Food Journal - A Key Ingredient for Healthy Living

You Are What You Eat, But Do You Know What You Eat?

When Meaningfull Foods opened, we set out to help people in Portland and beyond to develop a more positive relationship with nutrition, fitness, as well as mental, emotional and spiritual well being.  Part of the journey to health and wellness is raising your own awareness of your own body - how does it respond to the exercise you engage in (or not?), what does it feel like after you’ve eaten _________, and what is all that excess stress you’ve had going on lately feel like in your body?

The more we pay attention to these things, the more we learn about what feels good and what doesn’t.  Your body wants to feel good!  It is constantly sending you signals based on the input it gets...are you paying attention to those signals?  

Today we’re talking about the enormous benefits you can get from paying closer attention to what you eat.  In this Fit Family, we know it can be really friggin hard to commit and follow through with healthy choices.  Often it takes A LOT of time and energy to even begin to pay attention, much less adjust our habits.  It takes a lot of work...but the payoff is SO worth it.

Why should you track what you eat...What do you get out of it?

Food journals have been used for decades to help people lose weight, identify allergens, keep their portions in control, and simply to understand more about the food they put into their bodies.  Since we all know that Knowledge is power, the more we know, the more we can empower ourselves to make positive changes.  Or not, that’s the great thing about life, it’s our choice.  FKD is here to suggest, however, that making positive changes feels really great and making negative changes feels downright awful.  Wouldn’t you like to feel good?  

According to professor of nutrition at Tufts University, Jeanne Goldberg, “Food diaries can be very helpful in weight control for individuals what are willing to do them carefully.  The idea is to raise our consciousness.  Is it lunch time and your were hungry?  Or is it just that you were bored and you were home, so you went to the kitchen and got something to eat.”

Researchers all over the world have studied food journaling for some time.  Recently, however, there was a study done right in our backyard at Kaiser Permanente in Portland that found that people who kept a daily food journal lost twice as much weight over six months compared to those who did not record regularly.  In August of 2008 the American Journal of Preventive Medicine published this:

“The more food records people kept, the more weight they lost,” said lead author Jack Hollis Ph.D., a researcher at Kaiser Permanente’s Center for Health Research in Portland, Ore. “Those who kept daily food records lost twice as much weight as those who kept no records. It seems that the simple act of writing down what you eat encourages people to consume fewer calories.”

Calories...a topic under heated debate in the scientific community as of late.  There is a lot of  research coming out about the validity and effectiveness of counting calories.  Certainly this much is true - comparing the rough number of calories you should consume in one day with the number of calories known to be in every single bite of the foods you consume can teach you that you are consuming way too many calories, which is a great tool for making a positive change in your life.  

However, the goal of food journaling is to see all the ways in which the food you eat is interacting with your body.  This not only includes calorie counting, it includes looking at your emotional state when you eat, the time of day you eat, how the foods you eat interact with each other when you eat them together, etc.  Read on for some tips on what to record to find out what your body is telling you.

How does it work?

Find a method that you like, first and foremost!  If it’s a pain in your ass to use, don’t use it.  If it adds any extra stress to your life, find another method.  Whatever you do, stick to it and know that you may have a little period in the beginning until you’re used to it that you’ll want to ditch the whole thing entirely.  If you can push through that, you’re golden.  It takes a minute to start a habit, but once you do it basically runs itself!  

Secondly, identify your goals.  Do you want to help yourself lose weight?  Are you looking to find the root cause of that skin rash you can’t get rid of no matter what you do?  Maybe you experience pain in some part of your digestive process...inflammation is the likeliest cause and paying attention to the inflammatory foods you eat can help eliminate that pain.  Or perhaps you have a form of diabetes and you need to track your sugar consumption.  Maybe you want to start training for a competition or race of some sort, it will be really important for you to eat specific ratios of nutrients to achieve those goals.  Did you recently decide to become Vegan?  Tracking your food intake can ensure you are getting the right amount of protein in your diet.

Finally, make sure you record the right info.  The more info you keep the more detailed the picture will be in the end.  If you keep a pen and paper journal, be sure to include these tidbits:

  • How much you ate - estimate size, volume and number of items
  • What you ate - be as descriptive as you can!
  • The time when you ate
  • Where you were when you ate - environmental factors can have a huge effect on the way your body processes food!  Note whether you were alone or with others.
  • What else were you doing? Were you talking to someone, watching TV or maybe ironing while you ate?
  • What Mood you were in when you ate - were you happy, sad, anxious, relaxed, etc?
  • Are you experiencing any strange symptoms?  Even things you wouldn’t think would be related to food, like headaches, skin rashes,

In this age of rapidly advancing technology, we are fortunate to have tools we can use to track our lives on the go.  At the bottom of this article, in the links you’ll find some great reviews of the multitude of apps out there to help track all things fitness and nutrition.  I recommend you read as much as you can about these to find one that will give you the information you are really seeking.  Don’t know quite what that is yet?  Go back and do some goal setting.

Tips and Tools for actually sticking to it.

To reinforce just how difficult it can be to commit yourself to this work, I’ll leave you with a thought from an article in the Wall Street Journal on the importance of food journaling.  They cited a study that looked at the methods people used to record their data.  Turns out that the way you record what you eat can in itself have a negative or positive psychological effect on you.  WSJ stated this:

“The study also looked at the tendency toward “negative nudges,” which is the name for technology that encourages the behavior it is meant to prevent. For example, food journals that employ a bar-code scanner for entering foods may inadvertently encourage users to eat processed foods,’ Dr. Fogarty said. Or some people keeping a food journal may inadvertently begin eating the same foods over and over because it is easier to do the journal inputting—even though it also reduces dietary variety. ‘With negative nudges, we saw behavior changing for the worse,’ Dr. Fogarty said.”

So the takeaway here is that you’ve got to find what works for you.  Go easy on yourself and ask others for help!  We’re here for you too, drop us a line if you need any advice or support!

As always, Knowledge is Power!  Check out these resources for way more info!

What you get out of food journaling:

How to:

Tips and tools: