Do you keep a food diary? For someone on a weight loss journey, this may be one of the first recommendations a nutritionist will tell you to do. If you’re doing a program like Weight Watchers, you’re already doing this! Personally, even though I’ve journaled in the past with “success”, I never enjoyed the practice and even became quite resentful of it. Weighing out my food, writing down everything I ate and its caloric detail or point value (especially during the times when scan-a-bar-code mobile apps weren’t a thing) felt obsessive and tedious. Did I say tedious? Oh no, I meant it was easy… right? “Calories In vs Calories Out”. “Stay in the caloric deficit”… Simple! But only God knows how many times I “cheated” this process. If no one saw me eat it, and I didn’t write it down… did it even happen? Of course it did. Although I recognized that this tool would force me to be accountable of my food choices and actions, like sitting in front of the TV mindlessly munching away on potato chips straight from the family-size bag(oh sh*t… how many calories was that?), the practice of journaling never lasted long with me. In fact, it would trigger me into full blown self-sabotage mode. If this sounds like you, trust me I get it! But I’m actually a huge fan of the practice now, and would encourage anyone to journal for at least two weeks without intentionally changing your behavior or food choices at all, especially if you are an emotional eater.
While I still won’t and don’t log my every caloric intake, today I journal as a way to objectively observe myself, behaviors and thoughts; it has been such a powerful and informative tool, especially when you are honest! While others still swear by journaling as a weight-loss tool, I’ve been the most successful when the number on my scale has absolutely nothing to do with any of the healthy habits in my life. My journals are usually physical ones kept to a set time-frame, with the exception of using Instastory to share What I Eat In A Day (an on-going visual food diary) with my Instagram friends (which also helps me with accountability, similar to how a journal might). More specifically, today I’d like to share how this practice has helped me solve some serious issues by being more observant of myself.
- Lifestyle (2 weeks +) – This style of journaling is the closest to keeping a traditional food diary…minus the calorie counting. While I understand the usefulness of calorie counting, weighing food and/or learning how to measure portions with your hand, it is still triggering for me so I simply won’t do it. If you are a numbers person, sure… keep a calorie count; it helps to take the guess work out of everything. But today I eat intuitively and prefer to be less rigid, even if that means I’m not as lean as I theoretically could be. I digress though! This journal is simply about recording what you eat and drink daily (including the time of day), without modifying your behaviors at all! Taking the pressure off of keeping track of calories (and feeling like a failure if I went over my predetermined usually too-restrictive allotment) is what made this doable for me. Because this form of journaling is less about losing weight, and more about increasing an awareness about my choices (which ironically helped me lose weight), it was easier to be critical of the journal entries at the end of two weeks. I remember looking back through my entires and being surprised to see that I ate out A LOT. Not only that, but if I didn’t eat some kind of takeout, I was eating packaged processed foods. Knowledge is power so after realizing this, I would set a goal for the following week to simply be more mindful. Instead of eating out 5 days a week, let’s shoot for 4 and find a cool fun recipe to try out!
- Emotional Eating (+/- 2 months) – I am the most proud of this journal because it has truly changed my life! I made a youtube video mentioning this if you’d like to hear more about it in-depth. Although similar to the journal described above, this style of journaling was more challenging because instead of simply scarfing down my emotions, it forced me to take a moment to acknowledge them. I quickly learned that I would eat as a way to numb or distract myself from whatever emotions I felt, so having to actually acknowledge their existence was uncomfortable. But guess what? I also learned that being uncomfortable, sad, mad, scared, anxious, etc. is all OK! I did not die. But once again, I’m getting ahead of myself. With this style of journaling, I jotted down: what I ate/drank, the time of day, my current thoughts/emotions/circumstances, my current physical feelings, as well as the setting/environment. Again, especially when starting out, my goal was simply to take note without changing my routine. After at least two weeks of data, I could then objectively notice patterns, cravings, trends, and behaviors which empowered me to take action. The patterns I noticed could also be called triggers. Triggers could be circumstantial, like frequently finding myself eating Oreos shortly after talking to a certain person. It could also be a time of day, like reaching for coffee or sugary snacks every day at 3pm. It could be habitual like feeling uncomfortably full after eating dinner, sat on the sofa scrolling through social media. It could literally be anything that is easily missed when we’re caught up in today’s busy world! All the above examples are real behaviors I noticed about myself. With these realizations, I could then come up with a plan to either avoid the triggers altogether or choose to behave in a different way. Instead of quitting my job, I decided to confront the person causing me anxiety. Instead of grabbing a caffeinated or sugary snack for a quick pick-me-up, I added a daily walk to my routine that I still do today! Instead of pigging out, distracted in front of a screen (TV, phone, even driving) I choose to eat mindfully, properly at a table. Instead of eating chips straight out of a family-size bag, I always try to portion some out into a bowl, and/or never buy/keep family-sized processed food in the house to tempt myself otherwise in the first place. And instead of scarfing down a cake over the election results, I realized that food was not the answer! No matter what I do, eat or drink, Donald Trump would still be my president… although, I did stress eat a banana and go for a walk which is still an improvement from the old me! That is why this type of journaling is so powerful. It allowed me to break free from my own self, and enter a more positive calm mental state and world. Additionally I became aware of alternative forms of stress management, like meditation, yoga, and nature hikes, all of which I continue to practice today. I couldn’t be more grateful!
- Digestive Issues (2 weeks) – By experiencing such amazing results from my prior two types of journals, guess what I turned to once I noticed some gastrointestinal issues? That’s right, another journal! This time my journal includes what I eat/drink, the time of day, and how each meal has physically made me feel (a scale of a sad to happy faces + notes). Is there any bloating, gas, fatigue, constipation, ease? Although I have scheduled a doctor’s appointment to seek out lab results, this data will help me become more aware and pinpoint the causes of my discomfort, by noticing the triggers possibly even before one drop of blood is drawn. Moreover, this journal could be handed to my doctor who may or may not notice triggers that I overlook. I’ve only had this journal for 5 days and am already highly suspicious of a certain ingredient, so much so that by consciously avoiding it I’ve already noticed how much better I feel! I’ve got the journal to prove it too!
Journaling is an impressive tool that should not be met with resentment after all; it can be used to help us change our own lives in a tremendously beneficial way! It has taught me how to be aware, mindful, present and patient with myself. It has taught me how to “listen to my body” (a blog topic for a different day) and has encouraged me to find alternative approaches to enhance my well-being too. So I’m challenging you! Keep a food journal of your choice for at least two weeks. Promise to be raw and real with and about yourself. I’m excited to hear about what you discover.