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How to Track your Meals for Paleo Success

Paleo Checklist

When it comes to meal tracking, some people are diehard trackers, and other people just aren’t. Some people appreciate the accountability of writing everything down, or the ability to easily look back over a month and match symptoms to different foods; other people find it cumbersome and time-consuming for no real benefit.

And then there’s a third group: people who think they hate food tracking because the only kind they’ve ever done is the laborious and annoying count-every-calorie version. These people might benefit from food tracking done differently, but they sure aren’t going to go back to obsessing over every nutrition label.

If you’re in the anti-tracking camp and non-tracking is working for you, great: carry right on with your food diary-free ways. But if you want a way to get the benefits of meal tracking without calorie-counting, or if you’re a tracker by nature and want some Paleo options, here’s how to make it work.

Benefits of Meal Tracking

Meal tracking isn’t for everyone, but it can be a useful tool for many, depending on their goals:

Note that none of these benefits require you to count calories specifically!

Different Methods: Pick your FavoritesMeal plan

The number one rule of Paleo meal tracking:

Meal tracking does not equal calorie-counting.

You don’t have to weigh or measure anything to get the benefits of meal tracking, and you don’t have to tally up calories. Calorie-counting is rarely effective as a method for actual human beings in the real world, even though weight loss does ultimately depend on calories. Calories aren’t meaningless; it’s just that directly addressing calorie intake isn’t actually the best way to create an overall calorie deficit. This is very counterintuitive, but if you’re skeptical here are 10 reasons why calorie-counting doesn’t actually work.

Even if you don’t count calories, though, there are plenty of other ways to track your food. You could…

Basically, just track what works for you. In business there’s a saying that “what gets measured gets managed” – measure whatever you want tighter control over. If you’re trying to figure out which foods trigger acne, constipation, autoimmune flares, or other symptoms, note your diet and your symptoms for each day.

You can use just about any set of tools to track your meals:

Of course, if you want a more fine-grained look at specific nutrients, you can also use a traditional nutrition tracker (there are a bunch online, and a lot of them come with mobile apps). If you’re a nutrition nerd, these trackers can provide you with all the data you could ever dream of – breakdowns of protein by specific amino acid, everything calculated to the third decimal place, the ability to customize foods and recipes until they’re perfectly accurate…but this can be time-consuming and encourage obsessive focus on individual nutrients – many people find it much more pleasant and sustainable in the long term just to write down what they ate.

It Only Works if You’re Consistent.

The key to successful meal tracking is to do it every day. No excuses, and most importantly, don’t skip a day of tracking because you ate something you feel guilty about. Look it square in the face, write it down, and then let it go: you’ll feel better. Don’t let the guilt control you.

Don’t let one day of eating upset you so much that you can’t bear the thought of writing it down – it’s one day; that’s nothing in the grand scheme of things. Making it into such a big deal can easily send you into a horrible spiral of guilt-eating junk to deal with how bad you feel about eating junk. (That might sound dumb right now, but when you’re in the middle of a guilt-shame spiral, it feels very compelling).

Summing it Up

Meal tracking can be a great tool for sticking to Paleo, once you get out of the calorie-counting model and start looking at more holistic ways of keeping tabs on your food intake. Track whatever works for you, whether it’s carbs, specific foods, particular nutrients, or just the overall Paleo-ness of your meals. For many people, just writing down what they ate is perfectly fine for accountability and health tracking purposes.

If you hate meal tracking in all its forms, then by all means, don’t track your meals. It’s not required. But if you’re not happy with your non-tracking results, tracking can be a simple way to diagnose the problem, and there are plenty of ways to do it without going crazy over calories.