Food Journaling – Do I Have To?

The other day I posted this quote on my Facebook page about the importance of writing down what you eat – “The biggest lie I tell myself is I don’t need to write down everything I eat, I’ll remember it later.” I have heard this countless times and I have said it myself but when it comes to food journals you have to write everything down. Here are some questions I have received over the past few months along with the answers I provided.

Food Journaling FAQ’s

Q: I hate having to keep a food log; it’s such a pain. Do I have to?

A: I’ve tried to lose weight many times and have yet to meet a single person who LOVES food journaling. Yet I have met thousands who would LOVE to lose weight. Consider the idea of choosing to keep a journal, versus having to keep one.

Q: Do I have to record everything, everyday, forever?

A: In the beginning, I recommend that you do. When you see your diet records in black and white, you’ll be better able to analyze progress and detect areas that may need improvement.

That being said, I suggest diet journaling regularly for at least one month. At that point, if you are tired of keeping records every day, consider using the journal only at the times of day or week you have determined most difficult for you.

For example, after keeping diet records for an initial month, you may discover that what you eat on the weekend is undermining your perfect weekday intake. In this scenario, it may be most helpful to continue food journaling only on the weekends.

Or, if after a month you see a pattern of overeating in the evening, then maybe you continue to write in your food journal what you eat after 6 p.m. only.

Q: Do I have to record even when I am having a “bad” meal or “bad” day?

A: Absolutely. The time you want to write in your food journal the least is the time you benefit from journaling the most.

I ask my clients to keep food records. They LOVE to share them with me when they are eating perfectly. But then they cancel appointments or conveniently forget to bring food records after a bad week. We usually have a good laugh about it later, as we both know very well what is going on.

I subscribe to the philosophy that there is “never failure, only learning. If you can learn to accept that bad days provide you with valuable information about yourself and your choices, then eventually you will WANT to write in your food diary on those days. Consider it an opportunity to learn and grow.

Q: How can I use a daily food journal to assure my long-term success?

A: Make a commitment to using a food log to record everything, everyday, for the first week of every month…regardless of whether you think you need to or not.

Using a food diary to bring yourself back to a state of heightened awareness on a regularly planned and scheduled interval will keep you on track and bring you back if you’ve strayed too far.

Q: I have established a calorie goal for myself. If I go back and review my food journal, what should I be looking for besides the numbers?

A: A lot of really good info is lurking on the pages of your food diary! In my experience I have found there are no bad foods or bad meals or bad days…only bad patterns.

Think of your shopping habits. One extreme shopping spree isn’t likely to break you, but making a habit of it could.

Look at what you’ve eaten and consider whether any of the following have become patterns:

• Are you skipping meals and subsequently overeating later in the day? You can’t fool Mother Nature: not eating enough in the a.m. almost always leads to overeating in the p.m.

• Are your meals balanced? If not, this can lead to getting overly hungry and loss of control.

• Do you notice any food groups missing in action?

• Do you notice an imbalance between food groups over the course of the day? (For instance, too much starch and not enough fruit?)

• Is there a long span of time between meals? Do you notice yourself overeating if you wait too long in between?

• What is too long for you? 2 hours? 3 hours? 6 hours?

• How many meals include fruits and vegetables?

• Are you eating too much of all of the right types of foods?

• Do you notice any meal in particular in which you consume too much?

• When you consider the day as a whole, is most of what’s being consumed whole, unprocessed food or is it primarily packaged?

Q: What if I am keeping food logs religiously and am not losing any weight?

A: Go back and revisit the numbers. You may need to change your daily caloric intake goal, or perhaps your portions are off.

It’s easy to get sloppy with portion sizes. You may think you know what 1/2-cup or 3 oz. looks like after a while. If you are eating a 4 oz. chicken breast and recording it as 3 oz., you will be off by 50 calories per day. This translates to a 5 lb. weight gain per year– or 5 pounds you didn’t lose! You may also want to consider whether your exercise routine needs adjusting.