Nutrition Experiments: The Food Diaries

Regular readers of bangkokfitness.com will know that I’ve experimented a lot with my diet and nutrition in the last year, including meat, grains, dairy, juice fasting, caffeine, alcohol and food timing.

A few months back I realised that I’ve never recorded the amounts I’ve eaten, only the types of food. When I’ve wanted to cut or gain weight I’ve relied on my intuition, which has worked fine for me but doesn’t work for everyone.

I felt as though when eating normally without any weight loss or gain goals I consumed a lot more than the average person. This perhaps doesn’t impact me as much as your average person due to my high activity levels.

The dated and very generic advice from the UK government is 2000 for women, 2500 for men. The UK Health Board are the last people I get my nutritional advice from, but it still interested me to know my caloric intake.

Now there is a lot more to health, fitness, weight loss and looking good than ‘calories in, calories out’ (which we’ll visit in a later post) but calories do exist and they play an important role in weight management. So I decided to find out about my calorie and general food consumption in the only way I know how: a new food experiment!

Food diary

My challenge was to record everything I consumed in 7 weeks. And I mean everything – if I consumed a nut or licked an ice cream it went in the diary.

I’ve done food diaries in the past but have come to realise that they can be useless and misleading, as they often don’t record amounts. For a general idea about the kind of foods being consumed they’re fine, but for many people a ‘general idea’ is not enough for a strong conclusion that they can really work with.

So for this experiment I enlisted the help of myfitnesspal, an app that helps you track food consumption. The advantages of using an app over simple notes are numerous, but the big one is that once you input your food it gives you facts and stats that would take hours to compile manually. Calories, fats, carbs, proteins and nutrients are all worked out and you can view reports on various aspects of your nutrition.

As well as providing solid information, it makes the whole process more fun and enjoyable, especially for a nutrition geek like me. It also provides a sense of community as you can add friends or use the forum, and if you open up your food diary others can see how you’re doing (including your trainer), which makes you accountable to someone beyond yourself. You can also set reminders to prompt you if need be.

If you’re considering recording your food, an app such as this one is the only way.

Normal eating habits

The first thing I’d like to say is that this 7 weeks consisted of ‘normal eating’. By normal, I mean what works well for me, and with compliance to the 80/20 rule in terms of balance (eat perfect 80% of the time, relax more for 20%). I wasn’t doing any other experiments or tests during this time.

Before I go onto my conclusions I’m going to hit you with some cold, hard facts over the 49 days:

Nutrient breakdownCalories
Average calories consumed per day:
3021
Highest calorie day: 4213
Lowest calorie day: 1354

Macros
Fat

Average grams per day: 172g
Average calories per day: 1,548
Percentage of calories from fat: 52%

Carbohydrates
Average grams per day: 213g
Average calories per day: 852
Percentage of calories from carbs: 28%

Protein
Average grams per day: 149g/day
Average calories per day: 596
Percentage of calories from protein: 20%

Daily averages (and % RDA where appropriate):
Fibre: 45g
Sugar: 96g
Cholesterol: 848mg (300mg/day RDA – 282%)
Sodium: 2137mg (2300mg/day RDA – 93%)
Note: I believe the following are relatively inaccurate due to incomplete listings on myfitnesspal (true figures would likely be higher, especially calcium and iron which aren’t on many listings):
Potassium: 2504mg/day (3500mg/day RDA – 72%)
Vitamin A: 151%
Vitamin C: 207%
Calcium: 92%
Iron: 78%

Weight
Starting (day 1): 82.0kg
Finishing (day 50): 80.2kg
Average weight loss per day: 37g
Compared to standardized calorie equations what I should’ve finished as: 83.6kg
My new calorie maintenance amount based on these stats: 3304 kcal/day

For Fun
Total calories consumed: 152,683 kcal
This amount in Big Macs: 277.6 Big Macs
This amount in spinach: 663.8kg
Most outrageous day: Jan 19 – blueberry cheesecake, popcorn, marshmallows, cheeseburgers and Ben and Jerry’s with waffle, amongst other things (hey, I was on holiday, gimme a break 🙂

You can view my food diary in full here

Here are some of the important take home points:

When you eat out, you don’t know what you’re consuming
When you’re trying to input your three course meal into the app you realise how little you know about what you’re eating when you’re not making it yourself: quality of ingredients, amounts, extra ingredients such as MSG, salt and sugar, oils used, condiments… The list goes on. In these cases I just made an educated guess. Summary: the only way to have a complete picture is to measure and prepare your own food.

