The simple act of writing down what and how much we eat can have a profound effect on the way we eat. When we track our meals, snacks, and beverages, we begin to note our eating patterns and discover how extra calories sneak into our day. Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight reduces our risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
Keeping a food diary doesn’t have to be a formal thing. It’s the process of reflecting on what we eat that helps us become aware of our habits, and hopefully change unwanted or unhealthy behaviors. In my practice, I ask that all of my clients begin with this tool. Keeping track of the food we eat isn’t always about weight loss either. It’s about creating a positive environment that which our bodies are able to operate efficiently and healthfully which includes addressing our energy fluctuations, concentration abilities, emotional issues, digestive issues, and even sleep problems.
Here are some strategies for effective food journaling:
You’re really not trying to impress anyone here. You’re simply trying to learn more about your own eating habits.
Record each glass of water you gulped down, latte you sipped, and soda you chugged. Beverages count, especially sugary, caffeinated ones!
Be alert for unconscious eating.
You’ll want to take note of everything you eat – even that handful of chocolate candies you grabbed out of a coworker’s treat jar or the cookie you nibbled while waiting for the dinner pasta to boil.
To get the most out of your food journal entries, they need to be a regular part of your routine.
Keep your food journal with you.
We all keep our mobile devices near us most of the time. What better way to keep track of our food, as there are some great apps available. MyFitnessPal, FatSecret, See How You Eat, YouAte, and MyPlate are just a few. They all take a little setting up and a bit of getting used to, but they are all pretty straightforward.
If you’re not into your mobile device for tracking food, try some more old fashion ways. Stick a weekly food journal to your workspace bulletin board. Keep sticky notes handy. Zip-off quick emails or text messages to yourself tallying your lunch and snacks – whatever it takes to track what you eat.
If you wait until the end of the day, you’re likely to forget a bite here and there or to fudge the details.
Get to know serving sizes.
For example, Three ounces of protein is as big as a deck of cards; a teaspoon is dice-sized, and a ping-pong ball-sized “scoop” of anything is two tablespoons.
It’s not all about the calories either.
Try tracking other things you care about or are working on, like sugar intake, energy fluctuations, or whether eating less protein actually makes you feel better. Tracking progress can be really motivating and eye-opening.
If you are trying to lose weight keeping track of what you’ve been eating is really important. I mean really important. Consider that if you are also working out, there is a limit to how much energy we can actually expend through physical activity – only up to 30 percent of what we eat (unless you’re a pro athlete or have a job with similarly intense physical demands). And some people burn far less than that, perhaps as little as 10 percent, according to some research.
Consider recording how you feel, too.
This ensures that it’s not just about calories (because you know it’s not!) but a more holistic look at your relationship with food. This is my favorite part of my clients’ diet tracking. We learn so much there. Like, your gluten-free bread might actually be causing your bloat. Avocados make you feel more full than meat. Breakfast is okay to skip because you’d rather have your smoothie in the afternoon when you’re in the mood for a treat. Things like this help us plan your meals to give your body the best nutrition.
After you’ve recorded a week’s worth of meals and snacks, take a look. Do you notice any patterns or moments of weakness that make more sense in reflection? You may start to see that you need to have more healthy snacks on hand or plan ahead better before you go grocery shopping. Or you might realize that your lunches out with workmates are costing you more than what comes out of your wallet.
– Stay the course and know that it’s a new thing you are doing, and it’s much harder to start than it is to maintain.