Down the hatch…
Have you ever tried keeping a food journal? Though it can be a pain, tracking your food intake is an extremely helpful tool whenever you’re trying to change the way you eat. Not convinced? Here are just a few reasons why jotting down your daily fare can help you reach your goals.
- Just what *are* you eating, anyway? Even if you don’t measure portions or crunch numbers, simply writing down the foods you eat and beverages you drink can highlight general trends in your diet. You can quickly get a feel for how many fruits and veggies you eat per day, whether you’re eating whole grains, the sort of snacks you’re downing…you get the idea. With this basic information, you can create some very meaningful nutrition goals without ever picking up a calculator.
- And when? Wanna hear about the Great American Weight Gain Plan? Here’s how it goes: No breakfast. Skimpy or erratic lunch. Big dinner with mindless munching until bedtime. Sound familiar? I hear this one over and over again, particularly from my clients who have a lot of weight to lose. So do yourself a favor. As you embark on your food journaling endeavor, be sure to note when you are eating. You may have never realized how you truly graze all day or how you don’t put a fork to your mouth until 8pm at night.
- Do some good ole’ fashion calorie counting. Remember how your weight is a balance between the calories you eat and the calories you burn? Keeping a food journal is like using your check book ledger. If you want to reach your goals, you’ve got to stay on budget. While some folks can lose weight simply by watching their portions or making a few substitutions, many of us need a little more accountability. If you struggle to lose weight, an accurate food journal will help you keep tabs on your caloric intake and will provide you with invaluable information as you assess and re-evaluate your tactics along the way. Thankfully, there are several online food journals that do much of the number crunching for you. I mention a few in this post.
- Zero-in on specific nutrients. Many of us wonder whether or not we’re really getting what our bodies need. Are we getting enough protein to support our muscle? Adequate calcium for bone health? What about that saturated fat? Thanks to the number of online food journals available these days, you can easily analyze your diet for all your major nutrients and see where your deficiencies lie.
- Reality or wishful thinking? So often when I’m counseling someone, I’ll ask them to describe their typical diet and they’ll begin by saying, “Well usually I have (insert healthy choice).” My favorite follow-up question to that is, “What did you have yesterday?” Almost without fail, my client will say something like, “Oh! Well, yesterday was an odd day…” and proceed to tell me about their trip to the drive-thru, or the venti mocha latte with whip (it was a rough morning!), or how there simply wasn’t any time to eat! For whatever reason, we tend to confuse how we’d like to be eating with what we actually do eat. A food journal truly brings reality to bear and dispels any delusions you may have regarding your diet.
- Find your triggers. Want to take it a step further? In addition to the straightforward what, when, and how much, try adding WHY to that line-up. While hunger is a powerful beast to be reckoned with (and one I suggest you tame by eating regular meals), your emotions can at times make your growling stomach seem like a cute puppy dog by comparison. There are entire books devoted to the topic of emotional eating, so for now I will simply say that jotting down a short explanation for your various food choices can be a great first step in discovering how your emotional triggers may be influencing your food choices.
- Food amnesia. Just how good is your memory? I don’t know about you, but many of my clients are fuzzy about what they had for breakfast this morning, let alone last week! Plus, think of all those little bites, nibbles, and noshes that are quickly eaten and quickly forgotten. When you truly record every single thing you eat and drink, you’ll see how quickly those extras can blow your calorie budget.
- Don’t be mysterious. Odds have it, if you’re trying to lose weight, this is not your first attempt! In fact, I occasionally will work with someone who has tried so many diets that she has lost hope that she’ll ever be able to lose the weight. In these cases, I am often dealing with a person who has dabbled with various diets, but has never kept good food records. If you have ever found yourself wondering why you are struggling to lose weight, food journaling can solve that mystery! You’ll never wonder why that diet you (kinda) followed didn’t work. You’ll know without a doubt exactly how many calories you were consuming and that sort of information is priceless when seeking the right calorie plan for your goals.
- Uncover food sensitivities. Food journaling can be a helpful tool for those seeking relief from various ailments that may be impacted by diet, such as bowel disorders, migraines, or various food intolerances. Though it is rarely a black and white process, keeping a food journal can help you find correlations between certain medical problems you may be having and the foods you are eating. If this is your goal, you’ll want to record not just what you’ve eaten, but also what symptoms you’ve experienced that day, noting the timing as well as severity. Finding these correlations will take time, so be patient. Bear in mind that you may never find a correlation between your diet and your medical problem. If, however, you do find a potential culprit, you’ll want to begin an elimination diet to determine whether this food is a problem for you. Your friendly, neighborhood dietitian can help you with this.
- Live and learn. As you reach for your goals, you’ll find that some strategies work for you and some don’t. Some weeks you’ll feel on top of the world and others will seem like the world is playing a joke on you. Hindsight is 20/20, right? So use this information to your advantage! As you look back on your food records, incorporate the tactics that worked wonders for you and skip the flops. If you allow yourself to re-evaluate and revamp your plan as you go along, you’ll eventually create a plan that is perfect for you.