“It’s time to lose weight . . . My emotional eating is out of control . . . I’ve put on 20 pounds because of stress eating . . . Should I keep a food diary?”
Whether or not to keep a food diary when you are trying to make peace with food, take control of emotional eating, or lose weight is something women frequently ask about. Actually, quite often, it’s not phrased as a question. What I typically hear is “I know. I should be logging my food and keeping a food diary. Right?”
A food diary can be helpful. Incredibly helpful. There’s a reason that Weight Watchers® and many other weight loss programs use them. The other side of the coin (and all too common) is that keeping a food log can put many women on the road to self-sabotage. Most women view logging their food as a really unpleasant idea, and they tend to avoid it like the plague.
Like so many other things, the usefulness and power of a food journal can be determined by the approach you take with it.
Has logging your food been useful to you?
Here’s what’s not very helpful. It’s not helpful to know something is good for you, but to dread it so much that you don’t do it. It’s not helpful to believe that logging your food intake will help you eat better, but feel so uncomfortable recording what you eat, that you lie to yourself, or skip the process on days when your eating isn’t what you want it to be. It’s not helpful to approach a food log as a tool to create “perfect eating,” as in, “I know if I force myself to write down every single thing I eat, I won’t eat anything ‘bad.’”
How can you make keeping a food diary an effective strategy?
There are definitely benefits to keeping a food log. If you’ve read The Emotional Eating Rescue Plan for Smart, Busy Women, you know that I’m a strong believer in using tools to journal about your eating. You’ll even find a downloadable food diary of sorts (the ME Log™) in the book (although it’s definitely not what you’re probably used to).
If the idea of logging your food puts a bad taste in your mouth, here are some tips for turning it into a tool that can dramatically boost your effectiveness:
View your food log as a tool for empowerment.
If you make the decision to record what you are eating (and when, and why), you have also decided there is value in doing so. Own it. Stop feeding the belief that you are a passive or suffering participant in the process. Stop telling yourself the story that this is something you have to do or that you hate doing or that you won’t like. If you decide to keep a food diary, start crafting the mindset that this is a power tool. This is a ritual you are going to use to empower yourself and to grow your effectiveness. Make a list of the benefits of recording what you eat. For instance, keeping a food journal can help you slow down, eliminate unconscious or autopilot eating, identify your emotional eating triggers, be more aware of your portions and your hunger and your fullness levels.
It’s not a report card, it’s a data collection system.
Stop judging yourself or punishing yourself for what you record about your eating. There is absolutely no benefit to it. Instead, start learning from it. Stop viewing your food log as a report card and focusing only on the grade you give yourself. The real payoff of keeping one is the data you collect. Think about it. If you only collect data on the days that things go very well, you aren’t collecting much information. Give yourself permission to grow by exploring your imperfection and the struggles that you have with food.
Always be learning.
Once you’ve made your food diary habit a data collection system, there are no “bad” days to record. There are simply experiences that have more learning than others. Once you stop looking only for “screw ups” and “great days” you can start really mining the power of the food diary. You can start asking questions like:
“Why did I eat so much sugar on Wednesday?”
“Why was Tuesday so much easier?”
“Why do I always end up at the vending machine after staff meetings?”
“Why does my eating feel more in control in the morning?”
“What helped me do so well today when yesterday was so challenging?”
THESE are the million-dollar questions that can lead to exponential changes in the way you eat, and ultimately, in what you weigh.
Design your own food log.
Start with something simple, the ME Log™, or a food log of your own design. Then take the always be learning principle to make your food diary your own. You get to decide what makes it most effective. What are the elements you need to record? What are the questions that are most useful to ask? What are the times of day or the days that using it is the most helpful? Step into the driver’s seat and create a habit and a method that brings you the results that you crave.
Have you found success keeping a food log? I’d love to hear about what has worked for you. Leave a comment and let me know!
Take good care,