Why Should I Journal? Journaling can be used in a variety of ways, but it all comes down to helping people understand more about what they do and why they do it. When it comes to eating and drinking, many people really have no idea what and how much they eat and drink on a daily basis.
How Can Journaling Help Me? There are so many ways that keeping a journal can help a person, and it's not just to help them change their eating habits.
- It creates awareness of your current habits. Whether it's your food habits or other ones (like exercise and sleep), before you decide to make any changes, write down what you are currently doing for at least 3 or 4 days. This allows you to get an idea of what your diet is like to determine what changes need to be made and in what order to make them.
- It keeps you accountable. Then, while you are making changes, the journaling can help you to visually keep track of how well you are doing. The mere act of having to write things down may even make you think twice about eating a certain food or skipping out on exercise.
- It helps you plan ahead. There are a couple of ways you can go with this. If you're going to an event in which you think heavier food will be served, you can be sure to eat lighter foods the rest of the day to balance it out. You can write down what you plan to eat ahead of time so that you can go grocery shopping for the foods you don't have on hand and prep any foods ahead o time.
- It helps you understand why and how you eat. People eat for many reasons, not just for hunger. By being aware of what you eat you can start to connect the dots on how some of these foods relate back to you. For example, you might notice that you tend to get a snack every afternoon at 3 o'clock from the vending machine at work, just when you're getting a little tired.
Tips on Journaling. Here are some points that can help you journal so that you get the most out of it.
- Keep track throughout the day. Don't wait until 9 o'clock at night to start writing down what you ate for breakfast and lunch. Rather, it's better to take jot items down as you go. This will help make your entries the most accurate.
- Use a journal that works for you. There are so many ways to journal - especially food and activity - that no one way is best suited to everyone. There's the tried and true paper and pencil journal, journaling programs you can buy for your computer, and online and mobile systems. You may want to try a few different options to see which one you stay the most consistent with. One of the benefits members have when they sign-up for a Wellness Program is access to our online and mobile Food and Activity Tracker (and as an added bonus, I'll review it weekly and give you feedback on it).
- Write down everything you eat and drink. Do not have "selective memory". If you ate 6 Oreo cookies in a moment of weakness, write it down. If you went through the McDonald's drive-through and got the Big Mac, large fries, and large Coke instead of a grilled chicken salad and water, write it down. If you eat 2 Hershey's kisses each time you pass the candy dish at work, write each one down.
- Measure your portion size. A food journal is not going to be as helpful if you don't put down how much you ate or drank. Eating 10 tortilla chips with salsa is a much different calorie, carb, and fat count than 30 chips are. But who really pays attention to that at a Mexican restaurant? Of course, items that are in single-serve containers are the easiest to measure. You can also use household measuring cups and spoons. I find the easiest tool is to have a food scale out on the kitchen counter (I really do keep one there all the time). After a bit, you may get pretty good at eyeballing your portion, but I wouldn't assume this in the beginning.
- Write down when, where, and why you eat. It's often helpful to note the time of your meal or snack, where you were (e.g., in the kitchen, at your desk, watching TV), and the reason you ate (e.g., hunger, boredom, stress, sadness). I encourage people to eat their meals (and snacks) where they are free of distractions. This helps them focus more on the food and the meal as well as hunger and satiety cues. You can read more on this in my previous post Are You a Mindful Eater?.
- Be aware of barriers. Figure out what stands in your way when it comes to food journaling. Some examples: it can take up a lot of time, it's inconvenient, you feel bad when you make less healthy choices, you don't think keeping one will help, you feel embarrassed about what you eat/drink, you think you'll never be perfect…I could go on. Food journaling isn't about being perfect, it's about helping you understand something you do and serving as a tool to help you change it. It's okay if you don't journal everything you see in this list as long as what you do journal is helpful to you.
- Review your journal. This is probably the most important part of journaling. However, many people I talk to write their journal as if it's going into a time capsule - they never think about looking at it later. Your journal matters to you now, not to someone 50 years from now. At the end of the day, it's a good idea to take a look at what you wrote in your journal and jot down some notes on what you did that was successful and what was a challenge for you. This will help you to come up with a game plan for the next day.
Written by Michelle Baglio of Optimal Nutrition and Health (Google+). The information contained in this post is provided for educational purposes only with the understanding that Optimal Nutrition and Health makes no warranties, either expressed or implied, concerning the accuracy, completeness, reliability, or suitability of the information. Readers are advised not to use information in this post or others found on this website for the treatment or prevention of disease, and it should not be used in place of medical treatment or advice. Please do not reprint this post for distribution without my permission. To feature on your website or social media, please link to this post as the original source.