Dear (Food) Diary…
My phone, like just about everyone else in the modern age, is an extension of my arm.
I use it for everything! Check the time? My phone. Pay a bill? My phone. Send emails, check my calendar, make phone calls, read the news, stay connected…you get it…I use my phone.
Besides being necessary for my daily survival, offering me advantages and advancements I previously didn’t have, the phone is easily our biggest source of distraction as well. Don’t get me wrong, I think a bit of perusing on Facebook, or Instagram, pinning some ideas on Pinterest or sending some funny videos to your friends is absolutely necessary to keep you sane. However, we can easily find ourselves losing hours of our day and week engaging in these activities and not even know how much time we spend doing that.
How many of us find ourselves very busy and, “never having enough time in the day”?
With my phone, I’m sure Apple didn’t single me out for this, sends me weekly reports to let me know how much screen time I have had this week, and I have been shocked at times, “Did I actually spend this much time on my phone?!” Well apparently I had. One could look at this and say, “whatever, I don’t think it’s THAT much” or this can be used as a tool to show you how you ARE spending your time if you DO want to utilize your time differently.
Food diaries can be much of the same.
Why keep a food diary?
It is a tool we can use to work towards a healthier and happier life. The purpose of a food diary is in part for data collection, with data we can inform ourselves, and by being informed we are able to make more sound decisions that ultimately lead to our behaviours. A food diary is not there to judge you for the food you ate or the calories you consume. It is there to serve as a guide, and can be an effective means of practicing mindfulness and reinforcing positive behavioural changes.
What do food diaries do?
Can help us to identify patterns – When am I the most hungry? What am I eating then? Do I have cravings? Am I overeating/undereating at times? Which foods make me feel full and satisfied, and which don’t have the same effect?
Identify hidden calories – We are human beings and, as such, are quite awful at ‘eye-balling’ portions and we can easily under- or overestimate how much we are actually consuming. Forget about that coffee with cream from earlier, or don’t realize how much salad dressing we are having.
Opportunities for change! Can we make substitutions? Make food choices that are more filling or nutritious? Try different foods and see how they affect our bodies? Having whole food instead of a smoothie. Do some foods seem to cause digestive issues? The list can be endless and is going to vary person to person.
Now, is keeping a journal something that everyone can do? No. Do some people enjoy the process and do it forever? Definitely. Do some people do it for 2 weeks at a time and suddenly gather a ton of insight into their eating habits and patterns? Absolutely!
One area we need to be careful is that counting calories/protein in a food diary can certainly become an obsessive behaviour – remember this isn’t going to work for everyone! The bigger picture is in helping us to identify our patterns and behaviours around food. Most of the time when we utilize a food diary in clinic, initially we don’t have patients count their calories/protein.
A lot of insight can be gained by just putting a little more thought into how much food we are eating, when we are eating, and what we are feeling before and after we eat. What you thought was 1 cup, is actually 3. Am I eating because I am hungry or because I am stressed? Is watching TV a trigger? The insight that can be gained is truly invaluable, and allows for steps to be taken to start making small incremental changes. The key is accuracy and honesty – there is no judgement here.
So what do we record in a daily health diary?
What? What did you eat and drink over the course of the day? This includes any and all food, condiments, any liquid calories, and the amount of water you have per day.
How much? Measure food the best you can – your hands can be great for comparing portion sizes. Your fist is a serving of carbohydrates; your palm is a serving of protein and your thumb is a serving of fat.
When? What time of the day are you eating? – How long are you going between meals/snacks?
The Feels!! How do you feel before you eat? Hangry, ravenous, tired, sad, stressed, etc. How do you feel after you eat? Satisfied, stuffed, still hungry, happy, etc.
Activity? When and how much? Are eating enough before your activity? Are you eating enough after? How did your workout feel? Did you feel sluggish, lots of energy, or meh? Activity is fantastic but we need to make sure we are properly fueling our bodies before and afterwards to ensure we have productive workouts. Without the proper amount of fuel it can make activity difficult and unenjoyable, and it can lead to overeating afterwards!
Mindfulness! Now, not every food diary has this but for ours at HE we like to incorporate it as we believe it is important to take things 1 step farther. To consider what we are grateful for? What has gone well today? Maybe not so well? How can we learn from our mistakes?
That is a pretty basic overview of how food diary can be beneficial. Again, it is a tool in the toolbox. Is it going to solve all of our problems? Of course not.
It is one more thing that when utilized properly can help us to gather insight and information to make actionable change.
So I hope this helps provide some clarity on completing a food diary – as always start small, like everything else this is a change in your daily routine/habits. Trying to fill out a food diary front to back can be overwhelming, so start with 1 meal or snack and slowly start increasing your journaling skills over time. With some practice the whole process can be done within a few minutes each day.
Thinking about the benefits that can come with it, it might be worth putting down that phone OR even using an app on your phone to help you out with the process! Next week, we will continue talking about health journalling – some tips to make it seem easier, and the THREE MOST IMPORTANT things in piecing all of this together.