Food journaling is not a punishment.
It is not meant to make you feel bad for grabbing a handful of Tostitos while you were making dinner, or for reaching for a midday peanut butter cup. Your empty journal page is not asking you for a perfect account of meals, snacks and water, just like the treadmill isn’t asking you to run faster. That occasional cookie isn’t an ugly smudge on the otherwise pristine diet of chicken breast and steamed vegetables.
If you’ve never kept a journal or struggled with keeping your nutrition in check, maybe you have no idea what I’m talking about. But I’ve often observed that people either despise keeping a food journal, or they aren’t disclosing all the information – I’ve had some clients confess that they didn’t want to write down or share their slip-ups, instead leaving the page blank. But here’s the unfortunate part: your body will keep an accurate account of what you ate and drank regardless of what you write down.
It’s like spending outside your budget or avoiding your bills – it’s going to come back to you eventually. Dealing with it head-on and addressing any problems will get you to your goal faster.
Just like keeping a checkbook for your finances, a food journal is a powerful tool to monitor input and output to achieve the right balance for you. It’s job is to help you recognize habits and behaviors over a period of time. Because reaching for a cookie every afternoon isn’t a weakness, it’s a pattern. If notice it, you can question where the cookie habit comes from, and target the source. As the ancients advised, “Know thyself.”
I’ll use myself as an example: about a year ago, I was experiencing strong energy crashes, like I had not eaten for hours even when I had a meal an hour before. I had been slacking on logging my nutrition because I thought I was mostly eating the same foods everyday. But after I got back to logging for just a few days, I realized that I was often replacing smart complex carbs for fast protein bars when I was on-the-go (which was basically every day). I found that my water intake was also not ideal. As I recognized the holes in my diet, I began making the proper changes and my energy stabilized, which led to some fat loss, too!
Track it for at least one week so you can recognize habits and reoccurring behaviors – then you can make changes based on your goals. You’ll probably find that you are eating more healthfully almost right away, because you’ll be more mindful of everything that goes in your hand and mouth.
To keep an accurate journal, log as much information as possible: what you are eating, how much of it and what time. You can also log how much you slept and how you feel before and after meals (a good tool if like most of us, you’ve been making your food choices based on your comfort and energy level).
Of course, in the world of tech we live in, there’s an app for that! There are tons of food-journaling apps for your phone or tablet, which can make it easy to log your meals when you are done enjoying them. My fellow trainers at Tewksbury Sports Club love My Fitness Pal because it allows you to track your macronutrients (protein, fat and carbohydrates) for a balanced diet. It will also make recommendations based on your height, weight and level of activity.
As you embark on this awesome journey to learn more about yourself, remember this: there is no “one size fits all” diet. Your journal will look different than someone else’s. You will have different needs depending on your size and goals. You also have different likes: some people like cream of wheat and cottage cheese, whereas I think it’s disgusting. If you don’t like kale, you don’t have to eat it. Swap it out for another green. This is YOUR LIFE. Decide what you want, and work toward it. And once in awhile, eat a cookie, and feel good about it. The cookie is not a smudge on your page.
… Unless you get chocolate chip residue on your page. Then you log “one delicious cookie” next to the smudge, then feel good about it.
Kait Taylor is a professional personal trainer at the Tewksbury Sports Club. Her columns appear weekly. Do you have a question for Kait? You can ask her by sending your question to editor Bill Gilman at Bill@yourtewksburytoday.com