday and Sunday. I tend to be more lax on the weekends, so these extra calories give me a cushion.

    - The Mrs usually makes breakfast as well as dinner on these days. The family breakfasts tend to be more energy dense than those I pack myself, so the extra breathing room is helpful.

    - I tend to make lunch out of leftovers, but have to be extra vigilant since I'm at home with free fridge access.

    - I also tend to exercise less during the weekends, because I don't have access to the gym I use at work. When the weather is nice I try to spend a lot of time on my bike, but at best that's 6 months out of the year.

    --
    Interestingly, @AnvilHead and I have almost diametrically opposed methods. To my mind this shows the importance of finding out and doing what works for you. I like having the predictability, and I'm really quantitative and enjoy playing with numbers.
  • youdoyou2016
    youdoyou2016 Posts: 393 Member
    edited March 2017
    What I have learned is that I tend to eat the same things over and over. I keep a little cheat sheet of sorts with my usual foods -- like, a raw potato has X calories per ounce. When I want a potato, I weigh it and do the math. I have to be precise given my size, activity level, and because I don't have much more to go.

    When I first started, it took a little more effort than it does now as I was figuring out calories per ounce for my foods.

    Really, I was surprised at how little variety there is in my own cooking / eating: chicken, flounder, turkey, ground beef, pork loin, salmon. Over and over. Once you have this kind of thing figured out and written down somewhere, it's really not all that burdensome to log, in my opinion. 48 calories in an oz of raw salmon; the piece is 10 oz. That's 480, but I'm only having half. You get the idea. Easy peasy. It doesn't take that long now. And, again, I am super precise because of the stage I'm in. You might be OK with eyeballing things at this point.
  • MikesterAZ
    MikesterAZ Posts: 67 Member
    I do a lot of food prep and that planning starts at the grocery store. Granted I am single, living alone so I can more easily get the math to work out. Also I get paid only once a month so I prepare stuff for the entire month during the first week following each time and I have a large set of storage containers, glass for going from the refrigerator to the oven, plastic for going from freezer to refrigerator and zip seal bags for space saving and stuff destined for my lunch bag. I even have tiny little plastic condiment cups for stuff like salsa. I found convenience was a big downfall for me so I need my stuff to be ready to go in the oven or my lunch bag in a hurry. By doing it this way I have all the stuff logged as meals and I just pull them as I choose them.

    This also makes it possible to plan my food in the morning and put them on the diary and just stick to it. Let me walk you through an example because this is both fluid and regimented in one:

    1/ I'm walking through the store and I notice baguettes on sale. It is a two pack and if I slice them in half I will get four sandwiches. I decide I want them to be italian style so I put them in the cart and head for deli meats (obviously I am doing this with several recipes at once as I stroll through and find base ingredients on sale). I get to the deli section and find that one of the brands of salami is on sale for $X, it has Xoz and that divides nicely by my four sandwiches if I get X packs (sometimes they're small depends what brand you find - I'm also a bargain shopper). OK now I need another meat ... Pepperoni and ham or canadian bacon are good and provolone. Those cals can add up but if you pick sensibly you can gauge for a 500/600-ish calorie meal size sandwich and voila!! There are four of my lunches that month.
    2/ I get home and I actually prep those sandwiches (and whatever else) over the course of a few days (90 meals is a lot to prep). Other examples are dishing up portions of mashed potatoes into the oven containers so I can pop a portion in the oven with my chicken breast. I make these as modular and easy to grab as I can even stacking them up neatly so I can grab the right stack and it's a whole meal. Back to the sandwiches, those I wrap in foil and usually freeze. If need one the following day I take it down to the fridge the night before. A foil wrapped sandwich can be popped in the oven and nice and warm and yummy in 10 minutes, or if I have an appointment I can stick it in my lunch bag. Breakfast I have a pita recipe where it's 2 eggs, 2 sausage links, 1/2 cup hash browns, 2 tbsp pico sauce and 1 pita. I portion these things out (say there's enough for six) and I literally have the entire thing grouped so I can just grab it (2 eggs in a little plastic dish ready to scramble, the sausages already cut into little pieces in a baggie and the portion of potatoes also in a baggie, and the pico in a condiment cup all fit neatly into a larger container. I actually get excited to grab my neatly portioned meal when the time comes.
    3/ I meticulously put these into the meal planner and I correspond recipes with a date label on the bag. Example, 2017.03.07 Italian Deli Baguette. It says this in the saved meals and on the bags so I can match up recipe to diary. Yes that is a lot of meticulous up front effort but it is worth it. Because those meals become as convenient as fast food to grab and prepare. I use a panini grill a lot, those are easy to prep and freeze or just refrigerate if they have tomatoes or something I don't want to ruin and then just throw on the grill when it's meal time.
    4/ Last I do food planning in the morning so I'm not exposed to emotional choices through the day. I put things on the diary and make sure they fit calorie wise, and if I earn extra through the day from my step count I fit in snacks of fruit like bananas, oranges, grapes or even a smoothie.

