If you tried to recall everything you ate and drank yesterday, chances are you would forget a thing or two, and that’s completely normal. Unless you consciously set out to think through everything you put in your mouth, it’s easy to forget about a free sample at the market, a few nibbles while cooking, or a taste from your partners plate. Trouble is, those unacknowledged extras can add up quick, and get in the way of your health and fitness goals. What’s more, you may be engaging in unhealthy patterns you’re not even remotely aware of.
The solution: start keeping a diary.
Here are some key insights you may gain from tracking your intake, plus how each one can affect your ability to reach your goals.
1. Why you eat when you’re not hungry
I encourage you to record not just what and how much you eat, but also how you feel emotionally at mealtimes, as well as your hunger and fullness before and after eating. Many may realize they are triggered to eat not by physical hunger, but because they are bored, sad, angry, or worried. Others may notice that they eat to pass time when procrastinating, or out of habit, such as always having a snack while watching TV. This kind of insight is very useful, because triggers and patterns are often unconscious, and you cannot change something you don’t even realize you are doing. Keeping a journal changes that, because it allows you to identify why you are making a choice, then working on forming new habits, and finding non-food ways to cope with emotions.
2. How your dining companions affect your habits
After starting a diary, you may learn just how different you eat with certain people. Maybe you eat more when you are with your partner compared to dining solo or with friends. Your choices may vary depending on who you are with. When dining with friends or family that eat healthy, you may tend to make healthier food choices for yourself.
3. How much you’re really eating
When you are chewing food and distracted at the same time whether by carrying on a conversation, checking e-mail, or watching TV, it is easy to lose track of what or how much you have eaten. Recording your intake forces you to pay attention and offers a real time reality check on portion sizes and calories.
4. How fast you eat
Journaling often triggers major light-bulb moments about just how quickly you eat. When you begin tracking, you may notice that you are always the first one to finish your food when dining with others, or even when alone you are eating quickly. As a result, you may experience heartburn and feel unsatisfied, even when uncomfortably full. Just slowing your pace can lead to eating less over a longer stretch (but enjoying food more), sipping more water, and ending meals without digestive issues.
5. How you feel after eating certain foods
One important insight gained from food journaling is connecting what and how you eat to how your body feels. If you track things like energy, mood, mental clarity, and digestive health in your food diaries, you may be blown away about what you find. Eating a veggie-packed salad topped with quinoa, lean protein, and avocado for lunch may leave you feeling full of energy all afternoon, while heating up a frozen processed meal or eating fast food may leave you feeling sluggish, grumpy, and unmotivated.
6. If your perceptions match reality
You may believe that you eat plenty of vegetables or that you don’t drink that much alcohol, or you are eating enough protein, but when you begin to track, you may realize just how far off your perceptions are from reality. It is essentially human nature, we like to recall our successes and perhaps even exaggerate them. But telling yourself nutritional white lies can hold you back from reaching your goals, or even cause you to abandon them altogether. The point of a food journal isn’t to judge yourself; it’s to learn about yourself, which is the first step toward adopting healthy changes that stick!