Keeping a food journal is a great way to hold yourself accountable, as well as provide yourself with a source of encouragement. You are more likely to make positive food choices if you have to write it down and review it later. You will also develop a better awareness of the emotions tied to your daily habits and food choices.
Food Journaling is backed by science as a weight loss tool, but it can help with much more. It can be used to track your step-by-step progress in fitness and overall health.
For diabetics, journaling can be especially helpful. Tracking your blood sugar alongside your food and beverage choices can provide some seriously revealing insight. For example, if you notice that your blood sugar spikes after eating a tangerine for your morning snack, and does not spike if you enjoy an apple instead – there’s one easy blood sugar fix!
Let’s first discuss journal options to determine which will work best for you.
Some people still enjoy putting pen to paper. Be sure to choose a notebook that is portable and easy to keep track of. A compact, lightweight journal is nearly as easy to carry as a wallet. When you get to work, put it in the drawer of your desk so it is easily accessible come snack time and lunch. When you get home, put it on the kitchen counter next to the refrigerator so as you get your dinner ingredients together, you can jot them down. Don’t leave your journal at home when you go on weekend trips or vacations; keep it with you at all times!
If technology is more your style, there are tons of smartphone apps that function the same way as a paper food journal. In the app, you log the food item you ate, the portion, and when you ate it. The nifty thing about these apps is they calculate your total calories per meal, as well as, for the entire day. A recent Northwestern University study found that those who used a mobile device to track their eating habits lost more weight than those who did not. Most everyone these days carries their cell phone, laptop, or tablet with them wherever they go; so there’s no excuse!
Now for when to journal. For many people, writing down what you ate right after a meal or snack is more manageable than entering everything at once at the end of the day. Logging your food immediately after you eat it also increases the accuracy of the type of food and portion that you actually consumed. Entering foods one at a time can also help the process feel less overwhelming and you will feel more “on track” throughout the day.
Be specific! It’s easy to say “I had a sandwich for lunch,” but if you want to get the most out of your food journal, document what you ate word-for-word. After all, a chicken salad sandwich on whole wheat bread is completely different than a foot-long meatball sub with extra cheese, even though both are considered “sandwiches.”
Also, try to focus on how you felt before, during, and after your meal. Emotions and food are closely tied, yet we rarely connect how we feel with what/when we eat. Certain foods make you happy… literally! In the same turn, stressful situations can trigger the desire to eat. If you notice that you crave a bag of chips from the office vending machine every day around 2:30 PM and you have a daily corporate management call at 3:00 PM, there is likely a stress-eating connection between the two.
By tracking your emotions along with your food, you can be your own accountability and encouragement partner! You may feel guilty about that piece of pizza you ate for lunch; you enter it into your journal and discover that the feeling of letting yourself down is not worth the taste of the pizza, so next time you choose something else to eat. On the other hand, if you choose a cup of fresh berries as a morning treat instead of a doughnut; you log the berries in your journal or app, and feel confident in your healthier choice.
Don’t forget to log your beverage consumption along with your food. Enter how many glasses of water you drink and when you drink them. If you are using a mobile app, it will give you feedback on how much water to drink and when. You can also program a reminder on your mobile device to encourage yourself to drink more water.
The calories we drink can add up quickly. For example, one mocha Frappuccino in the morning, an iced tea or soda with lunch, and one beer or a glass of wine after work. In this case, you’ve consumed nearly 700 calories and haven’t included a single bite of food for the day!
Some mobile apps even provide restaurant menu tips to guide you toward the best choices when dining out. You can log your physical activity and sleep patterns on some mobile apps, as well!
Set a day and time each week to review your journal. Be honest with yourself and look for ways to improve. Don’t short-change yourself, either – give yourself credit for the hard work you are putting in. This process really could change your health!