Keeping a Food Journal

Everywhere I turn, health and nutrition experts are advising people to keep a food journal of everything they eat each day. Over the years, I've tried multiple times in various ways ... in a notebook, on an app ... but I would stop after a couple of weeks. There were different reasons why each prior attempt failed and today, I'll talk about why my most recent foray into food journaling seems to be sticking.

Keeping It Simple
My current food journal has been ongoing since January 8, 2019 and is still going strong. This time around, I kept it simple. I use a physical notebook and each day, I write the date and then the time and a brief description of what I ate. I don't bother with calorie counts or even portions because I wanted to make it as easy for myself as possible to develop and continue the habit. I figured I could always add more bells and whistles at time went on.

Making It Accessible
Location has been important too. In the past, I kept the food journal in the living room, or an app on my phone. This time around, it's right on my kitchen counter. I pass by it countless times, and anytime I am eating, I'm sure to see it, so it's almost impossible to forget. This also adheres to the concept of keeping it simple because whenever I get something to eat, the food journal and pen are right there for me to log what I ate.

This is the inverse of the "out of sight, out of mind" concept. Health and nutrition professionals often suggest keeping junk foods either out of the house completely, or stored away in an opaque container in the pantry. Conversely, fruit or other foods you want to encourage yourself to eat should be kept in clear containers or bowls on the kitchen counter. I will say that when I have guests coming over and I put my food journal on a shelf, I definitely forget to use it.

Taking Breaks
I don't go crazy with the food journal. Although I did use it every day for over a month to build the habit, I don't take it with me when I am away from home. So if I'm at a friend's house for most of the day, or on vacation, I just don't log the meals I eat during those times.

Realizing the Benefits
The first couple of months, I really didn't notice any benefit of keeping a food journal. It was just something I did because it's supposed to be a good habit that translates into other good habits (aka a keystone habit). A couple of weeks ago though, I started flipping through it because I wanted to write a blog post about it. And I was shocked at how much junk food I was regularly consuming. I'm looking at you, green pea snacks!

I always thought of myself as being a healthy eater and not really someone who eats that much processed food. My food journal told another story. Every year, after the holidays, it does take me a couple of months to get my eating back on track. But the journal showed that I was eating over a dozen times per day, and most of those were snacks, rather than planned out, nutritious meals.

After seeing the state of my eating, I snapped to attention. Usually, my food journal takes up 3/4, if not almost the full page. The past 9 days, I've kept it between 1/3 and 1/2 full. For me, this has meant that other than my planned meals, I'm having a few snacks when hungry, and the snacks have generally been either an apple, banana, or scoop of protein powder in water. I've also doubled the number of meals I cook each week. In this short time, my jeans have started to feel looser.

In Closing
I started writing in my food journal because so many people recommend it. I didn't have any strong expectations, and if anything, I thought it would be a neutral activity. I was pleasantly surprised (after being unpleasantly surprised to see my eating patterns) that the habit has made a positive impact on my eating habits. I am much more thoughtful on what I consume, not just the quantity, but definitely the quality of food as well.


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