As someone who has a bit of an all-or-nothing personality, food journaling is a bit of a controversial topic. Now, I realize my use of the term "controversial" might be a hair dramatic here however since it is common practice with many Health Coaches, Nutritionists, Dietitians and other health professionals, I feel it should be discussed from several sides.
Food journals are often recommended for folks trying to lose weight as a way to gain insight into how much and what kinds of food they consume daily. Research has shown that when left up to memory, most people underestimate the amount they eat by 20-30%, often forgetting the most "undesirable" foods like the candy dish at the office, the chips they snagged from their kiddo's leftover lunch, the BLTs (bites, licks and tastes) they take when cooking or baking. The idea behind food journaling makes total sense-track what you are doing in real time, create awareness of patterns and ideally that awareness helps to change behavior.
All this sounds well and good but regular food journaling can also be detrimental to a person's overall wellness and self image. I mentioned the "all-or-nothingness" of my personality and for me, journaling made me obsess over every single thing I ate and berate myself when I overate. Not that it stopped me from eating anything (I once consumed an entire bag of blow pop candy in one night but we'll save that tale for another post) but it created in me a singularly focused food tracking/calorie counting maniac. I could hardly focus on a conversation with a friend or colleague without mentally running through my journal and thinking about what I would or wouldn't eat later that day. Needless to say, I wasn't the most fun to be around!
Not everyone has this tendency but it requires some experimentation and self awareness to know if food journaling will assist you in reaching your health goals or will hinder you. Here are a few ways to use (or not use) food journals:
1. Daily Journal-There are many different ways to track your food daily. Plenty of apps out there (myfitnesspal is a very popular one) as well as good old fashioned pen and paper. If you believe that you are eating very well but don't seem to be progressing on your weight or wellness goals, daily journaling can be an interesting experiment to run. I personally think it's important to also note how you felt when you were eating to discover if there are any emotional cues playing into your food choices.
2. Sometimes Journal-Maybe journaling every day is either too much of a commitment or gets you into the cray-cray zone like it does me. But perhaps you are looking for a little bit of insight or going through a particularly challenging time of life. You could choose to journal for a week or two weeks and then drop it. This short term practice can give you insight that you can use to move forward with a modified health plan or help you realize when you are using food to soothe emotions.
3. Future Journal-This would be considered much more of a meal plan that you decide to follow. You can enter in (or write down for all you old schoolers like me) what you will eat for the day. This requires more planning (not a bad thing) and tracks generally what you do but also allows you to only have to log food once (perhaps avoiding the constantly thinking about food). I like the idea of this as it sets up some parameters for you for the day but keep in mind if you decide to off road a little with your food (that afternoon latte or a double helping of dinner), you will need to go back and log that for accuracy.
4. No Journal-After being on my journey to "not be such an obsessive psycho when it comes to my food and body" for around 15 years, I've found this generally works best for me (not for everyone but just for me). Earlier on as I was changing my eating habits to a diet of whole and organic foods, the value of a sometimes journal would have been great to allow me to see how eating cleaner affected my energy levels, my mood and my sleep. These days I rely my intuition with food and forgive myself when I overindulge. I also work to cultivate awareness about cravings and have pinpointed when I'm eating from an emotional place versus a place of true hunger.
A food journal, like many things, is simply an optional tool for you to try out as you progress towards the healthiest and happiest you. It's not for everyone but if you have never tried it, I recommend trying it for a week or two. Who knows-you might learn something about yourself that you never knew!
If you have health and wellness goals that you are looking to reach but are feeling stuck or lost, please reach out to me. We can schedule a free initial consultation to assess if we would be good partners in your health journey! Email firstname.lastname@example.org or schedule online at www.cassiegreenhealth.com
Photo image from Institute of Integrative Nutrition.