Home Tools For Weight Loss Food Diaries: A New Approach To Food Journaling

Food Diaries: A New Approach To Food Journaling

by Erika Nicole Kendall

A big part of my experience with calorie counting was my ability to keep a food diary. I mean, it wasn’t a big giant book with tabs and colorful creative stuff… it was just a simple non-descript little app on my phone that allowed me to document what I was eating throughout the day.

But what if you’re struggling with the idea of writing down everything you put in your mouth each day? What if you become depressed at the thought of facing what you’re really eating?

What makes food journaling so hard – especially if you’re an emotional eater – is the fact that you have to admit to yourself what you’re putting in your body, and question why you made the choices you made. If you ate a certain-yellow-sponge-cake-that-we-all-know-never-molds-or-disintegrates-because-theres-no-actual-food-in-it-for-it-to-ever-mold (read: twinkie) because you were stressed out, you’ll remember that and have to face it straight up. It’s hard. It’s tough. It’ll also cause you to consider not food journaling at all… in which case you wind up getting in your own way.

And getting in our own way is one of the biggest problems with weight loss, right? I mean, realistically speaking, we think “will power” and “self-control” are all soooooo easy that all we have to do is channel some mystical thing-we-never-had-before, and all will be well.

Well, let me tell you. “self-control” isn’t something you simply “haven’t tapped into yet.” If you’ve never been able to display it before, it’ll take some self-development and self-care to learn how to build it and use it… and the struggle with the food journal is how you can do it.

Your food diary can serve more than one purpose, if you learn to multi-task it properly. It can teach you what to expect from certain kinds of foods – vegetables are always low-calorie with lots of nutrients, pastries are always nutrient-free with little fiber, meat has no fiber… so pair it with lots of veggies, etc – and it can help you feel like you’re actually making progress as you convert into clean eating. Trust me, there’s no better feeling than flipping backwards in your clean eating diary and seeing the point where you stopped seeing “Doritos” as a snack and started seeing “apples.”

It may feel like an adventure in masochism to put yourself through the pain of food journaling, but there’s always a little growing pain that comes with mentally realizing that you need to change habits you’ve lived with for a while. It doesn’t have to be all struggle, though.

So, how can you take your food diary and turn it into a much more empowering experience? Below, I’ve got four tips to help you turn your food diary into less of a chore and more of what it is – a tool to embrace as a means of changing one’s life.

Plan your day’s intake in advance. A food diary usually helps one account for what they’ve already eaten during the day… but if you feel some lack of control in admitting that you’ve overindulged throughout the day, consider mapping out the day’s intake in advance and just following the script. Before you eat, pull out your “little pink book” and check your schedule for what you’ve got coming up. Order what’s “on the menu,” and feel a sense of satisfaction in sticking to your own personally-created plan. Instead of writing down what you’ve eaten, check off the things you’ve eaten that were written down and write anything extra underneath. Compare what you “thought” you’d want to eat with what you actually ate. Did you eat more than expected because you actually needed more, or because you had an “emotional eating” moment? Did you eat less than expected because “you forgot?” Use this as an opportunity to get to know yourself, your expectations and your preconceived notions about you and food.

…and let’s not forget: if you’re planning your meals a week in advance like I’ve recommended before with “The Clean Eating Chart,” this should feel much easier for you.

Do your journaling in the evening. That’s right – don’t fret about writing down what you’ve eaten as you’re eating it (I don’t know that I’d ever recommend that, to be honest.) Enjoy your day, then do your tally at home after dinner. Is this ideal? No, but remember – even a little count-keeping helps more than no count-keeping at all. Use this as a jumping-off point to help you commit to it. Approaching food journaling in a low-stress fashion may help you commit to it further.

Document not only the foods you’ve eaten, but the foods you’ve turned down. I caught this one on YumYucky a while back.

Reverse Food Journaling is logging the uneaten.

Take my greedy azz for example. I recently desired the tastiness of some Shrimp Alfredo at the restaurant. But at the last minute I traded in the Alfredo for a lighter sauce I asked the waiter to recommend.

So there you have it: Alfredo Sauce goes on the Reverse Food Journal for the sh!tty food I had the power to say “no” to.

When you purpose to reverse journal with foods that you turned down, like I did right here awhile back, you’ll be motivated to get things on the list. And when you gaze at this journal of crappy foods, you’ll actually pat yourself on the back real proud.

Be fancy! That’s right. Get yourself a nice account with SparkPeople, grab the LoseIt! iPhone app (or whatever you Blackberry/Droid/[insert fancy pants phone] users use), or get an attractive little moleskine to help you jot down your daily intake. Make your journaling experience an enjoyable one, and that starts with not having a drab and dull food diary. Seems like a small deal, but I’ve got to admit – I felt kind of like a big deal always jotting down notes in my black moleskine… all mysterious and important-looking.

