I recently filled in a food journal for three consecutive days. I was surprised at how this exercise in discipline (writing down everything I ate) revealed habits that I wasn’t totally aware of. While I had never done this before, I think it can be very helpful in exposing some of the little (or big) problems with our nutritional habits. I did this because I just began a two-month nutrition consultation with sports nutritionist and world-class runner, Alicia Shay. Basically I’m hoping to increase my energy, feel better and improve my running performance. Regardless of whether it is for the purposes of “finding” more energy, losing weight, or simply becoming more conscious of what we are eating, the following are nine reasons I think a food journal can be helpful:
1.It helps us become aware of what we are eating. While this seems obvious enough, I actually was a little surprised at a few things when I did the food journal. For instance, I snack more often than I realized. Because I may only grab a handful of something, I didn’t really consider it a part of my diet…but it is – and I do it everyday.
2. It shows where our diet might be lacking. Again, I was surprised at this. I have always considered myself a pretty healthy eater – I love fruit and eat a fair amount of veggies. But I had lately eaten less and less of both, although I continued to think of myself as eating plenty of them. On one of the days, if it weren’t for the fact that I knew I was writing everything down, I wouldn’t have eaten fruit at all. I decided to eat a grapefruit at the end of the day because I realized I hadn’t eaten any fruit that day.
3.It reveals when we eat. Our family has a lot of activities after school and so we tend to eat dinner late on many nights during the week. Writing down what time we ate has made me resolve to try to eat dinner earlier, if possible.
4. It points out how much we are snacking. Although I mentioned it earlier, this was a big revelation to me because I didn’t realize how much unnecessary snacking I was doing. If anything this is an easy area for improvement. I can either try to avoid it or at least make the snacks healthier (Halloween has not helped this).
5. It can show us if we are eating too much or too little. I am not a calorie counter, but even guessing the amount of calories we are eating each day can reveal if we are falling short or consuming too much. Many times it’s the kind of calories that make a difference…I realized that many of my calories aren’t really helping much in the long-term energy department. I need to try to be more deliberate in my choice of food between meals. Chips and salsa, for instance (a favorite of mine) has almost no protein and so only provides me with short term energy. A banana and peanut butter would be a better choice for me with my nutritional goal of gaining more energy throughout the day.
6. It helps us plan better. When we know we are writing down everything we eat, we tend to plan out what it’s going to be. Even after the days of writing everything down are over, the process of doing it can help to initiate more planning on our part. For me, its the spontaneous moments that often cause me to make bad choices. If I think about my day, and then plan when and what I am going to eat, I am much more likely to choose healthier foods.
7. It can help to tweak our diets and be the difference for a more nutritionally-balanced daily food intake. Maybe you are doing a pretty good job of eating healthy (like I thought I was), a food journal can help you with the details. Perhaps you need to hydrate more each day, or cut back on the amount of coffee (ok, Im talking about me again) you are drinking, or just actually add more “good” calories. By writing down what we are eating, we can see these small problem areas..and changing our habits could be the difference for us.
8.It can make us accountable and keep us on track. Committing to a food journal a few times a year can help to keep us accountable to what we are putting in our bodies. It was eye-opening for me to see that I wasn’t nearly as healthy as I liked to think I was. In fact, my family thinks I eat healthy, but it’s what they aren’t seeing (the stash of M&M’s, etc.) that I can most definitely improve on!
9. It can be an encourager. While I saw many areas I can revise, I also noticed that I need to continue to do many of the things I am already doing. Even the areas that need improvement can be a cause for encouragement, though. Any time we expose ourselves to self-scrutiny, I think we create an opportunity for discipline. And this is a good thing…Right???
Have you done a food journal? What are your thoughts?