Should you start a food journal?

Should you start a food journal?

 

  • In habit research, it is a known fact that, in order to change any habit in your life, tracking it is a huge help
  • Counting calories can give some insight for a few days, but can get out of hand if you let the numbers control your every move
  • Keeping a food journal can be a helpful tool when starting out any healthy lifestyle

 

If you have ever googled “how to lose weight” or “how to eat healthy,” chances are you have come across many recommendations and nudges to start some sort of food diary or food journal. In habit research, it is a known fact that, in order to change any habit in your life, tracking it is a huge help.

Tracking our habits helps us become more aware of what we are doing, helps us detect patterns in our behavior, and motivates us towards making the changes we desire. While this may work when it comes to habits such as saving money, spending less time on the internet, or starting a new business venture, food habits can get a bit trickier to change, and a lot more complex to track.

For the general population, I believe a food diary can be an excellent tool to kickstart your healthy lifestyle. The action of writing down what we are eating can keep us aware and attuned to our consumption and areas we desire to make change.

For example, if we detect a bakery muffin trend followed by a sugar crash five days a week, that could be an indication of needing a different breakfast option that will keep us fueled. Simply writing down what you are eating in a plain journal can really open your eyes to your food habits.

However, food journaling can get tricky for people who are perfectionists and have obsessive behaviors. Controlling your food intake to the point of dangerous restriction can quickly become unhealthy, even when you start out with healthy motives.

Counting calories can give some insight for a few days, but can get out of hand if you let the numbers control your every move. There has to be a balance between nourishing your body, while keeping your mind sane, free, and healthy as well.

From my experience and what I have experienced with my clients, here are my tips for starting a food journal in a healthy way:

Do not count calories. I repeat, do NOT count calories. Calorie counting is a thing of the past, and I would much rather my clients count the nutrients they are eating versus numbers attached to food. Tally up your fruit and vegetable servings for the day if you’d like, but do not start out food journaling with calorie counting.

It can become a dangerous habit and can actually backfire and promote restrictive eating, binge behaviors, and feeling controlled by calories. Our goal with any health journey is to not only be healthy physically, but also be healthy mentally and emotionally.

Start journaling your meals and portions sizes in a plain notebook. Note the time you ate, your hunger, your mood, and any other helpful information that can allow for a better grasp on your eating experience.

Make this process as easy as possible for you, then move on with your day. At the end of the week, you can look back and note any patterns, where you have made improvements with your eating habits, and where you would like to make changes the following week.

Don’t focus on perfection. Many people like to only journal their “healthy” or “good” days, and leave out days where they decide to treat themselves. I think it is so important to track your treats too, and release the stigma associated with certain foods.

Tracking treats also helps you get back on track faster, instead of throwing in the towel and turning your one treat into a full-blown, all-day indulgence. Be true to yourself and your habits so that you can benefit from keeping a food journal in the first place!

Keeping a food journal can be a helpful tool when starting out any healthy lifestyle, and it has been seen to dramatically increase compliance and results. However, it may not work best for everyone.

The most important thing is to do what works best for you, journal in a way that motivates you, and remember to always be aware of what you are eating and how it makes you feel.

 

About the author

Tveen Verano [MPH, RD] is a registered dietitian nutritionist from Southern California. She is currently working as a renal dietitian and has a private practice as a registered dietitian and online wellness coach. Her passion for nutrition and real food drives her to keep up with current research and provide relevant and applicable information to the public to help stop the trend of obesity and provide vitality and health to everyone.

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