Food journaling comes with plenty of pros and cons. For some, food journal can be a way to see how their body is reacting to certain foods (such as inflammation, water retention, bloating), help to see where nutritional deficiences are, and track measurable points of data. For others it can create a warped relationship with food- leading to obsession, overwhelm, or failing to listen to normal hunger cues for the sake of stay in a certain calorie range. When I was dieting heavily, I used counting all the things as a weapon against myself- It was an example of failure, lack of willpower, my inability to control my hunger and binges… It was downright awful and unhealthy. I was able to move toward a healthier, neutral method of journaling after doing a lot of hard work work to get rid of diet mentality.
I have done food journaling 2 different ways after ditching diets. First, I started journaling my food using my MyFitnessPal to create awareness about my food intake but set some boundaries for myself. I went in with the mindset it was simply a tool for keeping track of what I was eating- I would still eat if I was hungry and I’d stop when I was full. I set the calories to a maintenance level, put in guesses of the amount, and practiced honesty without judgement. When I began to examine my daily intake I started to see patterns in cravings during hormonal cycles, started to notice that I was consuming more processed foods than I thought, I was consuming less produce than I thought, and also (rightfully so) noticed my hunger increasing on the days I had intense workouts. I was able use it to gather data and observe, rather than obsess and judge. By starting at a maintenance level of calories, I was also able to practice maintaining my weight and developing consistent habits without feeling ultra restricted.
The second (and current) method I have used for food journaling is using paper journal and creating a daily 24 hour plan. Everyday I write down what I want to eat for each meal and any snacks. At first my 24 hour plan included daily treats, snacks, and foods I had considered “off limits” or “trigger foods”. Now, my plan includes those occasionally but because I have neutralized those foods and no longer forbid them they have less pull. My plan includes 3 balanced meals and a post-workout snack. At the end of the day I make notes on things I want to improve, why my plan changed, any cravings, or other reasons for eating besides hunger. This system has helped me much more than MFP to maintain my desire to tune into my body and lose weight without counting calories or anything else and I have lost more weight because I don’t feel restricted by a number. This method is dervived from Corrinne, the founder of the PNP Tribe. You can get access to that and take her free weight loss course HERE. The journal I use for creating my daily plan is on Amazon and under $10!
So should you keep a food journal? You should do what is best for YOU. Think about your current life and personal goals.
- Would you benefit from being able to see your normal intake?
- Can you gather data without judging yourself?
- Can you use that data to slightly change habits and observe your natural tendencies?
- Consider alternative methods such as taking a picture of your meal, using pen/paper without tracking calories, or other more neutral methods to track without judging yourself using numbers.
- Don’t be afraid to try things and as always, do what works for YOU. Not what someone else is doing.