Fit Food: Diet Journaling

fit_foodOne of the most important and under-utilized strategies for making successful changes to your diet is journaling. Keeping track of what you eat has been shown to be a major habit of people who have successfully lost weight and kept it off. Even if you don’t count calories or measure portions just the act of writing down what you eat can help by making you more aware of what you are putting in your mouth. Sometimes knowing you have to write it down can help you second guess that donut!

Journaling is also extremely helpful when it comes to noting patterns and pinpointing food intolerances. There are many ways to journal and different ways will work for different goals and different people. You may prefer paper and pen and someone else may have an app on their smart phone. Perhaps noting time of day and what you ate is enough for you, while someone else may need to track amounts of food as well as how they felt after eating certain foods. If you don’t know where to start, here are some common journaling strategies.

Strategy 1 – Simple food and time of day tracking. This can be done with a smart phone app or simply with a notepad and pen. Keep track of what you ate and at what time. Don’t worry about too many details and just get in the habit of writing everything down. The main purpose of this strategy is to get used to writing things down, make you aware of what you are eating and have a record to look back on to see what works and what doesn’t. You can always build on this later. An example day might look like this:

7am – oatmeal with skim milk and berries, coffee with sweetenerBerries_n_oatmeal_mod
10am – granola bar and an apple
12pm – chicken sandwich with avocado and baby carrots
3pm – yogurt with fruit and nuts
6pm – grilled salmon with brown rice and spinach
8pm – almonds and cheese

Strategy 2 – Food, time of day, plus amounts of food and how you felt when you ate. This can still be done with paper and pen or an app as it doesn’t include calorie counting, just a closer eye on portions and measuring food. I would recommend using this method if you use strategy 1 for six to eight weeks with no results or if you are trying to pinpoint food intolerances. An example day might look like this:

7am – 1/2 cup oatmeal with 1/2 cup skim milk and 1 cup berries, 1 cup coffee with 2 packets sweetener; felt hungry and energetic
10am – granola bar and an apple; was busy at work ate really fast, stomach was a little upset before eating and I thought it was just hunger but it didn’t go away after I ate
12pm – chicken sandwich with 1 chicken breast and 1/2 of an avocado and 15 baby carrots; managed to get away from my desk and enjoy my lunch, was very hungry and a bit stressed, still felt hungry after eating
3pm – 3/4 cup yogurt with a banana and 12 almonds; wasn’t really hungry but I knew I needed to eat, stomach was upset shortly after eating
6pm – 4 oz grilled salmon with 1/2 cup brown rice and 1 cup spinach; hungry and tired
8pm – 20 almonds and 3 oz cheese; was feeling snacky when watching tv, not really hungry

In this example, if you were trying to figure out food intolerances, you could look back and see that your stomach was upset after eating dairy products. Then you could try to cut out dairy for a while and see if your symptoms get better. This strategy will also help you see just how often you eat when you aren’t really hungry and are just eating because you are bored.

Strategy 3 – nutrition carbohydrates fats proteinsCalorie and macronutrient (carbs, fats, and protein) tracking in addition to time of day and feeling. Although this is still possible to do with paper and pen and using a calorie counting book or the Internet it’s easier to use an app on a smart phone. I would recommend this strategy if you have tried 1 and 2 without the desired results or if you have a specific goal you are working towards. This method is the most exact and reliable but requires the most work.

Some apps to try: – a free website that also has an app
My fitness pal – a free app with calorie and fitness tracking, also has a website
Lose it! – a free app with calorie and fitness tracking and a recipe builder

Regardless of the way you choose to journal, to get the most out of it you need to be consistent and accurate. Remember that you are doing this for you and if you fudge the numbers or “forget” to write something down the only person you are hurting is yourself. And don’t forget to review your journals on a regular basis. Note patterns and see what works and what doesn’t. Good journaling habits will help you build a personalized program that really works for you and gives you the results you are looking for!

Happy Lifting!

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8 comments for “Fit Food: Diet Journaling

  1. March 25, 2013 at 5:25 am

    I am a big believer in journaling…do so with my workouts…I don’t workout without my journal. It is a guide, a tool and the most powerful weapon in the arsenal!

    • March 28, 2013 at 8:23 pm

      I agree! You can’t know where you are going unless you know where you have been!

  2. March 24, 2013 at 7:42 pm

    Totally! What’s the saying? “Your body keeps an accurate log of what you eat regardless of what you write down?” 🙂

  3. JC
    March 23, 2013 at 6:47 pm

    The most unsettling of truths are realized with a properly tracked diet. 🙂

  4. March 23, 2013 at 5:38 pm

    I’ve heard from a lot of people who use those apps and swear by them. I haven’t tried them personally, but may do so when that time comes…

    • March 24, 2013 at 7:41 pm

      I have tried the Sparkpeople one personally and found it was good. In general it’s just much easier to have an app do all the calculations for you!

  5. March 23, 2013 at 5:24 pm

    Great advice, Dara – and it works just as well for hardgainers trying to add lean mass. Some people I’ve trained are really surprised when they realize they’re barely eating maintenance calories instead of enough to grow…

    • March 24, 2013 at 7:40 pm

      Thank you! I find that under eating is often the issue both for those trying to lose and gain weight!

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