I tracked everything I ate for a week – and it taught me 7 surprising things

By Mieke Vlok
23 April 2016

2. Snacks are the culprit!

Like many people, my ideas about what I ate on any particular day seldom correspond with what really crossed paths with my taste buds.

There’s the rusk I had on my way to work, because my bowl of oats didn’t quite touch sides, or the slice of cake I was forced to eat when the food editors generously shared their efforts with the staff.

Not to mention the extra pasta I shamelessly scarfed down from the pot and didn’t add to the size of my portion.

Trying to get a grip on my eating habits and gain insight into my diet, I started recording everything I eat and drink.

Of course it’s a trick as old as the hills and experts have long recommended keeping a food diary as a way to trim down.

Fortunately, in 2017 you no longer have to carry a notebook and pen around to do this because apps like My Fitness Pal, Fat Secret or Lose It! can be used to store lists of everything you eat on your phone.

Many of these apps have preloaded foods commonly consumed in South Africa, like tomato sauce you can get at a regular chain store or pizza from a popular franchise, so you can just select and store it.

From my week of relentless meal tracking, this is what I uncovered:

1. You probably need to eat more than you think you do

The first thing I learnt was that you shouldn’t under-budget for your daily calorie intake. You might think you’ll have just a peach and a few nuts between lunch and supper or that a slice of toast would be enough for breakfast, but you’ll regret it by lunchtime when you discover you’ve already exceeded your calorie target for the day. Rather be honest and realistic about the amount you eat every day, cut out the unhealthy stuff then try staying within that the calorie count.

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2. Snacks are the culprit

Fruit, nuts and various other wholesome snacks are healthy, but not if you partake in them on the hour every hour.

Contrary to what I used to think, it wasn’t the bowl of porridge at breakfast or the sandwich for lunch that sent the calories soaring but everything in between.

3. You have to exercise really hard to cancel out those 'naughty' treats

"I can have all these biscuits. Later today I’ll just run a bit further.” -- Me on a regular day. But my newly-acquired dietary insights have shattered this mantra. Just one packet of Smarties can take up to 40 minutes’ running to burn. And a medium-sized pizza topped with mushrooms, bacon and pineapple can add up to more than a thousand calories, which would require almost two hours’ exercise to dispense with.

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4. Afternoons are my danger zone

Forget about late-night snacks or an oversized breakfast. If you want me to polish everything edible under the sun, simply ask me between lunch and supper.

My desk at work is most fatal during this time, because there I can graze my way through anything from popcorn to chocolates and, given the chance, even a second lunch.

5. But it’s not all bleak

While you do need to make peace with the fact that a quick run can’t wipe out a pizza, there are also a few pleasant revelations. Like that pasta isn’t a disaster unless you slather it with creamy sauces and cheese. Or that you can enjoy the occasional glass of wine without completely derailing your diet.

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6. It’s a heck lot of trouble

We’ve all on occasion announced that we’ll hang on to all our till slips to keep track of expenses, only to realise that it’s not so simple and requires a lot of time and planning.

Logging your meals day in and out is way worse.

Everything must be recorded, the portion size must be correct and you’d better hope that whatever you’ve eaten is preloaded and available on the app, otherwise you’ll have do the sums (read: guess) to work out the calories in your chicken and vegetable bake.

7. Life is just too short

It might be okay after each meal to open the app and record your food or to think twice before taking a bite because you know how you'll feel later when you’re loading that morsel – but no human can live like that every day.

Your eating habits are not a data sheet and you an accountant who must faithfully make calculations every day. After all, you already have to budget for your salary, why also for your food? After barely 10 days I gave up and bid farewell to time as a food detective. These days I close my eyes when I grab a packet of Smarties and try to forget about that screen and its mean figures. Life really is much too short.

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