A healthy habit of keeping a diary can help going through various problems and conditions. And if you experience some difficulties in the relationship with food, keeping a food diary is one of the best possible solutions for effective self-help.
Journaling: keep a diary to live mindfully
Why you should try it
Keeping a diary, also known as journaling, is a huge trend of mindful lifestyle, getting more and more popular all over the world. And the secret of its popularity is hidden in the possibility of detailed observation of any aspect of life. Just regularly write a detailed report about any interesting event or a part of your own behavior in a diary. Soon you will discover some patterns and regularities, which follow the process of an observed phenomenon.
Armed with relevant knowledge, you will finally be able to change your life for the better. And it becomes possible because you will definitely know the reasons why you do something this or that way. And if something is predictable, it means that it’s preventable! This method allows you to take a mindful look at yourself as if you were a psychologist and a patient at the same time. The good news is that you can use this method to address any issue you have in any aspect of life, from emotional control up to nutrition.
Advanced tracking of nutrition
It is worth mentioning that you can endlessly increase the tracking effectiveness to get the most out of keeping a food diary. Just add more specific information that could help you analyze your condition effectively.
For example, if you experience stress-caused binge eating, besides reflecting the food you eat, you can also add and observe your emotional conditions or situations, probably causing your uncontrolled eating behavior. Hence, you’ll discover more facts about the behavior itself, and also will be able to reveal nasty “triggers” and helpful “stoppers”.
Knowledge about your mental “foes” and “friends” will allow you to build up a strong systematic approach to help yourself and become a truly mindful person. Let’s find out how to start your journey!
How to start and get the most of your food diary
If you want to make your journaling practice beneficial, it is highly recommended to keep all your entries in the same format. In terms of food journaling, it is quite handy to use a table or a spreadsheet. A table is a great way to systematize your entries visually for further analysis.
Create space for every food intake and fill it with the things you’ve eaten
The main thing you need to do is to determine your data types and fill the table accordingly. Because keeping a food diary is focused on nutrition and eating habits, you can denote food intakes during a day and fill them with the food you’ve eaten. This section can include breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.
In addition, it is highly useful to add “extra” intake cells if you tend to eat compulsory or experience stress-caused binge eating. These extra-cells will be showing you how often you experience such types of issues.
Try to be meticulous describing your meal: the more detailed description you will add, the more clear you will estimate your nutrition style. Besides describing names of dishes, add an approximate portion size, volume, and cooking method. If you prefer processed or complex dishes, it would be ideal to describe every ingredient, present in a dish. But this method is too time-consuming and doesn’t fit everyone. If you don’t want to deconstruct your meals in such sophisticated way, you can choose between two options.
Option 1 offers to opt for mono-options in your diet, which has some strong advantages. First of all, you’ll know what exactly you eat in a day. Plus, this style of nutrition will help you make your entries more detailed without extra-efforts. As a bonus, this way allows you to count your calorie intake faster if you want to practice it. This method is appropriate for those, who would like to lose weight or switch onto a healthier diet.
If to use this method, a standard food entry would look like this:
Option 2 allows you to stay with your favorite products, but focus more on portion sizes instead of decomposing them into ingredients. For example, you want to lose weight. How does it work in this case? You are writing down your food intakes for one or two weeks and watch your weight during this period. If the number is stable or increasing, you need to “cut off” some calories, making your portions smaller. Knowing the previously taken portions, you can easily manipulate with their size and watch changes. This method is less accurate and “fast” in terms of a goal achieving, but more comfortable.
If to use this way, a standard food entry would look like this:
Mark the actual time of eating
Besides food registration, it is helpful to mark the actual time of eating to discover regularities. For instance, you can notice that you start craving something sweet in the evening more often, and this is the reason to study what feelings you experience and what potentially triggering activities you practice in your usual evening.
Register, what was happening around you during eating
If you can find out what was happening during your sweet cravings at 5 PM, you could probably reveal that some events or actions around you can affect your condition as triggers. If you feel that your binge-eating episode was provoked by an Instagram session or a chat with your boss, try to reflect these events in the diary. Maybe in fact this coincidence is regularity? Hence, you’ll be noticing this in the future and will go through these situations mindfully, realizing what’s going on and how to stop the uncontrolled eating behavior.
