Simple is Best: The Value of Food Journaling

By: Leo Desforges

Changing lifelong eating habits is not sexy.  In this article I outline one strategy that has proven successful time and time again: keeping a food journal.

In a world awash with unhealthful food choices, eating nutritious meals become increasingly challenging.  As a result, many of us have developed less than healthy relationships with our food: too much, not enough, too much junk food, not enough veggies, etc. Unfortunately, for those looking to change how they eat (to feel better, live longer, and yes, look better) it can be extremely confusing.  With a myriad of diet plans, scientific articles (that tend to contradict one another), and differing opinions from friends and family, this isn’t surprising. I believe the best first step towards improving nutritional habits is keeping a food journal.

Over the last decade as a personal trainer, I have spoken to hundreds of clients about improving lifelong eating habits, and nearly every conversation begins with a simple request: keep a week-long food journal!  I can’t imagine trying to help folks improve their eating habits without first knowing where they’re coming from. The food journal allows us to get an honest look at someone’s eating tendencies, and only then can we begin to make adjustments to improve habits.

Numerous studies show that when people keep an accurate food journal, they eat less. Just the act of writing it down keeps people accountable to their goals. This strategy also works for other goals as well: gaining muscle, improving athletic performance, increasing veggie or protein intake, etc.  The old adage seems to hold true: “what gets measured gets done.”  Certainly, writing it down will not alone guarantee results, but the journal provides an excellent starting point for habitual change.

How to start journaling: I recommend downloading a computer program/app that acts as a digital food log. The program I recommend most is called “Myfitnesspal,” and it is free and user friendly.  As you enter your meals into the program, it provides you all sorts of useful data. I suggest not obsessing about the numbers at first and just focusing on recording consistently. (If any readers would like some guidance on deciphering the numbers, please shoot me an email and I’d be happy to help.)

Initially, I recommend a full week of recording. For folks who are finding it helpful, there is no reason not to record for longer periods of time. Some do not enjoy journaling (some do!), and for these people, I’d offer: just begin the process, don’t overthink the numbers, and enjoy the learning experience. Most things that are worth doing are challenging, and I truly believe that food journaling is worth doing (unless, of course, you’re satisfied with your eating habits, in which case don’t mess with success!). As usual, if anyone has suggestions, concerns, or problems with anything in this article, I highly encourage discussions in the comments section!

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