Jul 1, 2008

Food Journals

by Natalie Mitts

I've always been skeptical about keeping a food journal. I thought it would be tedious and annoying, which it was, at times. It became especially burdensome when I put off doing it for a few days and had to wrack my brain to remember every single thing I put in my mouth.

So when I first decided to start one, it was because of a simple suggestion from my mother. She's the queen of watching what you eat - limiting visits to fast food restaurants, only eating desserts on weekends, etc. I decided to see where my self-control could take me since I've gained a few pounds since I got married last year. I wanted to lose a little weight (don't we all?), but mostly, I just wanted to eat healthier. Plus, I had an empty moleskin notebook that was begging to be used.

I began writing down every thing I ate - even the five M and M's (actually, I mean 15) I snagged from a bowl on the table at work. I started off pretty good. I packed healthy snacks to eat during the day. I counted how many Wheat Thins I ate so I wouldn't just blindly devour them. I thought twice about eating ice cream because I knew I had to write about it later. I even measured out my cereal and milk one morning.

It wasn't until later that I read an article about writing how you feel next to the food. If I had kept track of that, it probably would have prevented me from overdoing it on sweets (my downfall). You could even write why you indulged in certain foods (celebrations, a good test score, a bad test score, etc.) Then you could learn to recognize triggers and adapt as needed. Write down not just the date, but also the time. Notice patterns in your eating habits. Are you more likely to eat healthy in the afternoon? Do you enjoy late-night snacks?

Keeping track of culinary experiences could also be very helpful in eating out. If you really like what you ordered at a new restaurant, and wrote about it in your food journal, it would be easy to recall the next time. Likewise, if you really didn't like something and wrote down the name of the dish, you wouldn't be tempted to order that again.

Remember to not just include emotions, but also physical feelings. It's important to note foods that satisfy you, or ones that make you feel sick. Notice glycemic reactions - that sugar high followed by a sugar low. Try new foods to test out your reactions. Fish is natural anti-depressant. You may be surprised that those unfamiliar foods make you feel pretty good. A salad for lunch may actually fill you up more than your usual sandwich.

I think keeping this food journal has just made me more conscious of my eating habits. Whatever weight I may have lost was probably offset by the week of vacation I spent indulging in fast food and avoiding my journal. I only tried it for about a month, but I learned a lot about my habits. There were good days and bad that I could probably line up pretty well with my planner. I tend to eat more when I am busy and exhausted. But when I'm alert and organized, I am careful about what I eat and usually feel better.

Keeping a food journal is only a starting point. You've got to plan snacks and meals ahead of time and buy food with a purpose. Be honest with yourself. If you're not going to start eating carrots daily, don't buy them. But if you really need that candy bar to get through the rest of the week, it's OK. Everything you eat doesn't have to grow on a tree.

Working out is another vital step to losing weight and improving your health. It's not a substitute for eating well. Somehow we all get the idea that running two miles gives us the right to eat pizza for dinner, while we should be trying to maintain that healthy balance with lean chicken, grains and vegetables.

There's no magic answer to losing weight and living healthier lives. It takes dedication and planning to do it right. I'm still working on trimming off a few pounds and improving my health. Maybe I'll just start over again with a new journal and actually start planning out those weekly dinner menus and exercise routines.

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