Putting Pen to Paper: The Power of Food Journals
I am sure you’ve written down something to help you remember,
How about to preserve a moment in time?
How about to create clarity?
How about to make you more aware?
The act of committing words to paper is an incredibly powerful process.
It does serve as a reminder,
It can be a way to learn,
It can be a way to clarify thoughts in our heads,
It can make us more aware of our own feelings,
And it can even shape our behaviour.
Awareness —> change
Awareness is essential for change.
Nothing changes if we don’t know about it.
So, if you want to lose fat and don’t know how much,
Or how often you are eating,
it is pretty difficult to implement practices to get you that fat loss.
Because, as you know, it’s not thinking about fat loss that makes you lose fat,
it’s taking action on practices and habits every day that will make you lose fat.
And it all starts with awareness.
Food journals are a way to make you more aware,
Aware of what you are eating,
how you are eating,
why you are eating,
when you are eating,
what is going well,
And that you may not be as bang-on with your nutrition as you thought (research on food recall indicates that we can underestimate intake by up to 1000 kcals per day).
So, the food journal is an incredibly powerful tool that you can use to bring awareness to the actions that you need to take to reach your goals.
And sometimes, just the simple fact that you need to admit to yourself that you are eating a certain food by committing it to your journal is enough to modify your behaviour.
That’s powerful right there!
Food journals: not just for recording WHAT you eat
One of my favourite business management gurus, Peter Drucker, has a famous quote:
“what gets measured gets managed”.
So, if you want to manage your intake, go ahead and track what you eat and how much of it, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
You can go outside the box and really start dialing in some other habits that will not only help you lose fat,
but that will make consistency,
living a happy and healthy life
and being a solid role-model to your kids that much easier.
Here are some food journal options:
A. The traditional food journal
Again, you can go old school and record all the food you eat in a day.
We usually use the hand-sized portion guide to indicate quantities of each food, but you can weigh or measure if you really want to (but you don’t have to weigh and measure your food for the rest of your life…that’s exhausting).
Nonetheless, it is useful to record everything in as specific of detail as possible.
-3 thumbs salad dressing
-2 fists lettuce
-1.5 palms chicken fingers
-thumb of parmesan cheese
-1.5 cupped handfuls of croutons
-sprinkle of bacon bits
-squeeze of lemon juice
Some people like to do this with the good ‘ol pen and paper method,
others like using a notepad in their phone
and others like using an app like myFitnessPal.
They’re all good!
You can also use a photo food journal for this one. Simply snap a picture of the meal you prepared.
Note: It is great to see how much you are eating but the numbers won’t tell the whole story. The numbers don’t tell you how you are eating, why you are eating, the quality of your intake and even how your body is using those nutrients. Also, Calorie counts are often wrong by 10-20%.
B. The eat slow journal
Eating slow is a game changer.
It improves digestion, decreases body fat and improves appetite awareness.
To use a slow eating journal, record the time you start your meal and the time you finish your meal.
You can also indicate other factors related to eating slowly, like:
“Put my fork down between bites”
“Chewed each bite 20 times”
“Took a sip of water between each bite”
“Contributed to- or focused on dinner-time conversation between each bite”.
We all eat emotionally.
We eat because we’re bored and are looking for excitement,
Lonely and looking for comfort
Or even tired and looking for a pick-me-up.
But unfortunately, this interferes with our ability to detect our natural hunger and appetite.
Which is essential for maintaining a lean and healthy body.
So, in addition to tracking what you are eating,
record what you are feeling before-,
and after eating.
What thoughts are going through your head at these times?
What feelings are you experiencing?
What are you doing?
This also lends itself well to the grand-daddy of all food journals…
The video food journal.
Where you talk to the camera about what you are thinking, feeling and doing before, during and after eating.
You can even include some notes on preparation and shopping for that meal.
Things just got real right there.
This a great method for helping with the habit of eating until 80.
This is a simple game where you indicate how hungry you were before eating and how hungry you were after eating.
If your hunger was almost intolerable and you are dying to eat, maybe your hunger is a 1 or 2 out of 10 before eating. (Keep in mind, 10 is the hungriest you’ve ever been and 1 is not hungry).
After eating, maybe your hunger is at a 2 or 3 out of 10.
That equals out to about 80-90% fullness.
Many people are consuming foods daily that they may be intolerant to.
A discussion of food intolerances is beyond the scope of this article but just understand that some foods agree with us and some don’t.
Record what you eat and how you feel afterwards or even during the meal.
If you are getting an unexplained upset stomach,
this may be a sign of an intolerance.
Having an understanding of how food relates to health, fitness and performance is one of the keystone traits of normal, healthy eaters.
Therefore, tracking how you feel in terms of energy,
and health can strengthen the ties you feel between what you eat and how you feel.
G. Food journal + habit consistency
Including a habit consistency check-list to your food record is super handy as well.
So, next to your intake you can indicate whether or not you:
Ate until 80%,
Ate lean protein,
Ate colourful fruits and veggies,
H. Eating location journal
There is likely somewhere you eat that you feel in control,
you feel connected to others,
and you feel is most conducive to your heath and fitness.
Find that spot.
And the next time you find yourself eating elsewhere,
Draped over the kitchen sink,
In the car,
At your desk,
Or in front of the TV,
You know what to do.
I. Who’s around me journal
To paraphrase a Jim Rohn quote, “We are a composite of the 5 people we frequent with the most”.
If others around you are eating a lot, so will you.
If others around you are eating fast, so will you.
If others around you order dessert, so will you.
It’s a natural order of life that we look to others to determine what to do.
If you feel that the people around you are affecting your choices more than you’d like,
Try using this type of food journal.
Here’s what to do:
Record what you eat
And take notice of who you are with,
How fast they are eating,
How much they are eating,
And what they are eating.
Don’t judge them,
Then use your food journal to see how their behaviours are affecting your own.
Do I have to do this for life?
No, here’s what we recommend:
Identify something you want to change.
For example, eating slowly.
In your journal, record the start time of your meal and the finish time of your meal.
You can also record whether or not you put your utensils down between each bite.
Do this for 2 weeks to 2 months.
I know that’s a huge range but some habits and practices take longer to ingrain than others.
Something like eating vegetables at each meal would likely take less time,
but something like eating until 80% full at each meal would be more challenging and take more time.
And keep in mind, the habits that take longer to establish are probably the habits that are going to have the greatest impact on your fat loss.
One thing at a time
Don’t get caught up trying to change everything all at once.
There is so much value in attacking that one thing that is going to have the greatest impact on your fat loss, health and fitness.
And guess what…you probably already know what it is.
Use Occam’s razor – the simplest explanation is probably the right one.
So, find that one thing and track it for a few weeks.
See where it gets you.
Ask yourself “how’s this working for me?”
If it’s working for you – good, keep going.
If not, try something else,
Assess your consistency,
Or call a coach to get some help.
The value of the food journal lies in how honest you can be when collecting and interpreting the data.
This isn’t an attempt to shame or guilt you.
Or make you feel like a fat loser.
This is meant to give you objective data on how you are performing.
And then from that data, you get honest feedback about what is going on.
Remember, FEEDBACK not failure.
Also, you aren’t your food journal.
The information in your food journal is just a set of behaviours that you can control,
they don’t define you as a human.
You can make choices,
You can take action,
You can be the person you want to be,
It just takes a little awareness.
Use the food journal to bring that awareness to the forefront of your mind.