(Not really.)

Honestly, if you’re calorie counting, you’re probably very familiar with these feelings of frustration. Using one of these methods above to try to put a new spin on food journaling and calorie counting is the best way to shake up your logging routine. Give it a try and see how it works out for you today!

What do you do to keep your food journaling experience pleasant?

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Ginger February 21, 2011 - 1:07 PM

I’ve been logging my food intake on MyFitnessPal.com. They have an Android app that makes it super easy to log food and exercise. The website is also like Facebook for foodies with the ability to connect with others via a forums and see each other’s food diaries. I can pull reports to look at my weight loss/gain, nutrient intake and other stuff they track too.

Fearce Diva February 22, 2011 - 5:03 PM

I love Myfitnesspal.com
I have the iphone app and i love it.
I’m also doing Weight Watchers for a couple months (hate it). They def. cater to those who are still eating frozen and fast food. I can search rice krispies or almond milk and find nothing in the database. But if I search mcdonalds everything comes up.

My Fitness Pal has an awesome database….and its great!! I can add my recipes easily because they have everything in the database. I love it. And it helps you by reminding you that you havent logged in and sharing your progress with your friends.

CJM February 23, 2011 - 12:18 PM

I tend to use the recipe builder with WW way more than the search tool. That’s just what happens if you’re not a pre-packaged kinda person. I never have been and I wasn’t going to start buying Lean Cuisine fill-in-the-blank to make my time with WW easier. I like the idea of giving myself a star for the good choices in addition to my frowny faces for the bad choices.

chocolate milk February 21, 2011 - 1:42 PM

I’m new to the food journaling and am amazed by what a powerful tool it is. I started journaling in december. I was 193 lbs and depressed to be staring 200lbs in the face. I always secretly felt that 200lbs was official weight problem cut off. I had been 155 and muscular. This present me was a stranger in my photographs. The pictures were telling me the truth. I had really gained weight.

I downloaded the fatsecret calorie counter free app on my droid. I haven’t gotten my exercise plan back together yet. I also haven’t quite made it to mostly clean eating.

That said, I was stunned to see I regularly ate 2500+ calories a day! I thought because I don’t really eat pork, fried food, or gravy/ sauces that I was ok. My coke and granola bars alone were tipping the calorie scales. I find that entering as I eat is motivational. I allot a set number of calories for a certain time a day. For example 400 calories before 11am. 400 more by 5, etc.. By the end of the day I am satisfied because I’ve made sure to consume calories continuously but careful about what I’ve eaten. I go over sometimes but at least I’m conscious that I’m doing it.
I’m proud to be ten lbs lighter and counting.

Deanna February 21, 2011 - 3:21 PM

Thanks chocolate milk for the app suggestion. I just downloaded it and I am thrilled at the ease it brings me.

@Erika: I was JUST talking to my co-worker about how I was starting today with keeping a food diary. I know I am amazed at how many calories a typical meal I would eat at a fast food restaurant is, even if I only eat it every blue moon. It definitely solidifies my thought process on what I choose to eat on a daily basis. I decided to start logging in calories in a food diary to see how I can jump start my metabolism again. We shall see! Thanks 🙂

Whitney February 21, 2011 - 2:20 PM

I use Lose It! and love the results. It helps with keeping track of exercise as well. I also have an account with SparkPeople and they send helpful hints. I am a few years older and I finally have a grip on wanting this change to help not only me, but my family as well. Thanks Erika for your hard work, trust me we appreciate it. I will say, a normal trip to the grocery store takes much longer now, because I take the time and carefully read the ingredients.

Crystal February 21, 2011 - 7:22 PM

I actually started writing food down this morning in a little pink leather notebook. I wrote on it, gave it purpose. I always get lazy with spark people.com tracker because I’m guilty of mindless munching. Writing it down may work better with me teaching, because I can just pull it out.

Rita February 22, 2011 - 5:14 AM

Last week I started taking photos of the food I eat and blogging about it. It definitely helps with my accountability. I haven’t started calorie counting but I derinitely feel it coming.

chocolate milk February 22, 2011 - 10:57 AM

@Deanna, You’re welcome. I’m glad you like it too. Fat secret also has a website that you can sync to (similar to spark).
@Erika Today i’m starting my reverse log. I love that idea of recording what I turned down. I should pat myself on the back for turning down that mint chocolate pie because old me never would have.

cindylu February 22, 2011 - 7:58 PM

I didn’t mind tracking when I first started trying to lose weight. I like writing down notes, keeping lists and checking things off. I got tired of it after 6-7 months. But at that point I’d found what was good for me and helped me lose weight.

