How a week of food journaling helped me breakthrough years of health and diet-related woes
Accountability plays a huge role in being able to accomplish just about anything related to your diet, nutrition or general health. And one of the best ways you can hold yourself accountable for the work you’re doing is to keep a food journal.
With that said, I will be the first to admit that, for one reason or another, I have always shied away or been turned off by the idea of logging my food or eating habits. I thought it would be too time consuming, too much of an inconvenience and believed it could lead to obsessive behaviors surrounding food, which I try hard to steer clear of.
While these things may be true sometimes or for some people, I, for one, have had a complete change of heart and am now a complete and total advocate of this practice.
Before I get into all of the wonderful benefits food journaling, let me briefly explain how I got to the point that I would even consider keeping one (because some of you may even relate to this).
Over the last 1-2 years, I started to see and feel a lot of changes in my body. I was gaining weight around my mid-section, enduring one hormonal breakout after another, felt unusually down a lot of days…the hair on my head was even growing differently. A lot of this was hormonal but I still did my best to try and eliminate or at least manage some of the symptoms; I ate well, exercised regularly, saw a dermatologist and spent more than I care to admit on various treatments and products. But any improvements or progress made was mostly temporary and ultimately short-lived.
I felt as if I was doing everything I could and had nothing to show for it. Then, one day, my husband and I were talking about where to go from here and he asked me if could honestly say that I giving 100% of my best efforts to overcoming these challenges…and I couldn’t answer that question with an unequivocal ‘yes’. The more I thought about what it meant to really commit to something, the more I realized that I probably wasn’t accounting for the role that some of my not-so-good habits played in all of this.
For all of the goals, motivation, passion, and desire I had about my health, I didn’t have a way to hold myself accountable for the choices I made every day - and accountability is what will get across the finish line.
Food journaling is a great way to keep yourself honest and focused on your health-related endeavors. In fact, you may even find that the longer you do it, the more valuable the exercise becomes. Here are five reasons why:
It will help you reach your goals faster
Before I started to keep a journal of what I ate throughout the day, I did some research and set personal targets for myself that would help me achieve my goals in a safe and balanced way. For example, instead of simply counting calories each day, I focused on a range of macronutrients (i.e.fats, carbohydrates, fiber, sugar an protein) and the specific amounts for each that I should be consuming relative to my goals. From here, I planned my meals and snacks accordingly throughout the day to ensure that whatever I ate was in line with the targets I set. For the first several days I wrote these things out by hand, which I don’t recommend - it is a lot of work and far too time consuming. Now I use an app called My Fitness Pal, which lets you do this for free. You can set your own goals and targets, scan bar codes to upload nutrition facts from most packaged foods, manually enter whatever can’t be scanned and create nutritional information for your own unique recipes - it’s awesome and it will save you a ton of time and energy.
No later than a week after I started this practice, I saw more progress in the areas I was struggling with than I had in two years. When you commit to food journaling, you naturally become more mindful of what you’re eating and your food choices throughout the day become more purposeful as you aim to meet the targets you set for yourself. As long as you set the appropriate targets and stick with journaling honestly, it is inevitable that you will reach your goals faster than you might if you continued to eat aimlessly or snack mindlessly as you please. As the saying goes when comes to achieving your goals: what gets measured, gets done.
It will lead you to consume a more balanced diet
When it comes to food, I’ve always been a creature of habit. When I find a dish I like, I will make it every day for months at a time. It doesn’t matter how much I love to cook or create new recipes - when things are busy, I only have an appetite for whatever is fast and easy to make.
While this habit may be convenient, the downside is that a diet like this lacks variety - which is essential to good health.
One of they great benefits of keeping a food journal is that it will force you to become more aware of what you’re eating day to day. And since most diet related goals require or encourage us to consider our macronutrient intake, a food journal will remind you in real time when you need to switch things up. For example, if you’ve reached your daily maximum for fats or are well under your recommended protein intake by 4PM one day, then you’ll need to plan your dinner to make sure it’s protein rich with little or no fat.
In this way, food journaling can act as a mechanism for consuming a more balanced diet. And as you strive to meet your nutrition goals each day, you may also find yourself exploring and introducing new foods into your diet in order to do it.
It could save you money
If it didn’t occur to you ahead of time, then you’ll probably realize pretty soon after you start keeping a food journal that eating prepared foods, take out, or going to restaurants isn’t going to gel with your new practice since it’s impossible to know every ingredient or measurements that went into creating whatever it is that you’re eating.
If you want to be as accurate as possible about what you’re eating and logging this information, then you’ll need to forget about dining out or ordering-in, and prepare most (if not all) of what you eat, yourself. If you can do this, you won’t just feel great but you may even save quite a bit of money too. When you cook at home, your food doesn’t need to be marked up, you don’t need to leave a tip, pay service and delivery fees - nothing. Even if you’re spending more on groceries than you were before, you can choose where to shop and what to buy to keep things affordable and save wherever you can.
You'll find it easier to identify habits or things that don’t agree with you that may be causing undesired results.
I think we can all agree that what we eat plays a big role in how healthy we are and how we feel. Certain foods give us energy or strengthen our hair and nails, while others can give us fatigue, leave us bloated or cause inflammation in the skin. Of course, there are other critical things that play a critical role in our physical health, such as stress or genetics, but understanding the foods that do and don’t agree with us is a major part of it.
One of the benefits of writing down everything that you every day, is that it becomes a lot easier to understand the foods (or habits) that are serving you well and those that aren’t. Here are just a few things that I noticed about my health once I started to keep a food journal: 1) on days when I woke up with a cystic pimple on my chin (or two), I had eaten a sugary snack, usually a ‘healthy’ chocolate, the night before; 2) on the rare occasions that I was constipated, it was always on the heels of not having drinking enough water or eating enough hydrating foods for several days; and 3) oils and starches (especially when I eat starchy foods with protein) make me feel bloated and usually cause intense cramping in my stomach.
Whether there’s a specific health issue that you want to get to the bottom of or not, food journaling is an excellent way to pay closer attention to the foods you’re eating and understanding the impact they may (or may not) be having on your health and how you feel.
It makes you feel good
Food journaling may not be ideal for everyone. But if the only thing stopping you is laziness, doubt, or a fear of being inconvenienced, then consider I want you to consider this: the effects of food journaling will more likely leave you feeling good than they will leave you feeling bad.
To start, no matter what your goals or objectives for doing it are, the fact that you’re working on them every day, with great focus, should make you feel great about yourself. As you start to see yourself making progress your good feelings about yourself will continue to grow and they will continue to get stronger and stronger as you reach new milestones and learn more about how to take care of yourself.