Overeating is easy
I had days of eating where my calorie consumption far surpassed what I thought I’d had, and if I didn’t keep on top of updating I’d find it hard to recall exactly what I had eaten. This highlighted to me how easy it is to overeat and not realise it, even for someone like myself who is quite in tune with their consumption. Can’t manage your weight but think you ‘eat pretty well’ or ‘don’t eat that much’? Sorry, but you’re wrong.

Written food diaries are largely pointless
As noted above, written food diaries are too generic and often add to the confusion rather than solve it. I’ve had clients do them in the past and we’ve both been puzzled over why they’re not getting the desired results. I now realise that they’ve missed things out or haven’t given enough information. For example, a ‘Thai buffet’ could be anything from 200-2,000 calories. A ‘chicken salad’ could be anything from 200-800 depending on condiments, extras, sauces etc, and it tells us nothing about the quality of the ingredients. If you’re going to do a food diary commit to a week, more if possible, and record everything and do it properly. Otherwise, don’t bother. My clients who’ve been thorough with the process have had the best results by far. Unsurprisingly, incomplete diaries with entries and days missing have yielded little progress.

The very act of recording makes you more conscious
Studies have shown that people who complete food diaries eat less and eat better. I wouldn’t recommend it as a long term strategy but if you have a big event or goal to aim for you may consider extending the time you do it. Even if you only do it for a week though, you will discover things about your eating habits you never knew and you will automatically become more conscious of the foods you’re consuming. The stats compiled by the app will enhance the educational process even further.

Everyone should try it, but don’t let it become an obsession
I’d like to state loud and clear that this exercise should enhance your relationship with food, not make it worse. It is about learning how you fuel your body and educating yourself on your eating habits, with the view to making some positive changes that are sustainable. It is not about becoming obsessed with every little morsel that you’re eating. That’s not a healthy road to go down. For most people, 1-4 weeks is sufficient.

This experiment was actually open ended for me, but I found that at a friends wedding I was offered a drink and my first thought was about putting it in the app. It was taking away from my enjoyment of the event and so I stopped there and then – 7 weeks was enough info for the time being and it was time to relax a bit!

The Ultimate Goal

Ultimately, everyone should be trying to find out what way of eating works best for them.

food diary

A typical diary entry

This includes what kind of foods you enjoy, how your body reacts to different food and the best and most realistic way you can balance and manage your food consumption in a way that’s sustainable and long term. Once you’ve built up a strong knowledge base, you can relax and enjoy optimal health without the need for food diaries and experimentation.

A food diary is an essential tool to hold up a mirror to yourself and take the first step towards taking charge of your nutrition.

Have you ever done a food diary? What did you discover? Please comment below.

Next experiment

I’m in the middle of a month of veganism, which is proving to be my biggest and most challenging food experiment yet. I’m learning a lot and will update you guys soon.

As always, please feel free to leave any comments below.


Nutritional advice in Bangkok.

A step-by-step guide to fitness and health success

The headline probably grabbed your attention, but if you’re expecting this step-by-step guide to be full of ‘quick tips’, ‘six pack shortcuts’ or ‘foods you should eat to torch belly fat’ then I suggest you stop reading now. This isn’t a get-fit-quick scheme.

Besides, I’ve never understood how you torch belly fat, unless you use a blowtorch of course (disclaimer: Bangkok Fitness neither endorses nor recommends this action).

I have worked with and spoken to hundreds of people about their fitness goals. I’ve seen great success and I’ve seen people struggle and regress. This experience has helped me identify some of the common traits for success with regards to health and fitness.

If you can consider these points then I believe you’ll be more prepared for sustainable progression towards your long-term health and fitness goals.

Step 1: Make a decision to take real action

In my experience, the people who don’t move forward are the ones that make a half-assed decision to do it. They adopt a ‘I guess I should do something about this’ attitude, and then they pay a trainer to sort it out. They’re more interested in buying some new workout gear to train in rather than use it. They research and debate the pros and cons of a new diet without making any significant changes to theirs. They train to look good on their 2 week beach holiday.

