It’s the new year and you might be taking advantage of the “fresh start” to set a goal to improve your health. Maybe you have a specific body goal or you just want to improve your eating habits, or you want to sleep better…or maybe it’s all of the above! Whatever health goal you’re wanting to achieve, you’ll find out pretty quickly how important it is to pay attention to what you’re putting in your body. So do you need to be using a food journal to be successful with your goals?
As with a lot of things having to do with your health and fitness…it depends. There are a lot of pros to keeping a food journal, but there are also many reasons why keeping a food journal might not be the best strategy for you (we’ll get to that later!). First, let’s talk about how a food journal can help you reach your goals.
The Pros of Keeping a Food Journal
1. Track Your Progress Over Time
Keeping a food journal is a great way to track your progress and stay motivated, especially if you have a long term goal. The key to long term success is doing the little things on a daily basis. Which can get…really boring. And it’s also hard to see any noticeable change when you’re doing the little stuff.
That’s where keeping a journal can really help! While you may not see any big visible changes (yet!), your journal might be showing you that you’ve been getting vegetables at every meal for the last month. You might be able to see from your notes that your sleep has improved dramatically since you’ve been drinking more water and not skipping meals. The little wins are just as important as the big wins, and you may have missed them without having a record of them in your journal!
2. Make Healthier Choices
You might think that the only purpose of a food journal is to track calories and macronutrients and to log the meals and snacks you eat in a day. However, a food journal can be a great tool for giving you insight into why you’re eating what you’re eating, and in turn helping you make better choices for yourself.
By tracking your meals, you’ll obviously be able to see when and how much of certain foods you eat. You might notice that you’re consistently eating a lot of sugar or missing out on protein, and you can make changes to your diet to fix that. But you can take a step further by jotting down notes at meal/snack time about how you’re feeling. (ex. is your energy really low? are you bored? are you going through an emotional event? is it the week before your period?)
You can then compare to see if there are certain things that trigger certain eating habits which helps you become become more mindful of the foods you’re consuming. You get to decide if that warrants making a change or not!
3. Identify Food Sensitivities
If you’ve been here for awhile, then you know that I had my first baby when I was 40. After that, my body went through some wacky changes. Between the postpartum hormones, breastfeeding, and the oncoming transitions of perimenopause, I had a hard time figuring out what the heck was going on!
If you’ve had a child, you can probably attest to the fact that lots of things about your body change after body! Not only did my feet grow, but my body reacted to some foods differently than it did before pregnancy. But at first I didn’t actually know what was giving me trouble.
Keeping a food journal can be a great way to track any potential food sensitivities that you might have, which can be especially helpful if your body has gone through a big change. By carefully recording what you eat, and how your body reacts to it, you can begin to identify which foods may be causing any sensitivities. For example, if you notice that you feel bloated after eating a certain food, you can note it in your food journal and then monitor to see if it continues. You can use your food journal to help connect the dots and determine which foods may be causing any food sensitivities.
What Should You Include In Your Food Journal?
You know what I’m going to say right? It depends! hahah…No, but seriously. What you include in your food journal will depend on your specific goals, and how you want your food journal to work for you.
If you’re a numbers person, you might want to keep a more detailed journal that includes tracking calories and macronutrients, time of day, etc. to make sure you’re staying within your daily targets.
If you’re not as interested in the specifics of numbers and percentages (or you just don’t have the time/patience to do that for everything you eat in a day), you can use your journal to jot down the components of each meal and estimate portion sizes using visual references.
The more detail you can include in your journal, the more effective it will be for you. Knowing what, how much and when you’re eating can help you make changes if needed. And maybe just as important is the additional insight you can gain from logging things like where you’re eating, what else is going on while you’re eating (ex. do you eat lunch at your desk everyday while you work?), and how you’re feeling before, during and after a meal.
A Food Journal Might Not Work For You If…
Keeping a food journal can be a really helpful tool, especially if you’re got a specific health or fitness goal you’re working towards. However, it’s totally possible to reach your goals without one. And in fact, there are some instances where keeping a food journal might have the opposite effect than you want.
A food journal may not work for you if you don’t have the time or motivation to track their food intake on a consistent basis. If you’re already struggling to find time in your day to establish health habits, then adding another task might not work for you. You might be able to use a super simple simple method of tracking a daily habit, like putting check marks on your calendar for each glass of water you drink.
A food journal may not work for you if you have or have had disordered eating patterns at any point as it can effect your relationship with food. If you are keeping a journal and it starts feeling obsessive or is negatively effecting your mental and emotional relationship with food, it’s best to reach out and work with a registered dietician who is trained in this area.
What Type of Journal Should I Use?
There are tons of different ways to keep a food journal, it really all depends on which one you’re most likely to stay consistent with. If you do most things digitally, you can use an app like MyFitnessPal that allows you to log everything right from your phone. Or if you’re old school like me and like to have a physical piece of paper in your hand, you can grab a journal online or a PDF version like this Printable Food Journal.
However you decide to journal, don’t forget to celebrate your wins, big or small!