Through the years, I’ve used a food log on and off.
At Weight Watchers in 2004, I bought their branded journals and dutifully tracked my “points.” It was illuminating to get a handle on what I consumed each day, and I loved the ritual of ticking off boxes and scribbling down each meal.
When I switched to the Zone, I bought a notebook specifically to track my blocks and my training. This was not an easy task – the shopping, not the tracking. Finding the perfect paper thickness, binding, cover design, and pen (!) was essential to my consistency in documenting each day.
Eventually, I went digital and logged my intake at Fitday.com, which made it very easy to see the percentage of fat, protein, and carbohydrates I consumed each day with my spiffy don’t-call-it-paleo, call-it-dino-chow diet.
Then I finally, blessedly found the confidence to trust my own sense of hunger and stopped logging most of the time. Every once in a while – say, once a month or so – I log into Fitday and plug in everything I ate, just to see how my day stacks up. I am remarkably consistent: 50% fat, 27% protein, 23% carbs.
Although I’m not doing it regularly now, I think there are times when food logging is an incredibly valuable tool:
If you are really unaware of what and how much you eat each day, even a week or two of tracking can teach you a lot about your habits. Are you eating more fruit than you think? Is there too little variety in your veggie consumption? Do you overeat when you’re stressed or tired – or do you skip meals?
If you’re starting a new eating program and want a means for accountability, food logging can give you a place to track your new habit and reward yourself. Seriously. Give yourself a gold star each day you hit your nutrition goals!
If your usual energy is lagging, tracking intake for a week can show you where you might be skimping on a particular macro-nutrient – or not eating enough overall.
If you want to know which food combos make you feel like a rock star+superhero, a food diary is a handy way to identify which meals make you feel your best. My food diary helped me determine the dinner combos that lead to great workouts the next morning and which before-bed snacks help me sleep soundly. (Turns out, for me, it’s a little bit of fat before I hit the pillow.)
Frankly, sometimes it’s just fun to remember a really great meal. Dave and I photographed every meal we ate in Prague and Berlin – and I recorded the names of the restaurants and what we ordered in my travel journal. That’s served me well in two ways:
(1) we can vividly recall how much fun we had exploring the Czech cuisine
(2) when the “poor me” whining emerged after our vacation – [pout] My jeans are tight. [pout] I used to be able to do pushups. [pout] – I had a record of just how far I strayed from my nutrition path which stopped the whining and reminded me that I had (happily) chosen to indulge, consequences be damned.
The New Yorker posted a story recently that is heart-rending and sweet and all about an unusual food jounral. When a woman’s father died, she found among his other papers, the “meticulous account of the meals he had cooked and eaten for the last fifteen years of his life.” His records were typed on typing paper stored in typing-paper boxes and later, on index cards.
1989 was arranged alphabetically, with a section for each letter. At the top of the card he typed the name of the dish. Underneath, in blue ballpoint pen, he counted how many times he had made it, using the same strokes with which prisoners, at least the ones in movies, keep track of how many days they’ve been behind bars. B and C had the most cards, because of the frequency of beef and chicken dishes. That year, he made Poached Chicken twenty-three times…. They had Aunt Hon’s Chili eleven times that year, and Meat Loaf (“beef, pork, veal; onions, mushrooms spinach ricotta, mozzarella, tomatoes, cheddar; tomato sauce”), which was filed under Miscellaneous, three times.
There’s something beautiful and sad and extraordinarily touching about this record of ordinary meals, a bittersweet record of just how the food we put into our bodies is to who we are. His record – and our food journals – represent the flow of time and how food brings us together: to celebrate, to grieve, to feed our bodies and our spirits, and to make us who we are from the inside out.
You can read the New Yorker piece in its entirety here.
(It’s short, and I give it my highest recommendation.)
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