Specify the location of your food intake
It seems to be not so obvious but sometimes a place of eating can affect our mood and emotional condition so hard, that we can’t overcome the temptation to eat more or do it automatically. Registering every place where you eat, could help you track regularities, connected with unexpected eating episodes.
Eating can be emotional, and this is the reason why a lot of us experience stress-caused binge-eating. Usually, when stressed or upset, we don’t let our emotions out and literally “eat” these feelings instead. And here we usually opt for the unhealthiest choices like high-fat or high-sugar food. Marking an emotional condition in the food diary can be highly beneficial, and not only because you can discover some patterns and triggers, which lead you to overeating. Another great part of such registration is that you can relive these feelings, while putting them on paper.
Weight and body measurements tracking
If you chase a goal of weight loss or weight gain, make sure to track your weight every day. Don’t pay much attention to daily numbers. Instead, concentrate more on a weekly weight report to find out how your weight has been changing during the tracked time. For example, in case of weight loss, you can track your intakes and weight for one or two weeks and correlate these two parameters when you make a weekly analysis. If the numbers decrease, the process is going successfully and you can continue eating the way you do. But if you see that your weight is stable or increases, you can make changes to your diet. For example, cut portions’ size or swap some products for healthier options.
In addition to weight tracking, it is helpful to track changes in your body circumference measurements. Sometimes weight’s changes don’t connect with food, but depend on hormonal fluctuations or changes in the body composition (muscles vs body fat). These are the cases when the measurements are highly beneficial – they are able to demonstrate the real changes, happened with the body in the chosen period of time.
Collecting all recommendations, we can get a table, looking like this:
Weekly analysis: how to track your progress in a food diary
After you’ve decided what kind of information you want to track, it is time to find out how to analyze all the data to get the most out of your journaling practice. Regardless of the way you want to keep the food diary, the weekly analysis should be expressed as a report, in which you could mark regularities and notice special patterns, that trigger or, on the contrary, inhibit your undesired eating behavior.
You can create another table with data cells and manually or automatically count the information, which is interesting for you. For example, if you suffer from binge-eating, you can count how many episodes you’ve had during the chosen week. After that, track what kind of triggers could cause the episodes – check all the data, containing your emotional condition, people around you, time, place, etc. If you see regularities, mark them in a special cell for “regularities”.
Understanding the reasons will lead to the mindful living and will teach you to control your nasty behavioral patterns, keeping them at bay with your clear view of the situation.
To count or not to count? The calorie question
The decision “to count or not to count” depends on many factors. For example, some people report that they experience eating disorders or worsening of the symptoms if they count the calories from every meal. This controlling process activates the cycle of self-punishment and self-rewarding, which is the most powerful mental mechanism, pushing us to binge-eating.
On the other hand, calorie counting can help people lose weight more effectively because of the way they count the spent energy in comparison with the energy they’re getting from food. This way of measurement allows to keep the body in a calorie deficit state and, hence, stimulates the body to spend its own energy, hidden in excessive fat.
At the beginning of keeping a food diary, you can try tracking your food and its portions and correlate this information with your weight changes. If you feel that you want to try manipulating portions or interchanging high-calorie products with more “lightweight” ones, just try this way and analyze how effective it is. This can take more time but will be less stressful in comparison with the calorie-counting method.
And if you want faster results, the calorie counting could be a good choice. The easiest way to do that is using calorie-counting mobile apps – they usually have a great database of products and allow you to track how much energy has been consumed and how many macronutrients you’ve taken in grams/percent. But watch yourself attentively and stop practicing the calorie-counting method if you feel too stressed or too focused on eating and counting.
Keeping a food diary is a great way to know yourself better and finally find the balance between your nutrition and self-perception. The best thing is – you can finally start to feel and live mindfully, and accept yourself as you are. Adding little step-by-step changes carefully and without judgment, you will transform your life. And this is worth a try, isn’t it?