Keep Your Diet on Track

Counting calories can be a drag. Keep your diet on track—without counting higher than ten.

Monica Reinagel, M.S.,L.D./N
4-minute read
Episode #7

Thanks to all of you who have sent emails and posted comments on the show’s webpage and on the Nutrition Diva page on Facebook. I appreciate all of your positive feedback. I’ve also received some great suggestions for show topics, including this question from Krysta, who writes:

Is calorie counting worth it? I was counting calories for a while and lost a couple of pounds. It was getting tedious even though I was using an online calorie counter. Is there a better way?

As many of you know, I have a blog on NutritionData.com, which is the mother of all online nutrition counters. But I’ll be the first to admit that logging everything you eat can be tedious, whether you’re using an online tracker or a pad of paper. Even so, I think there can be a big pay-off to doing this for at least a few days.

A food diary is a great reality check

One of two things is likely to happen when you log every mouthful of food:

  1. You may be shocked to learn that your actual diet bears very little resemblance to how you think you eat.

  2. You may find that writing down everything you eat is powerful motivation to make better choices.

Either way, it’s a great exercise that can help you bring your diet into better alignment with your nutritional goals. I think it’s worth doing for a few days every year or so, just as a reality check. It’s also a great tool for solving dietary mysteries such as why you can’t lose weight even though you eat hardly anything at all. Ah, maybe it has something to do with that 800-calorie mocha-cherry-nougat-frothi-cino you have every afternoon. Who knew coffee could be so fattening?

Accountability without counting calories

As Krysta has discovered, however, counting calories day after day can get pretty tedious. And I’m not sure it’s completely necessary. A quick and dirty way to keep your diet on track without counting every calorie is to tally up how many servings of various foods you eat. This is the basic idea behind the U.S. government’s My Pyramid initiative, a free program available online at mypyramid.gov.

To use My Pyramid, you enter in a few facts, including your age, height, and activity level, in order to get a personalized recommendation for how much of each food group you should eat each day. For example, My Pyramid recommends that I eat six ounces of grains, six ounces of meat or beans, two and a half cups of vegetables, two cups of fruit, and six teaspoons of oil or fat. You even get a certain number of “discretionary” calories to spend however you like. I get 290. Although it probably won’t be enough for a daily mocha-cherry-nougat-frothi-cino, you can probably afford a glass of wine, a square or two of chocolate, or some other small treat every day. You can print out a chart on which to check off your daily servings as you eat them, or you can keep track online using the MyPyramid Tracker or the MyPyramid Menu Planner.

There are all kinds of supporting materials that go along with My Pyramid and clarify what counts as an ounce of grains or a cup of vegetables, and so forth. For example, there are guidelines to help you estimate portion sizes more accurately. They even have tools that will break mixed foods like pizza or hamburgers down into the corresponding food groups. It’s really pretty simple once you get the hang of it.

Quick and Dirty but Usually Close Enough

Obviously, this system isn’t as exact as looking up the calorie count for everything you eat but it’s actually a remarkably effective way to estimate the number of calories you eat each day. And it’s much quicker—which makes it easier to stick with. As a bonus, following the guidelines also helps to ensure that your diet is balanced and that you’re getting enough protein, fiber, calcium, iron, and other basic nutrients.

I use a modified version of the My Pyramid plan with my own clients and they say that it helps them stay on track. I invite you to try it for a couple of days and let me know what you think.

This is Monica Reinagel, the Nutrition Diva, with your quick and dirty tips for eating well and feeling fabulous. Remember that these tips are provided for your information and entertainment and are not intended as medical advice. Because everyone is different, please work with your health professional to determine what’s right for you.



If you have a nutrition question for me, send an email to nutrition@quickanddirtytips.com or leave me a voice mail at 206-203-1438. And if you enjoy this podcast, help me get the word out by posting a review on iTunes. It's easy! Simply go to the iTunes store and search for Nutrition Diva at the top right of the page. Then, click on the name of the show or on the "subscribe" button. Either one takes you to the show's page on iTunes, where you can post a review. I’ll post a direct link with the show notes as well.

Have a great day and eat something good for me!


My Pyramid.gov

Nutrition Diva page on iTunes (Heads up! Clicking this link will launch iTunes on your computer)

Woman Eating Salad image courtesy of Shutterstock