    I am not sure how well this method would translate to a family situation but maybe there's something you can use here. Good luck!!!!
  • MonaLisaLianne
    MonaLisaLianne Posts: 377 Member
    I lost about 30 lbs. through logging foods. Now I'm trying to get 7 lbs. off that I regained. I find multi-ingredient meals really are difficult to log - especially when cooking 4-6 servings - so I try to eat simple meals as often as possible. Roast chicken, steak, pork chops, broiled or blackened fish, etc. Some recipes are fairly low calorie except for the meat (soups, stews) so I'll separate out & weight the meat & estimate the veggie portion. Casseroles are yummy, but if I can't get the calorie count from the recipe I force myself to calculate the ingredient calories (macaroni & cheese, for example) and save it to my meals. Foods like that are a slippery slope for me, though, so I tend to just avoid cooking them.

    I find that planning meals and pre-logging them is invaluable. It allows me to vary portions/ingredients as the day goes by in order to hit my macros & calorie goals. If I think I've underestimated my calories (easy to do) I try to add an extra 15 minutes to my hour of walking to buffer the miscalculations. Depending on how much you want to lose and how quickly, accuracy may not matter as much. If you want to slowly lose a LOT of weight being less than perfectly accurate may not keep you from losing. When you're just a 3-5 lbs. from goal weight it becomes a *lot* more important, in my experience.
  • treegirl97
    treegirl97 Posts: 70 Member
    I fell off the daily logging train for a while but am just getting back into the habit. During the week, I tend to log most of my daily food in the morning when I get into work. All my food for lunch and snacks are all weighed and measured and I just write them all down in a little notebook I throw in my lunch bag. I always have a good idea what I'm having for supper so I usually put in the food and estimate an amount till after supper. For example, if I know I'm having chicken breast, carrots and broccoli I enter them all in during the day and then only have to add the correct weight of those foods after supper.
  • Jthanmyfitnesspal
    Jthanmyfitnesspal Posts: 3,224 Member
    Things that help me:

    - Find some friends to log with. I have a friend who has logged continuously for 500 days. Very inspiring! I'm only up to 60 at the moment. No one said your log had to be perfect. Thank god for "quick add," see below.

    - Buy a food scale and a few extra sets of cup measures. Weigh all high-calorie items (nuts, cheese, ...). Measure cereals and milk. (One of my weaknesses is cold cereal. I never know when to stop.)

    - Help with meal planning, shopping, and preparation. Take personal responsibility for keeping your preferred foods in your house. (No excuses about your partner not shopping for the right stuff.) Don't buy stuff that you don't want to eat (e.g., bags of barbecue potato chips at Costco).

    - Standardize your breakfasts and lunches to a few options that you know are within your plan.

    - Eat breakfast at home (not at Dunkin' Donuts).

    - Bring your own lunch and snacks to work every stinkin' day.

    - When you eat a meal at a chain restaurant, plan what you're going to have and enter it in advance. MFP has an incredible number of chain restaurant menu items. Lunch sized salads are usually the best bet. But, be careful, there is at least one salad at Cheesecake Factory that has 1000kcals, yet they also have good lighter offerings.

    - If there is a meal that you just can't log (like a big fancy restaurant meal or a night of hors d'oeuvres) just put in a "quick add" of some made up calorie number. I typically pick 1000. I always keep exact count of the drinks, though.

    - Pick some "just say no" foods. I have almost entirely cut out any candy that is not dark (70%) chocolate, cookies, pie crust, ice cream (i don't like it for some reason), and, of course, sugary drinks.

    - Put a stiff limit on alcohol, including what nights you will drink, what you will drink, and how much you will drink. (I no longer drink any sugary alcohol drinks, like pina coladas, etc. I don't drink on weekdays. When I'm trying hard to lose weight, I stop alcohol entirely for a while.)

    - When you eat a lot one day, skip breakfast and/or lunch the next. I have found this increasingly easy to do.