Do you think diaries are just a Marsha Brady-era silly practice for dramatic teenage girls with prom date issues? There are many benefits to writing about your life, and keeping a food diary in particular, may have far more benefits to your health than you may think. Here's how to do it and why.
1. Set a Goal: Before you begin logging your daily consumption, it's a good idea to set an intention for your journal keeping. Write it on the first page of your doc, or directly in the book if you're going the old-fashioned bound diary route. Be honest. Set clear goals.
2. Log Keeping: We all have preferences, so choose what's best for you. But make sure you note the dates and times of what you eat as well as how much. Example: September 24, 2012: 8:30 AM: 2 pieces whole-wheat toast with 1 tablespoon each: coconut oil and apricot jam. Cup of coffee, 1 teaspoon sugar.
3. Reasoning: Why are you eating? Were you fully conscious when you stuffed that handful of BBQ potato chips in your mouth? Note your reasons for eating. Example: September 24, 2012: 8:30 AM: 2 pieces whole-wheat toast with 1 tablespoon each: coconut oil and apricot jam – Breakfast.
4. Appetite Level: How hungry we are does not often parallel what we eat. An apple might do the trick instead of a Big Mac. So note your hunger levels before you eat: mild, moderate, severe. Example: September 24, 2012: 8:30 AM: 2 pieces whole-wheat toast with 1 tablespoon each: coconut oil and apricot jam – Breakfast. Moderately hungry.
5. Reactions: If you're looking to identify certain health issues, you may also want to note moods, energy levels, etc. Example: September 24, 2012: 11:30 AM: Tried to kill co-worker with stapler, but felt too tired, so got another cup of coffee and a donut. This scenario may be an indicator that something you ate at 8:30 AM is not working for you. It could be the coffee—caffeine sensitivities can make people aggressive and can also cause energy crashes. Wheat is a common allergen that could cause you to become irritable and tired. And the sugar in the jam, coffee (and bread) could also cause irritation... and murderous tendencies.
Taking note of your food reactions is as important as documenting what you eat.
6. Summarize: Whether you do it daily, weekly or even monthly, summarize your foods. Yes, that means adding. Note how many cups of coffee—or gallons—have become part of you recently. Illuminating the relationships with your food will only make them healthier and more fun.
7. Allergies and Sensitivities: With so many foods now genetically modified, hybridized and altered, it's not uncommon to develop food sensitivities over time. But, it can be difficult to pinpoint the culprit. Keeping a food diary can help identify patterns when you feel yourself reacting to certain foods.
8. Addiction Buster: Trying to just quash that sugar addiction? A food diary can be a most excellent tool. Not only can you see what you're eating, but when. And if it's a sugar problem you're trying to curb, noticing patterns can help you hedge it off before the craving comes. Do that by observing that window of time every day that you've been reaching for the donuts and start eating something healthier about 30 minutes before that craving. It can still be sweet—like fresh or dried fruit—but if you make it a natural, healthier option, you have a better chance of both satisfying that sweet tooth and fending off the urge to visit the vending machine.
9. Healthy Weight: The more we notice what we put into our bodies, the harder it is to make unhealthy and unconscious choices. While documenting your food choices isn't a guaranteed weight loss tool, in conjunction with a healthy diet and regular exercise, it can make a significant impact on a weight loss program.
10. Who Are You, Anyway?: In our continuous human struggle to answer the seemingly impossible question: "Who Am I?", many of us overlook the most obvious answer: You Are What You Eat. Our modern world has provided us no shortage of foods to eventually become part of us, but we've also lost the sacred connection to that important relationship—eating on the go and without thinking, or foods that are just downright turning us into people we'd rather not be. A food diary reconnects you to this intimate relationship and imparts authentic self-discovery.
Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger
Image: Matt Erasmus