Generally I eat a pretty clean variety of foods. Family meals are bountiful: fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein sources, little in the way of refined sugars, nutrient-stripped grains, and added or substitute chemicals.
Where I sometimes falter is in portion control and in adjusting my food intake with variations in my activity levels. So, for example, as winter wears on, frigid temperatures, drifting snow and decreased hours of sunshine challenge me. In search of solace, I tend to increase the serving size of my morning hot breakfast. By the time February is breaking, I am eating 3 full servings of steel cut oatmeal topped with yoghurt and pepitas instead of one. Or, when I was living through bilateral adhesive capsulitis, resulting in an imposed sedentariness which I hated, I continued to eat as if I was still throwing kettlebells around 3x a week.
During these times, I invariably gain a bit of weight and, in the latter example, the weight gain was coupled with substantial muscle loss.
Mindfulness has, in these instances, gone by the way side. I have eaten without awareness, without attention to how I feel while I eat, and without gratitude.
A food journal, on the other hand, allows me to become aware. My portions, my patterns, my consumption of macro and micro nutrients, and the internal (emotional) and external (situations) factors which have an impact on my eating stare me directly in the face. There is no hiding from these words on the page.
I have provided nutritional counseling as part of my work. I can recall the client who, daily, enjoyed an afternoon snack of english toffee cappuccino and chocolate danish without being conscious of the effect this additional 920 calories/39g of fat was having on her health. I also recall the client who, in a three day food diary, was unable to list one fruit or one vegetable (the french fries did not count) amongst the chicken strips, donuts, toaster waffles and fast food she had consumed over this period. These same foods were being consumed by her husband and two young daughters as well.
So, if you are going to make just one change in your eating, keeping a food journal is the change you want to make. Several studies have shown that keeping a food journal is an indicator of weight loss and weight maintenance success. What an easy way to put yourself on the winning team!
Your journal is the What, Where, When, Why and How of your relationship with food. It instantly increases your awareness of what you eat, when you eat it, how much of it you eat, and why. You can easily identify the areas where you can make changes.
High caloric beverages and snacks, tastes consumed during meal preparation, finishing what is left on your child’s plate and other mindless eating practices reveal the places for easy interventions. Because we tend to underestimate the amount of food we eat or forget those extras, like cream in the coffee or the candy dish on the co-worker’s desk, a journal can be very illuminating. Once it is written down, it is very hard to stay in denial about poor eating habits.
Emotional eating patterns can also be revealed through a food diary. If you use food for emotional reasons, such as loneliness, a journal will help pinpoint these issues.
If you have never tracked your eating patterns in such a formal way before, you will be amazed at how much you will discover about yourself. If you have maintained a food diary for a while but have allowed it to fall by the wayside, now is the time to pull out those old pages, reread them and commit to another period of recording your journey.
You won’t regret adding mindfulness to your eating patterns. Heck, you might find adding daily activities to the journal useful as well. Before you know it, you’ll have gained a lot of insight into your self-care/self-abuse patterns and you’ll have the information you need to create change.
So, if you are going to journal:
- be clear on your reasons — is it about identifying emotional eating patterns or tracking hidden calories? Knowing why you are journaling will help you include the right kind of information
- what will work for you? For most people, including the time you ate, the amount or portion size, and whether you were hungry when you started and sated when you finished will be valuable information. If you are concerned about emotional eating, recording how you were feeling before, during and after eating may be of use as well
- recording in the journal immediately after eating will be more accurate than waiting until the end of the day. It is important to include unplanned eating, binging or overly indulgent moments. At the end of the day we might tend to overlook these events.
- you don’t have to be perfect. Lapses in recording or bare minimum recording are acceptable. Strive for consistency in your journal recordings, but be forgiving when this slides.
- if you are concerned about portion sizes, measuring and recording this is important. After a bit, you can relax on the measurement because your understanding of serving size will be improved.
- recording BLT’s are important. Every Bite, Lick and Taste adds up — the condiments you consume, the crusts from you child’s sandwich, the scattering of Smarties in the staff room. Don’t let these ‘add on’ calories be your downfall.
- the four most common barriers to food journaling? Shame or embarrassment about your food consumption; hopelessness about changing your eating patterns (a food diary can’t help me); the inconvenience of writing every thing down; feeling bad when you eat off track. Mistakes happen. It is time for you to accept your slip ups and continue on. Using these excuses has not worked for you so far. It is time to accept that you are human and to keep yourself on track.
- review what you have written. Do this regularly. Look back at what you recorded last month, last week, yesterday. Acknowledging your behaviours and reflecting on your decisions is an important part of change. Do that now. Do that regularly.
If we are too busy, if we are carried away every day by our projects, our uncertainty, our craving, how can we have the time to stop and look deeply into the situation-our own situation ~ Thich Nhat Hanh