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It can be confusing. It can be tremendously frustrating. 

If you’re currently caught in the wake of a diet-gone-wrong or you struggle to adhere to nutrition guidelines, try this simple exercise. 

For the next seven days, write down everything you eat and drink. And by “everything” I mean every single thing, no matter how small. All snacks, beverages, trips to the candy dish … all of it. If it goes in your mouth, it goes into the nutrition log. (You don’t need to include calories, macros, or other similar details. Include what you consumed and a quantity, if applicable. Like “half of a candy bar” or “large coffee.”)

What is the purpose of this exercise? Quite often it reveals information that was previously overlooked. Like taking a flashlight into a dark room, you can expose what would have otherwise been hidden by darkness. I can’t tell you how many times someone has done this exercise only to say afterward, “Wow, I didn’t realize how often I was snacking,” or “I found myself frequently finishing my kid’s meal,” or “I forgot how many sugary beverages I have throughout the week.”

What this exercise should not do: stir up feelings of guilt. This is not an exercise that should induce guilt, judgement, shame, or any other emotion. It is a collection of data, and emotion has no place in it.

What to do with the data: Look for the simplest adjustments that can be made. 

If you snack late at night, include more protein and fiber in your dinner. Or switch to a lower-calorie snack instead.

If you consume several sugar-laden beverages throughout the week, switch to lower- or calorie-free options.

Look for the easiest opportunities to include more fruits and veggies; include some berries with your snack, or a side of veggies with your lunch.

Don’t overthink things. Choose one or two simple tweaks to make, and make them immediately. Pick the easiest adjustments to implement, and focus on nailing them for the next month. Strive for an 85-90% adherence to your new targets.

An objection to this exercise is that it’s too simple. “How can recording exactly what I eat and then making small adjustments based on that information be useful?”

What, you would rather have something complex and potentially complicated first? Why would you want to hurdle over the low-hanging fruit easily within reach? Doesn’t it make sense that it’s crucial to master the simple things, the basics, before attempting something more complicated?

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