First off, an effective food journal should record not just WHAT you eat, but WHEN, and also HOW YOU’RE FEELING at the time. Done the right way, and for the right reasons, it can be really helpful for understanding and improving your eating habits.
- Accountability - Especially if you’re sharing your journal with someone else (a personal trainer, nutritionist, or really anyone else), you’ll be much more likely to eat healthy, balanced meals when you have to write them down. You’ll make an effort to eat at normal meal times too. Of course this only works if your journal is actually truthful and accurate!
- Eating mindfully - Pulling out the pencil and paper (or phone app) gives you time to check in with yourself before or after you eat. How are you feeling? How hungry or full are you? Recognizing and understanding your hunger cues is soooo important for creating a healthy relationship with food. Are you physically hungry, or is it just emotional hunger, where you feel like eating for some other reason? I used to think that the point of writing feelings in a food journal was to determine how different foods affect your mood, but now I think the more important thing is seeing how your feelings affect how you eat.
- Recognizing patterns over time - Food journals show the bigger picture of your eating habits, not just individual meals. Suppose you eat a huge dinner and feel really guilty about it…but then you look at your food log and realize you hadn’t eaten since breakfast! No wonder you were hungry! You can also use a journal to see what kinds of meals keep you satisfied the longest, and what times of day you tend to get hungry. Then you can build better habits by packing healthy snacks and planning ahead. Or maybe you'll just realize that you’ve eaten chocolate every day for the past week (that would be me!).
I still don’t think food logging is for everyone, but if you want to try it out, here are some DO’s and DON’T’s for keeping a food journal:
- Record calories
- Weigh your food
- Start with the intention of decreasing your food intake - the main goal should just be awareness
- Use approximate portion measurements (handful, spoonful, etc.)
- Record how you feel - emotions and also how hungry/satisfied you feel
- Be as accurate as you can
A food journal should be a TEMPORARY tool for improving your eating habits. Over time, eating balanced meals at regular times and checking in with your thoughts should become just that - a HABIT. If skipping a day or forgetting to write down a meal makes you feel anxious, then it’s time for some serious reflection about why you’re keeping a food journal in the first place.