Not too long ago I stressed the importance of keeping a good diet in order to see the results from your exercise or training. Well there's no better way to do that than with a food journal. Food journaling is something I've been in the habit of doing for several years now, and I find the more consistently I'm keeping track, the faster I see results in my body. You'd be surprised how much changes when you hold yourself accountable for what's going into your mouth.
So how do you keep a food journal? There are so many ways to write down what you eat, and deciding how to do it for yourself comes down to knowing what your goals are. There's only one important rule however, and that is to keep it consistent and honest! This is about your progress, nobody else's. And remember food journal or not, your body is always keeping track. ;-)
So ask yourself, what are your goals? Are you trying to lose weight? Are you trying to overcome emotional eating? Do you want to simply eat more fruits & veggies? Do you want to build muscle? Lower your blood pressure? Have regular bowel movements? The possibilities are endless.
My suggestion is to pick one or two goals to start with. Next figure out what you must record in order to reach your goals. You can track everything from: calories, fat, protein, carbs, sodium, fiber, food groups, time of meal, or feelings before and after eating, etc., etc.. I would suggest you pick a maximum of three things to track.
For example, if you're struggling with emotional eating, start recording what you ate, and how you felt before & afterwards. If you want to lose weight, track your calories. If you want to build muscle, record your protein intake, etc.
Here's an example of a food journal I kept a couple of years ago while I was trying to lose weight and maintain muscle. I focused on tracking time of the meal, calories, and protein. I set a daily goal, and made sure I met that goal by the end of each day.
If your goal requires accuracy (for example in tracking calories), you're going to have to purchase some measuring cups, a food scale, or preferably both. Eye-balling it just isn't going to cut it, and 99% of the time you're going to be wayyy off the actual amount. Measuring cups and food scales can serve you best when eating food that doesn't come in a package with a nutrition facts label. In these cases it's important to measure the food, and then know its caloric value according to its measurement. One of best places to find out the caloric value of food is on CalorieKing.com.
Remember that you don't have to use pencil and paper if you don't want to. You can keep a photo food journal if that suits you better. Sometimes taking a photo of what you eat is faster, easier and more telling of what it is you ate than writing it down. You can also upload your photos to Flickr or another social platform to stay accountable with your friends.
There are also many other great online services or smartphone apps out there that will help you keep a digital food journal. Some of my favorites are:
Don't be afraid to do a little google search or smartphone search for an online program or an app that fits best for your taste. You can also print out a myriad of food journaling charts and sheets to start you out too. Research, find your style, and start to the process.
My last piece of advice is critical. Start easy. Record what you eat for a week without restricting foods just to get a feel for what is already in your food intake. After the first week, start to eliminate unhealthy foods while gradually incorporating better options. Keep in mind that food journaling is not about being an extremist, it's about keeping track of your progress, analyzing your pitfalls, and about creating better strategies for success. Use your journal to motivate yourself, not to self-sabotage.
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