The people who have the best results are the ones that really want it. Often this comes from an epiphany or, to quote Samuel L Jackson, what alcoholics refer to as a ‘moment of clarity’. Something that really makes you think ‘Enough! I’m going to really do something about this!’

This could be a health scare, becoming a parent or an untactful comment about your weight. It could be that you suddenly realize you’re not getting any younger, and you truly make aging strong, well and gracefully a priority in your life. It could be that you’ve deeply unhappy with your body image or you had to stop playing 5-a-side football after 5 minutes and felt weak and embarrassed.

When I first got into this industry I thought that I’d learn how to train people and tell them what to eat, and then sit back as they reaped the rewards. I now know that until that true decision for change has been made, it’s very unlikely that anything lasting or significant will happen.

So be honest with yourself and decide if you’re here yet.

Are you?

If not, look for that inspiration.

If so, let’s move on.

Step 2: Set performance goals

The majority of people train for aesthetic goals such as ‘lose 5 kilos’ or ‘get a six pack’. Everyone wants to look good, I get that, and there’s nothing wrong with having these as part of your goal setting. For the sake of discussion, I will refer to these as ‘vanity goals’.

Performance goals vs vanity goals

performance goals - overhead squat

Performance goals – perfect and progress a barbell overhead squat and you will hit a whole load of strength, flexibility and aesthetic goals along the way

Other people set performance goals such as ‘run 800 metres in 3 minutes’, ‘barbell back squat my bodyweight’ or ‘become an all-round kick-ass athlete/football player/sumo wrestler’.

The problem with vanity goals is that it turns the process into a means to an end. Training and eating well turn into painful things you have to do to look good. And what happens when you hit that goal weight or get some abdominal definition? It rarely results in real satisfaction and often results in going back to the old habits and quickly regressing.

Performance goals, on the other hand, celebrate the process. You gain your satisfaction from improving the capabilities of your body, from performing things you couldn’t do before and from becoming a fitter and stronger version of yourself.

People who strive for performance goals are far more likely to stick with it for life. Having the scales read 65kg can only be done one way, by losing body mass, but performing better can be done an infinite number of fun, exciting and motivating ways.

And the best thing about having performance goals? If they’re set correctly then you’ll usually end up hitting all the vanity goals along the way, as well as having fun and truly adopting a long term change.

And if you still don’t have a six-pack you’ll have become a bad-ass motherf*@k%er along the way!

Step 3: View negative behaviour in a different light

Once you’re primed for performance and progression you’ll start to view things that regress you in a different light. Eating junk food tastes good, but with your new found focus the short-lived good taste won’t be worth the long-term set back. Smoking might relax you in your work breaks but being able to play football with your kids in the park becomes more important. Getting wasted on a Saturday night can be fun in the moment but you start to see it as a setback for your goals that carry over until Monday or Tuesday.

This isn’t just health and fitness based too, this extends into relationships, work and life.

For the record, I’m not saying indulgences can’t be enjoyed, but frequent excess and binging becomes a lot less appealing when you can see their impact on other areas. Besides, when you do it less often it’s all the more tasty/fun when you do hit it!

Step 4: Enjoy the process, experiment and have fun!

Regular readers of my site know that I promote an experimental and fun approach to health, fitness and life.

Anything that makes all this fun will mean you have positive associations with health – take your partner to a new organic restaurant, join a friend at a kickboxing or Zumba class, experiment with making some awesome smoothies, learn a new skill like rock climbing or wakeboarding, or learn to do a handstand, backflip or roly poly.

Enjoy finding out more about what kind of movement motivates you and turns you on, how your body reacts to different foods and factors and what goals strive you to constantly improve.

Getting started

No-one honest said getting fit, strong, healthy and in shape would be easy, but if you follow and consider these principles it’ll set you up for success not just for your holiday, but for life.

Steps 1 and 2 require the most work. Once you’ve got these right, 3 and 4 just come naturally and makes the process easier, more sustainable and more enjoyable.

I hope this guide has helped you out. Comment below if you’re stuck or you have any awesome ideas worth sharing… Good luck! : )

If you’ve enjoyed this article, I kindly ask you to ‘share’ on social networks if you feel others would benefit. Feel free to leave any comments or questions below too.

