We all struggle with nutrition. It’s a never-ending battle of willpower, cravings, and convenience that end up dictating our food choices in the kitchen, often to our detriment. It can leave us feeling a little hopeless, like we are forever destined to having to suffer the consequences that come with not eating well.
It doesn’t have to be this way, however. There is an easy way that you can take the power back in the kitchen—using a food journal to record your meals.
Simple, yes—but unbelievably powerful.
After all, here are just some of the things that start to happen when you track and monitor your food choices:
1. You’ll eat better. There is no bigger benefit than this—the awareness that comes with measuring and tracking your own nutrition will encourage you to make better dietary decisions. It shines a light on the things you are missing in your diet—more protein or water, for example—while also showcasing some of the things you’d like to reduce or drop entirely. Most of us live willfully in the dark with our nutrition, preferring to submit to our cravings along the way. Using a food journal will educate you on what you are actually eating—and often enough this is the spark necessary to make significant change.
2. You will lose weight. Because we generally don’t think about what we eat—we tend to eat according to habit or craving—we aren’t accountable to what we are eating. One of the big perks of keeping a food journal is that a lot of the mindless eating that doesn’t serve any purpose beside satisfying boredom will be put on the chopping block. A study by Kaiser Permanante in 2008 found that participants lost twice as much weight when they recorded their meals. The awareness and “pause” that comes with reflecting on what you are eating forces you to be more attentive to food choices.
3. Connects lifestyle to diet. For the millions of us who eat food items that don’t agree with us the connection isn’t always clear. Especially when it’s a meal or piece of food that we really like. Whether it is a gluten or lactose sensitivity, or trying to keep to a specific diet in relation to a health condition (diabetes, for instance), keeping your food journal will help you stay on top of your nutrition and keep you feeling good. This was one of the big benefits that happened to me when I finally got serious about mastering my nutrition. It wasn’t the weight I lost, or the faster recovery after a brutal swim workout, it was the general feeling of wellness and increased energy.
4. Shows you that you don’t always eat because you are hungry. One of the surprise moments you will experience in your first few days of journaling your meals is that you don’t always eat because of hunger. In fact, a lot of the unnecessary eating you are doing comes when you are stressed out, bored, or eating is being triggered by an external cue or the environment (you get to the pub with your friends, for example). Getting under the hood of why you eat can be just as critical to cleaning up your diet as what you are eating.
5. It will show you how reality and perceptions don’t always match up. Gaining self-awareness in the kitchen is fundamental to crushing your nutrition, no matter what your goals are. Frequently when I help athletes with their nutrition they will tell me how much fruits and veggies they eat, how they are always hydrated, and so on. But when they sit down and keep a food diary for a few days the truth turns out to be a little different. We tend to inflate the good parts of our diet and play down the bad stuff. Getting a more accurate picture and a heightened sense of awareness will help you repair your diet moving forward, and this starts by properly recording your food intake.
When it comes to our diet a lot of us feel a little lost, or helpless. With so much information out there we resign ourselves to being prey to our cravings. There are tools out there to help you combat this helplessness, from doing regular meal prepping to sitting down with a registered dietitian to have them throw together a meal plan for you.
But if you want to do something for your diet today, start recording your meals.
Your nutrition doesn’t have to be a mystery, or something that you need to feel helpless about. You can take control of your diet, or at least start the process, by sitting down and putting pen to paper after each of your meals.
Pair it with your workout log book and you will start seeing some crazy results in the gym, the mirror, and most importantly, in your overall health and wellness.