What is a Food Journal and how do you use one?
The food journal is THE most important physical tool for a person trying to adopt healthier eating habits.
Determine if you’re a typer or a writer
Decide if you want to keep an online journal or a paper notebook.
How to use a Food Journal
- Set a Goal: It’s a good idea to set an intention for your journal keeping. Be honest. Set clear goals.
- Log Keeping: Note the dates and times (as well as how long your meal lasts) of what you eat as well as how much and with whom. Example: September 24, 2012: 8:30 AM: 2 pieces whole-wheat toast with 1 tablespoon each: coconut oil and apricot jam. Cup of coffee, 1 teaspoon sugar. Be specific. Record the type and amount of food in as much detail as possible, especially portion sizes; list “10 crackers,” rather than “a handful,” or “2 cups popcorn” rather than “small bowl.”
- Reasoning: Why are you eating? Were you fully conscious when you stuffed that handful of BBQ potato chips in your mouth? Note your reasons for eating. Example: September 24, 2012: 8:30 AM: 2 pieces whole-wheat toast with 1 tablespoon each: coconut oil and apricot jam – Breakfast.
- Appetite Level: How hungry we are does not often parallel what we eat. An apple might do the trick instead of a Big Mac. So note your hunger levels before you eat: mild, moderate, severe. Example: September 24, 2012: 8:30 AM: 2 pieces whole-wheat toast with 1 tablespoon each: coconut oil and apricot jam – Breakfast. Moderately hungry.
- Reactions: If you’re looking to identify certain health issues, you may also want to note moods, energy levels, etc. What you’re doing while you’re eating―driving, watching TV, etc. Describe how you felt while you ate: angry, sad, happy, nervous, starving or bored? Example: September 24, 2012: 11:30 AM: Tried to kill co-worker with stapler, but felt too tired, so got another cup of coffee and a donut. This scenario may be an indicator that something you ate at 8:30 AM is not working for you. It could be the coffee—caffeine sensitivities can make people aggressive and can also cause energy crashes. Wheat is a common allergen that could cause you to become irritable and tired. And the sugar in the jam, coffee (and bread) could also cause irritation… and murderous tendencies.
Taking note of your food reactions is as important as documenting what you eat. Recording how you feel when you eat certain things can help you spot your emotional eating triggers.
- Summarize: Whether you do it daily, weekly or even monthly, summarize your foods. Yes, that means adding. Note how many cups of coffee—or gallons—have become part of you recently. Illuminating the relationships with your food will only make them healthier and more fun. At the end of each day, examine how your emotions affected your eating. Write down how you felt after eating that type of food/ meal. It’s important to keep track of your body’s response to certain foods so you know which to avoid—or eat less of—to feel your best.
- Analyse patterns- look at patterns of hunger, cravings, or inconsistent eating. When do you crave sugar, processed carbohydrates, or fast food? When do you get ravenously hungry? When don’t you eat for longer than 5 hours at a time? Are you making sure to get enough protein and healthy fat in there? Are you bored and do you have bad habits? Start back-tracking to see what may be causing those issues.
- Take action! – Are you really hungry, or is this a coping mechanism? Do a plan based on your personal answer.
Buy a journal that you can take everywhere with you or go digital
Write as you eat. This way you’re more accurate with portion sizes and snacks or treats.
Focus on Portions. Measure and record the exact portion you’re eating so you’ll be most accurate.
Don’t cheat. If you are honest, you can really follow trends and patterns in your eating and prepare for them next time.
Note Circumstances. Having those little notes in your journal when you are looking back over your week can give you tips about how emotional states change your eating habits.
Eat at Home. You cannot measure your portion size accurately and you don’t exactly know what goes into your food. It helps you be more accurate in your food diary records if you eat at home more often.
Don’t Forget Drinks. Understanding your water intake and increasing water intake is an important goal. As well as any other liquid calories you may be consuming.
Review Your Entries. There is no point in having a food journal if you never use the information that you write down. So designate a time each week to sit down and review your food journal information. It helps you notice patterns, make new goals for the week, and keep track of how you are doing.
Set Goals. By setting goals you are able to mark your progress.
An “opportunity meal” is part of that 10% of the time that you can eat unhealthy and still get the results you want. For most people, this comes out to 3-4 meals a week. When keeping your food journal, highlight these meals so you don’t end up with more than 3-4.