Remember when diaries and journals were all the rage in middle school? Looking back, you may be a tad embarrassed that you even wrote something in strawberry-scented gel pen. But before you toss that Lisa Frank notebook, give journaling another chance by trying a food journal.
A food journal is a record of what you eat, when you eat it, calories or anything else you want to know about how you eat. Why should you even bother writing down everything you consume? Tammy Impellitteri, a licensed, registered dietitian in Mount Nittany Physician Group’s endocrinology practice, says food journaling can give you a lot of clues about your eating habits.
“Food journaling is really eye opening for some people,” she says. “In many cases, what people perceive they’re eating is actually a lot less than what they’re actually eating. People don’t always realize how much they’re eating or how often until they see it written down.
If you’re new to food journaling, Impellitteri says to aim for three to seven days to begin. She says if you stick with it, it can help you figure out whether you’re an emotional eater and what your emotional triggers are.
“Before you reach for something, think to yourself, are you really hungry or are you just stressed? Figure out what might be triggering you to, say, stop at McDonald’s on the way home from work,” she says. “Are you just tired and don’t want to prepare a meal? Once you figure out your triggers, you can learn to better prepare and manage.”
Impellitteri also says that food journaling can help you figure out if you have a food intolerance by helping you see common occurrences in your eating habits.
“If someone is experiencing regular upset stomachs or diarrhea, for example, a food journal may help to deduce a common link in a food or food group (such as dairy or gluten) that is causing the sickness,” she says.
If you’re not down with doing journaling the old school way with paper and pencil (or pen) (or quill and ink), there are loads of apps to help your eating stay on track. Apps, like Calorie Counter or Livestrong.com, will most likely include a calorie counter but Impellitteri says that may not be necessary if you’re trying to monitor emotional eating or trying to figure out if you have a food intolerance.
In theory, food journaling isn’t that hard once you get the hang of it. But there is a hidden downside to food journaling that can sabotage all your efforts.
“The downside to food journaling is that you have to be very open and honest. It can be hard to commit to writing down everything that goes into your mouth, but a lot of us forget what we’ve eaten for dinner the previous night,” Impellitteri says.
Writing down every morsel that goes into your mouth can be tough but the point isn’t to make you feel bad about what you eat. It’s to help you be more aware of how you’re eating and enable you to make any changes you think will help your long-term health. So snack on but make sure to write it all down.
Photo by Sam Florio