Anyway, I used a Weight Watchers food diary. It was a good thing to start with, but what I liked most about it was the boxes to check off at the bottom. It reminded me to get in enough fruits and veggies, lean meat, whole grains, dairy, etc. If I was better with it, I would’ve made notes that certain breakfasts didn’t hold up and left me hungry or certain meals really were not worth the points/calories.

osusmith March 7, 2011 - 4:43 PM

Ok, so, last year in January, I made an Excel spreadsheet to help me track my nutrition, exercise, and water consumption. It is the bomb. I lost about 22 lbs and attributed the food journal to that success. Why, then, did I have an epiphany in September of last year and decide that I wanted to see how I could do without the food journal? Needless to say, I’m up 8 hard-fought pounds and I’m ticked off. I’ve restarted my food tracking habit and I am finally back on track… It is definitely the key to my success.

Why do we do crazy stuff like that to ourselves? Why did I take so long to come back to the tried-and-true? I could’ve been at my goal weight by now! Good grief.

milaxx May 3, 2011 - 7:12 PM

I use myfitnesspal.com I started using it as a way to log my calories and exercise all in one. What I realized is it helps me make better food choices. Not only in terms of calories but also sodium and sugar. I especially like the added bonus of the add your own recipe feature. I log my journal at night before I eat dinner and then make dinner accordingly.

One thing I was happy to see was that I could eat at one of my favorite restaurant, Seasons52 and enjoy the meal without feeling deprived and even have dessert!

CillaB February 7, 2012 - 8:53 PM

Thank you for your great blog and your thoughts and info. I downloaded BGG to my iPhone and tonite I went out and bought a little journal. I am way off with food, trying to start somewhere. I have an appt at a new gym tomorrow. Keep returning to WW and not feeling good there-hate the weighing in part. Will start journaling now, and keep trying to do more right things-thank you,

Annette February 8, 2012 - 2:24 PM

So glad you talked about this I was struggling when a friend suggested that I write down what I ate. It’s amazing I lost more weight, plus my doctor suggested for portion control to use the palm of my hand as a guide for fruits and nuts, meats and carbs. Another thing that helped was I snacked on fruits, which made me crave more. Now for dinner I try to add a few grapes and also a kiwi. Adding fruits with my regular meal keeps my scaring down and balances my blood sugar which ads in weight loss.

For snacks I use nuts/protein to keep my metabolism active. So far I have lost 100 lbs it’s slow going but I have a condition where exercising is out, but I do stretching which helps a lot and just light walking.

Karla September 10, 2012 - 2:39 PM

I love food journaling and have found that this is the best way to keep weight off because what I eat is in my face. I love the app FoodScanner for the iPhone. It has a diary in it and a scanner so I can scan a barcode of the food I’m planning to eat. That puts all the nutritional information per serving in my diary. If no one has recorded it, I can do so and it becomes available for everyone using the app. What’s really cool is I’ve been able to get nutrition information from places like Wegman’s and Whole Foods and put them in the app. The scanner has worked very well for me and I have no excuse not to put the food in my diary.

Kristin November 8, 2012 - 6:53 PM

This is so true! I thought I was fine until I realised just how many empty calories I was consuming from drinks with friends, drinks to relax and the ‘occasional’ bag of potato chips, wondering why I was gaining so much weight despite all the salads I ate. I tried using a spreadsheet but counting calories manually turned out to be a highly subjective affair and I gave up after a while.
Now I use fatsecret.com, and as a result I have learnt sooo much more about food- how many grams of carbs a day, how many calories, how much fat…and as you said, more decisions become easier as I learn about exactly what I am putting in my mouth!

Linda January 11, 2013 - 5:31 PM

If you eat it,write it….the fork/pen are in your hand.

Ashleigh January 14, 2013 - 10:16 AM

This was right on time. I haven’t logged into MyFitnessPal for a few days because it was disheartening to see how much & how bad I was eating. As if not documenting somehow made it better that I had already eaten it. I think I’m going to take the analog route and keep a little notebook for now. Not ready to face that calorie counter yet.

Kimyatta June 15, 2013 - 11:05 AM

I actually started doing this years ago via sparkpeople.com and when I did I thrived. I fell off and started again…and then was using the spark people app on my iPad…but the app is only available when you’re online..which was difficult as I need to journal just after a meal or just before (probably need to plan out my days and do a check off!) So..it wasn’t working for me..then they revamped the app and charged for the new one….and um…well..I’m on a budget and decided not to keep it…I’ve recently started using My Fitness Pal..and I like it…same idea as SparkPeople…except, the app is available offline as well. I like the idea of reverse journaling too! I’ve never done it..but I can see how it would be helpful. Then you can explore the feelings…(for the emotional eaters….) By the way..I loved the “If you ate a certain-yellow-sponge-cake-that-we-all-know-never-molds-or-disintegrates-because-theres-no-actual-food-in-it-for-it-to-ever-mold (read: twinkie)”….when I did frequent those types of things…I never actually thought about it being that…I’m amazed sometimes at what I’ve actually been putting into my body!

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