Is your relationship with food confusing and messy? Do you find that you over eat, under-eat or don’t remember what you did eat? Do you do this even when knowing the right thing to eat? A food journal may be just what you need! A journal increases your awareness of what, how and why you eat. With that increased awareness comes an improved relationship with food.
Many of us have used apps or websites to log and look up our foods with the goal being to get information about our nutrient intake (let’s be honest, it’s usually to track our calories). But we generally quit before we get any meaningful data. We can learn much about ourselves and our relationship with food by journaling in our food log. The key is to journal the information that helps increase your awareness. Here are 6 points to include which will help you get the most out of your food journal.
1. Food, Beverage, and Portion Size
Let's start with the obvious. Logging the type of food and approximate portion size is helpful to be able to see trends over time. For example, we may think "I don't really eat that much cheese, just a slice on my sandwich at lunch". When we complete our food log, we suddenly notice the cheese on our casserole dinner, on our Friday night pizza, and the snack during the week while we're watching Netflix. Don't forget to write what you drink too! Are you logging nutrient poor, high calorie coffee drinks, sports drinks, sodas, and sports drinks? Are you meeting your fluid needs during the day? I find that looking closer at a written log of foods, drinks, ingredients, and portion sizes helps my clients identify where they have excesses, deficits, and yes - amnesia. Journals also serve as a great reward system for my clients when they see themselves consistently hitting their goals.
Emotion impacts what we eat, how much we eat, and whether we enjoy what we're eating. Some people are "stress eaters" while others are meal skippers under stress. Some celebrate their joys with dessert while others notice that when their mood is better, they can make better food choices. Bringing awareness to the relationship between food and mood is a valuable piece of the puzzle of mindful eating.
Bring awareness to the "why" of what you eat. It’s often not about hunger. To some extent the “why” involves emotion, the company with whom you eat, the location of your meal, and your values about where your food comes from. Knowing the “why” also helps us to understand and accept that at times we choose foods for reasons other than hunger - it's up to you to decide if that reason is worthwhile!
4. Hunger and Fullness
The extent to which we feel hunger and fullness can help us reflect on our relationship with food and make positive changes. For example, your morning routine may place more value on time than food. As you become aware that feeling overly hungry has you feeling lightheaded and cranky you may begin to place greater value on food. To avoid the feeling of hunger, and its uncomfortable side effects, you allow an extra 5 minutes to prep a breakfast to take with you as you run out the door. Recognizing your level of fullness helps identify eating patterns. Do you eat until you’re are excessively full? Perhaps you’re using food for reasons other than nourishment. I often find my client eat for several reason other than hunger including -it’s time to eat, everyone else is eating, the food looks good and simply out of routine. Identifying this can help prevent the pattern from continuing. Living in disconnect from one's own body is easy when our families and peers value busyness and accomplishment however, mindfully respecting our body's cues is a good way to increase health and happiness from a nutrition perspective.
Feeling satisfied after eating is different than feeling fullness. Fullness is a physical feeling. Satisfaction is a little more mental and has to do with contentment. When you walk away from your light lunch salad, are you still dreaming of a cookie? That may cue you to the foods you are choosing may need to be optimized to improve satisfaction rather than leaving you feel discontent and deprived. Not being satisfied with your meal or snack likely leads to eating something else anyway so why not eat for satisfaction.
6. Physical Bodily Responses
Keeping a log of how your body feels along with your food log can be helpful if you are trying to combat fatigue, improve athletic performance, reduce adverse digestive symptoms, and eliminate neural symptoms like headaches. When working with someone trying to improve their health, I encourage them to identify how their meals are making them feel. We often think of diet in terms of weight, blood pressure, and blood labs however the effectiveness of our diet can be seen in a ton of other ways and sometimes those are more telling than the numerical values that we get from a doctor’s office.
Have You Kept a Food Journal?
What has been most effective for you? What epiphanies did you have when you spent time reflecting on your nutrition through food journaling? Tell us in the comments!
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About the Author
I’m Courtney Hager, one of the registered dietitians from One You Nutrition LLC. I am an endurance sports addict and love to learn about how the body and mind use nutrition to help us perform. I’d love to hear from you so leave a comment, subscribe to our newsletters, or better yet, set up a call with me to chat about your nutrition goals!