What's in a food journal?


With the introduction of digital tracking tools like My Fitness Pal 15 years ago, combined with the benefits of going paperless, the good ol' fashioned put-pen-to-paper-food journal has long been forgotten.

Sure you can get pretty looking diet diaries, slimming logs and weight loss journals (you may still have the ones you got when you joined WW or SW) but therein lies the problem - the focus is typically weight loss and that generic ‘one size fits all’ approach is typically not helpful - your health is not all about your weight is it?

Lets face it, if you've ever used MFP (a) you can't find half the foods you eat on there to even log and (b) once you have logged what you've had, then what? OK, it may tell you how many Calories you've had out of your allowance. You may also look at your carb / sugar / fat or protein intake but again, then what?

How many notebooks have you bought with the intention of making changes but three days in you can no longer be arsed? How many have you begun and now lie hidden in draws or on your shelf?

A food journal however can be one of the most useful tools out there [IF YOU FIND WHAT WORKS FOR YOU] when it comes to finding the root causes of many health problems and potentially giving you the answers you're needing!

Don't get me wrong, digital tracking tools CAN be helpful too but you need a focus for your tracking - data overload is not helpful and clouds the picture and then of course it's what do you do with the data? How do those grams of fat and carbs translate into the foods you eat? Do you know how your macros are calculated [blimey they still make my head hurt!] so you understand the changes you are ‘supposed’ to be making and why?

Here are 4 simple tips to get you started on the right path and actually help you to understand your body.......

1. Decide what you want to know.

Begin with one aim. You might want to reduce bloating, find more energy or why you can’t stop eating on certain days of the month….. Let's take the bloating as an example...in this case it might be useful to write down everything you eat and drink along PLUS your bloaty symptoms.

Bloating can be due to some or all of these - eating sporadically, getting too hungry, increased stress, normal fluid retention which could be getting more pronounced with dare I say it....getting older, hormonal changes, lack of fibre, too much fibre, not moving around enough, not drinking enough, too much booze or fizzy drinks, clothes too tight, pants too tight, an unhappy gut microbiome…..the list goes on.

So note your eating and drinking each day, along with your movements (bowel and activity). You could rate your bloating out of 5, say 1 for low levels, 5 for really uncomfortable levels. And keep this up for at least 2 weeks, ideally 4 if you want to get a picture of how your cycle may be influencing your gut (so yes you can note your cycle day in the journal).

2. Keep it simple!

Unless you're competing at a high level or have an unhealthy relationship with exercise, you really don't need to be counting Calories or macros. You don't need to weigh out your portions or check you are in an energy deficit 6 times a day.

When I give my clients a food diary it’s not even broken down into meals or snacks - the last thing I want to do is subconsciously say you 'should' be eating a set number of times a day or that snacks are / are not essential.

When you start recording what you eat (and drink) there is typically some 'user bias' whereby you under-report what you eat and over-report how much exercise you do.

This is normal, pretty much everyone does it. It can be a tricky thing admitting to yourself, never mind someone else, what you’re eating so expect to slightly shift your eating habits to ‘please’.

Simply writing down what you're eating (and there is something significant here about putting pen to paper) raises your self awareness.

So if you want to do this, get a notebook and write out your aim on the first page ‘I want to xxx so that I can xxx. This is important to me because xxx’

Then use one double page per day. Log your food and drink on one page. On the opposite page, note your symptoms, how you felt and what you did.

3. Review your journal.

This is the most important part!

There really is no point in keeping a journal if you're never going to look at it. I mean really look at it. Look for trends, blips and good days as well as bad ones.

This point is also true for digital tracking tools too - it's all too easy to just log and think OK, job done, the box is ticked but that’s not helping you at all.

When it comes to the effects of food on your body, it can take 3 days for your body to react (I'm talking food intolerances here). The other issue is memory. I don't know about you but I can rarely remember what I ate yesterday so I'm definitely not going to remember a week's worth of food, never mind how I felt!
Review each week - revisit what you wanted to find out, see if you can join the dots together and create a clearer picture. Write down what you learnt each week (you could also do this daily), then decide what change you want to make in the following days / week to see if that brings any improvements. One to two changes max, no more to avoid overwhelm. Be patient and realistic, so if it's just seeing if increasing your water intake helps, do that.

4. Get advice
By all means give this a go but seriously, you can’t beat a fresh pair of expert eyes to help you connect to that inner wisdom of yours. Particularly if you have underlying health problems or any complex issues (including taking medications). Throw some hormones into the mix and it can quickly become a grey picture.

I’ve been assessing diets for yonks - be it exploratory food journals like this, or the all singin’ all dancin’ soopadoopa analytical stuff (that knocks MFP out of the park).

If you want to have a go, use the very simple approach outlined above. You can also download a free 2 week food journal (with journal prompts) from a popup on my website www.wakemannutritiom.com and then you can book in a free 30 Mins with Mel to get some help with the review part.

If you are interested in the all singin’ all dancin’ option, email me at mel@wakemannutrition.com and I’ll tell you how it works!

Good luck!



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