What’s the big deal with food journaling? Why should we food journal? Is there really a purpose behind it?
Believe it or not, food journaling can be a crucial tool in regaining health, losing weight, gaining vitality, and ridding yourself of irritating symptoms. It is a great tool for self-reflection and for learning more about your habits and food issues.
Our health, our moods, our mentality and our fitness are all affected by the food we eat. Our bodies (and brains) are made up completely of molecules that we have obtained from the food we eat, the air we breathe and the water we drink. The quality of the materials that you ingest affects the quality of the molecules in your body, how well they function, and possible dis-ease states. It is quite likely that changes in our food and environment affect our health, our mental health and our overall fitness.
The food we eat can also affect us in many other ways, from food allergies and sensitivities to indigestion and heartburn, fatigue and energy. Unless you have a true food allergy, most food reactions take a few hours to a few days to occur. So, when your eczema flairs up, it may not be what you just ate, but something you ate a day or two ago that is actually causing it. Keeping a food journal can help you to start making those connections, and can help you experiment with your diet to learn more about the foods that you react to.
Another important part of the food journaling process is finding out which foods work for you. Each of us requires a slightly different intake of the main macro-nutrients protein, fat and carbohydrate. While I do much better on a moderate protein, higher fat, and low-moderate carbohydrate diet, you may do much better eating a lot more carbohydrates and a lot less fat. Each of us reacts differently to these macro-nutrients, and keeping a food journal to track our food intake, energy, moods and various symptoms can help us learn what our ideal intake is.
While it is very important to be honest with this process, it is also crucial to be forgiving with yourself. The food journal is not a tool to make you feel guilty, but to help you learn your own trends and habits and to help you learn how to move beyond them to a healthier relationship with food.
So, first… find a template that works for you. There are numerous templates out there on the web that can be used. I have searched through a bunch of them, and taken the parts that I find most useful to create this template. Food Journal Template
How to fill out the food journal.
If you decide to use this template, print out at least a week’s worth of sheets so that you are ready for the week. Put them in a binder so that you can keep track of them, and so that all of them are in one place for when you start your analysis. Give yourself at least a week of keeping a food journal before you start trying to analyze your patterns or symptoms.
It is best to fill out your food journal immediately when you are done eating each meal or snack, as it is easy to forget your thoughts, feelings and symptoms surrounding each meal if you wait until the end of the day. When you start filling out for one meal, you can finish from the meal before if you noticed any symptoms or shifts.
Take a few minutes to fill out your journal.
1. Meal: When you eat a meal, enter what you eat with basic amounts and the time you ate the meal. Be specific: instead of saying steak and broccoli with salad, say 6 oz. steak with peppercorn sauce, ~1c. broccoli and small bowl of spinach salad with vinaigrette dressing. Don’t worry about measuring, just use a guesstimate. Ratio: Then make a quick guess on the ratio of your meal: was your meal about 50% carbohydrate and 50% protein and fat, or was it closer to 75% protein and fat and 25% carbohydrate. Don’t worry about being exact, just give yourself a basic measure. This is important to work with your satisfaction and other symptoms to determine your ideal ratio of carbohydrates [CHO] and protein/fat [Pr&F].
2. Mood: How are you feeling? Stressed, anxious, happy, sad, angry, annoyed? Keep track of these and if they change throughout the day. Food can affect our moods to a large extent! When I eat sugar, I become very self-critical. When I eat dairy, I get irritable and I don’t like myself. Keep track of your moods… you might start to notice a connection between certain mood shifts and the foods you are eating.
3. Energy Level: Keep track of how you are feeling right after a meal and for a few hours afterwards. Do you always get sleepy a couple of hours after eating? Do you have even energy throughout the day?
4. Situation: Where are you eating, and what are you doing? Are you sitting at the table with your family? Did you just get in a fight, and you are eating at the counter? Are you in your car, driving to work? These can all play into your ability to digest, and also your level of satiety.
5. Hunger Level: Rate how hungry you were when you started your meal. On a scale from 0-5, with 0 being not hungry at all, and 5 being starving and I feel like I haven’t eaten in days!
6. Satisfaction: Do you feel like you are full, are you still hungry, do you want to snack or are you craving something sweet? Keep track of these feelings. If you are craving something sweet, you may have eaten too much protein and fat and not enough carbohydrates. If you are still hungry or want a snack, you may not have eaten enough food, or may have eaten too many carbohydrates. Pay attention to the symptoms and you can help determine what a more ideal intake is for yourself, and also to make corrections for your next meal.
7. Symptoms: Pay attention to your body. Start reading how your body is reacting. Your body has infinite wisdom. If you learn how to read it, you will learn a lot about your diet, your health and your food. You can have physical symptoms such as fatigue, sneezing, headaches, stomach pain, indigestion or muscle cramps, or more emotional symptoms, which would fall more into the mood category.
8. At the end of the day, make sure to enter how much water you have taken in throughout the day (I like to cross off a cup or two at a time, as I find it easier to keep track that way), and record any exercise you have done. Include notes on how you felt, fatigue, motivation, etc… And then give yourself a minute to reflect on the day and your food intake. Note any habits that have come up or anything you have learned from the exercise. Keep track of these so that you can make a shift tomorrow.
Analyzing Your Food Patterns
After a week (or more), take a few minutes to sit and look over your food journals. Start to notice any trends that may reappear.
- Do you tend to eat a heavier lunch?
- Are there any food groups that are completely missing?
- What types of foods are you eating – whole, fresh, processed, packaged?
- Have you noticed any recurrent symptoms, and can you connect them to any specific food or type of food?
- Do you tend to overeat if you are really hungry before a meal?
- Do you skip meals?
- Notice which days you felt the best and look at what you ate on those days. Is there a correlation?
- Do you eat the same thing often?
- How much variety are you getting in your diet?
Grab the template, print a few copies and get started! You will be amazed at what you learn about yourself, and how easy it is to start making small changes once you are more aware of your habits.
To Healthy Living!