Whether it’s a New Year’s resolution or the hope of avoiding buying a larger fitting clothes, there are many reasons why you might want to change what and how you eat. A food diary is a tool to help you examine your eating habits and identify possible changes. Let’s look at what you need to know before you start journaling.
Before we delve into what you need to know about a food diary, let’s look at why you might want to adopt this practice.
The daunting process of documenting every single morsel of food you eat can seem very overwhelming and even slightly embarrassing. It requires dedication. It demands your time, honesty, and energy. And, it reveals the whole and absolute truth, which might not be something we want to face.
Yet, a food diary offers comprehensive insight into your eating habits that can both isolate and facilitate those healthy changes that you’re seeking. Before you assume that you can easily mentally keep track of such, know this – one research study found that the average person estimates that they make around 15 food-related decisions each day. In reality, the average person makes around 200 food-related decisions. The study found that the majority of us engage in mindless eating behaviors as we are distracted by activities like television and electronics. So, you may not even realize you have a food issue.
Food diaries force recognition and thought about both positive and negative food decisions and the more healthful options available. From that info, you can create attainable nutritional goals one-by-one in your specific problem areas.
1. Go With A Journaling Method That Fits You
Think about your lifestyle and personal preferences in determining the methodology behind your food diary. Are you a pen to paper kind of person, or is your life kept digitally? Do you need an app to prompt you, or do you prefer a visual food diary with snapshots of your food? Go with whatever is easiest and least overwhelming for you.
2. It’s A Waste Of Time If You Refuse to Be Honest
Whether it’s good or bad info, honesty is your number one priority. Why? A food journal is only as impactful as its accuracy. If you ate the entire pizza or a cup of ice cream, then document just that. Downplaying servings or skipping negative entries isn’t going to help you.
3. Immediacy Will Help You Be Consistent And Accurate
Along with honesty, food journaling requires consistency in logging the info. Recording a day here and there simply doesn’t give you a comprehensive picture of your eating habits. Commit to pausing to fill in your food and drink as soon as they’re consumed. Waiting until the end of the day for one big entry means there’s a greater likelihood of forgetting those little bites here and there, and those can certainly add up. Again, use a methodology that enables quick and easy access to your food log.
4. BLTs Count
Of course, bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches go on your food log, but the BLTs you may overlook are the bites, licks, and tastes. Again, you’ll likely be amazed at how these add up over just a few days. Whether you’re grazing around the kitchen just nibbling, licking the cookie dough spoon, or taking a spoonful of your partner’s food to taste, the point here is to record every single swallow.
5. Drinks Go On Record
A lot of people are surprised at the empty calories they consume within what they drink daily. Yes, this includes that morning latte and after work cocktails.
6. Document Ingredients And Condiments, Too.
Ingredients matter, especially if you’re concerned with calorie counting as part of your food journal. Toast with or without butter and/or jelly is a big calorie difference. How you cook something, such as in olive oil vs. bacon grease or heavy cream vs skim milk, is a big calorie and fat difference. Of course, condiments also have a significant impact, such as mayo vs mustard on a sandwich or eating sugary ketchup on fries.
7. Don’t Just Visually Guesstimate Portion Sizes
A major component of any food diary will be accuracy in reporting portion sizes. Many people underestimate/under-document portion size, which skews their perception of how many calories and how much food their eating. Get a baseline for foods that aren’t prepackaged or pre-measured for you. If you think, for example, that your normal breakfast cereal serving is a cup, then pour it into an actual measuring cup to check for accuracy.
8. Don’t Forget The Timeline
It’s also important to record when you eat what you eat. This timeline gives you invaluable insight into meal and snack timing issues that may be behind overeating or eating due to availability vs hunger. After all, the only way to fix a problem is to identify what the problem is and why it exists.
9. Calories Aren’t All That’s Important In Food Selection
Don’t obsess over calories, which is especially easy to do if you use an app that documents the info for you. The value of food extends to a number of factors, including the cumulative of fats, carbs, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and other compounds that either support or detract from a healthy diet. Look at quality over quantity and being more concerned with whether a food is whole or processed, not just the calories.
10. Document How You Feel
Food diaries can reveal if you’re an emotional eater. With each entry, write down why you ate what you ate. Were you hungry? If not, did you eat out of accessibility, habit, or comfort? Were you feeling any emotion – bored, anxious, sad, or happy? The answers can help you determine if you’re nurturing your body or nurturing your emotions. The latter can be redirected to alternative healthier activities.
The above 10 points may seem like a lot to take in, but it’s really all about establishing a new habit. Once you find a journaling method that works for you and understand the basic must-haves for entries, then it’s just a matter of making the documentation a part of your daily routine.
Shock can be quick and hard once your food journal starts to highlight what, how much, and when you eat. Instead of feeling discouraged by the info, allow yourself to feel empowered. There’s power in knowledge, right? Now, you know. Now, you can take one small, healthy, obtainable goal at a time to start painting a healthier picture.