My Updated 2013 Goals

My new year goal setting exercise helped keep me on track in a busy year. After my progress report recently, I wanted to update my goals to reflect my development in 2013.

I used to keep these kind of things to myself, considering them a private matter, but I much prefer getting them out there which gives me some accountability and provides some interesting conversations with people about their dreams and direction. So feel free to grab me and ask me how I’m doing, and please tell me how you’re getting on with your goals.

So here they are – some goals are the same, some are brand new and some are improved or updated versions of my original goals.

Get 7 hours quality sleep each day, preferably 8+
As before. Quality sleep is often overlooked as an essential component of good health. Take naps if need be.

Update bangkokfitness.com at least once every 2 weeks
As before. I want to keep the quality of writing and info high and not just bang out posts for the sake of it though. There are approx 20 weeks left in the year so that’s 10 top-notch posts. Game on!

Continually improve flexibility and mobility
As before. Going to keep this one generic for now.

Sit down as little as possible
Will try to keep this up forever. Job makes it easy for now.

Move around as much as possible
As above.

Do 10 yoga sessions between now and year end
I’ve changed my reasons for doing yoga. Looking more at relaxation than flexibility. Keeping it realistic at once every two weeks.

Eat natural real food as often as possible. Keep processed food and sugar to a minimum. Monitor and limit grain and dairy intake.
Pretty much as before, with adjustments after my food experiments

When I eat badly, make sure it tastes damn good
Cheesecake… Mmmmm

Improve my Thai language
A big chunky fail with this one up to now. Will aim to learn and record 5 words a week and will take 10 Thai lessons before year end

Get out of Bangkok into natural and beautiful surroundings once a month
My first tip on staying healthy in BKK. Important in this great but crazy city

Spend lots of time in the sun
As before. Doing well up to now.

Keep social media time to minimal, necessary levels

When with friends keep my phone in my pocket or out of view, especially with people I don’t see often.

Take phone/device breaks often – when out running, on holidays etc. Call people more (rather than message)
This one is focused more on the fam now – I’ve got set numbers for how often I should call mum, grandma etc. This probably sounds a bit clinical but that’s better than being over here in my own world and not calling for weeks on end.

Surround myself with positive, interesting and inspiring people
To not do this is insanity. Be with people that bring out the best in you.

Be a positive, interesting and inspiring person

Run 100m in sub-12.5
Same. Current Personal Best is 13.48

Run 400m in sub 1 minute
Same. Current PB is 1:04

Run 5000m in sub 20 minutes
Same. Current PB is 20:50. Very determined and going hell for leather on this one right now. It will be mine, oh yes, it will be mine.

Try new things
Makes sense to me. Otherwise life might get monotonous.

Only drink water (with maybe some lime)

Limit coffee to 2 cups a day, and only one milky one
Make my coffee more espresso and coconut oil dominant

Only drink alcohol to the point of having fun and being able to fully function the next day
I find this pretty easy. I enjoy a few drinks but getting wasted doesn’t appeal to me anymore (getting old, maybe!)

Practice Intermittent Fasting
Will try out a few new IF approaches and am planning an updated article to reflect the explosion in popularity of fasting

Do things, don’t talk about doing them
Keep procrastination to a minimum. Act on ideas quickly.

Have 4 articles published in other magazines, newspapers or websites

Hold a handstand unassisted for 15 seconds
A tough one. The ultimate goal being a handstand walk or handstand push up

Give bangkokfitness.com a massive push
Exciting developments coming soon!

Learn more about meditation and incorporate it into my life

Get back into Muay Thai
Will aim to go once every 1-2 weeks. Have already been twice in the last week or so

Find an Olympic pool and swim 1km
Just added this one on a whim. Haven’t swam much since I was a kid, so it would be good to bring it back into play.

Complete the IKFF (Internation Kettlebell Fitness Federation) test for Level 1
They have a particularly stringent test with a pass rate of about 20%

Do one thing every day towards these goals, however small
Keep progressing

Read this regularly
Serves as a good reminder and helps keep me focused.

If you’d like the assistance of a personal trainer to help hit your goals, contact us at BASE for a free consultation.