So, you decided to try using a food journal. It sounded so easy when you heard about it.
“Write down everything you have in a day…Ok, simple enough.”
You decided to start with just keeping track of your water intake and your lunch for now. Day 1, you are ready to roll! But you got caught up at work and drank some water and didn’t write it all down and now you forgot which glass you were on. Was it 3 or 4? Shoot! Do you remember? I don’t think so. Should I drink an extra one just in case? You know what, just keep going. Then it was lunch time and you tried using your hand to measure the portion size, but you’re not sure if it was 1 palm, or was it closer to 1 1/3?
What if I have small palms do I still measure it the same? Hey, tomorrow is a new day. Oh no, I forgot to write down how I felt before and after eating on day 3, and I had soup for lunch instead of my usual sandwich. Does soup count towards water intake, or not?
So many questions!! The week is going by and you are becoming stressed looking at the spotty diary you were filling out, worrying about the little details, having more questions than answers. Or maybe you have kept track of everything but you have no idea what to do with the information in front of you.
Hopefully, the tips below will provide you with some insight on how to get the most of your food diary:
The more detail you can put into it, the more the diary can tell you – it’s an investigative tool. Ultimately it’s up to you!
Don’t add up the calories until the end of the day. It’s time consuming to do as you go along, and feels more restrictive creating a calorie ceiling. Diaries are reflective, it’s to help you learn, not to punish you.
Completeness and accuracy – BE HONEST with yourself. No one is here to judge you including yourself. Try to use proper measuring tools like measuring spoons, measuring cups and scales, or portion sizes using your hands if you don’t want to get too detailed. Your fist is 1 serving of carbohydrates; your palm is 1 serving of protein; and your thumb is 1 serving of fat.
Don’t rely just on your eyes. Portions can be deceiving.
Aim for consistency, not perfection. Even if you forget to record, you overate, or didn’t drink enough water, just keep recording. Pick up where you left off and carry on. Don’t throw away an entire day just because your day wasn’t perfect.
Make your diary personal and fun. Find a notebook you like, personalize it, use an app on your phone. We have a journal template to help you as well – https://www.healthcareevolve.ca/7-day-food-diary/
Focus on the bigger picture. It’s not about the daily calories or protein, but the overall picture. Life is dynamic and so is your food intake – there are going to be days where you eat more than others and that is OK!!
***This part is important in piecing things together***
So, it’s the end of the week and you see some words and numbers on a page. What do you do with all of this? How do we piece it all together?
All of this info you have collected help us to identify patterns. Patterns of hunger, emotions and triggers. It’s not about avoiding any of these things, it’s about recognizing, acknowledging them and working through them.
HUNGER AND CRAVING RANKING THROUGHOUT THE DAY
Knowing when you are the hungriest or have the most cravings helps you to better plan for them ahead of time. For example, you notice you’re hungry often by 10 AM. Is it because your breakfast was too small (or nonexistent)? By the time lunch rolls around, you are starved and purchasing the extra chocolate bar on top of your lunch, which you didn’t want to do… Seeing a consistent pattern where you are hungry by 10 AM, gives you an opportunity to plan ahead.
Solution: Grab a bit more breakfast, incorporate a morning snack and see if we can dampen down some of that hunger at lunch, which will help us to make less impulsive choices for lunch.
EMOTIONS AND THOUGHTS AROUND FOOD
Eating is an emotional experience just as much as it is functional. Our experiences and connections with food are very personal. Some of us find our appetite increases when we are stressed, while others find the opposite is true for them. We also find ourselves connecting certain foods and activities together, like having popcorn at the movie theatre or having chips while watching Netflix at home. We use food to celebrate and to soothe. Broke up with the boyfriend? Grab a tub of ice cream. Celebrating your anniversary? Go for a nice dinner.
We also have certain feelings around food and the environment we have them in. Do you feel guilty when you eat a donut in your car alone, versus in the lunchroom at work? What about grabbing ice cream with friends versus sitting in your kitchen by yourself spooning the container?
We can eat the same food in different settings and feel differently about it. Do we have the “bad boyfriend” relationships with certain foods? Told yourself you were staying away from him this time… he isn’t good for you… but here you are again messaging him.
We also can be disconnected from our eating experience as well. Maybe you found that bowl of mixed nuts at your friends party, had a few bites, it tasted delicious at first so you kept coming back to it, but now your lips are sore from the salt, you’re not even hungry anymore or enjoying it yet you’re still picking away at it?
Solution: Taking the time to think about each meal we eat, reflect on how we feel physically, emotionally and what connection we have with those foods is CRUCIAL for identifying opportunities for us to make changes and place the power back in our hands.
TRIGGERS WHICH ARE LINKED TO DIETARY STRUGGLES
It’s easy to stay on track when the day is going smooth, but what about those unexpected curve balls? You forgot your planned lunch at home and now you have to fend for yourself. Woke up late and now you’re behind on your whole day and stressed out? Conquering the lunchroom which is overflowing with baked goods around the holidays, or that family gathering this weekend where your sister will make her infamous lasagna?
Figuring out what the triggers and situations are making it harder for you to stick to your plans helps you find solutions ahead of time. This doesn’t mean “I am just going to eat my lunch at my desk to avoid the baked goods in the lunchroom” or “I’ll just eat salad at the family gathering”. No! It’s finding a middle ground which won’t leave you feeling guilty.
Solution: “I’ll have a couple of the treats instead of filling up an entire plate”, “I’ll have a smaller piece of the lasagna and take some home for lunch the next day.”
WHAT YOUR DATA CAN TELL YOU
So you have this partially (or wholly) completed food diary for 1 week or more… You have some data – go back and take a second look.
What is your journal telling you?
Are there any patterns?
An opportunity for change?
Now what is one small step you could take to make a change?
Do you feel you are not consuming enough water during the day?
Maybe we can kick the day off with a glass of water first thing by having it ready on our counter before we make breakfast. Or perhaps you had a more productive activity session when you had a snack prior? So let’s add a little snack within an hour of your activity.
The point is to find the patterns and make small changes that add up over time.
The food diary can be something that we put down and pick back up at a later date or something that we can do on a consistent basis. The more you practice filling it out, the quicker the process becomes and it shouldn’t take you more than a few minutes a day to complete, but the wealth of information it can provide is invaluable. Not only that, filling out your diary serves as an ongoing reminder and reinforces all of the incredible changes you are making in your life to live a healthier and happier life