While I’m really passionate about eating healthy, my eating habits weren’t always great. In fact, they were absolutely terrible for most of my life. For the longest time I really didn’t understand the quality of the foods I was putting in my body, how they affected me, and why sometimes I would go on massive eating binges.
My eating habits soon changed the one week I kept a food journal using an online tracker and tracked my calories for every meal, every snack, and recorded any food that entered my body. It was an eye opening experience for me and if you have not tracked your calories, or kept a food journal before, it can be a very positive experience for you as well.
This food journal series will teach you the basics so you can get the most out tracking your eating habits. To start, here are 7 compelling reasons why you should try to keep a journal, even for only a couple days:
1) Learn how to control your calories
I think my most important lesson was learning more about calories in foods I eat on a regular basis. For example, as I was tallying a dinner I just ate at a Greek restaurant, I didn’t realize that the 5 tablespoons worth of olive oil I soaked into a pita was a solid 550 calories (1 tablespoon of olive oil has 110 calories). Then the cup worth of hummus I inhaled was a good 430 calories on top of that. By the time I was done tallying my meal, I was like, “Wow, I just ate 1500+ calories of food and I wasn’t even that full. Oops.”
Conversely, you may realize that certain days, or meals you’re eating far too few calories, but I NEVER had that problem.
2) Understand your sources of calories
Calories aren’t just about total calories, but about the breakdown of protein, carbohydrates, and fat, which are 3 nutrients that provide energy for your body. You’ll also keep track of alcohol you drink, which is the other element that provides calories to your body, but is not a nutrient. You may realize 70% of you calories are coming from carbohydrates, which is far higher than even what the USDA recommends (which is already high), or you might realize you only have 10% of your calories from protein despite being an active individual. Learning more about the calorie breakdowns in the foods I ate and each day as a whole was probably the second most helpful part that I found to keeping a food journal.
3) Get a feel for portion control
By learning more about calories, you also learn more about portion control and the types of foods you can eat in larger portions like lean meats, vegetables, and certain fruits, and the types of food you want to eat sparingly. Overall, you become far more cognizant of portion control.
4) Identify situations where you binge
Every once in a while (ok, maybe all the time) I would inhale really unhealthy food in outrageous proportions until I was about to explode. Why did I do this? Well, I didn’t really know why until I started recognizing the situations I was in that would set off an epic eating binge. There were usually a set of factors that would set off my eating binges, such as having too much alcohol at dinner, or having a very small lunch, or light breakfast, which put my hunger into overdrive later in the day. Sometimes eating was more emotional; my problem was that I went on binges to celebrate, and when I was down in the dumps.
5) Provides a hard, objective record
Many times in our minds we will trick ourselves into believing we didn’t eat something, or we didn’t eat that much unhealthy food. When you have a written log, or journal, it takes the guess work and the guessing games out of the equation. You will know exactly how you are eating and that objective feedback can help inspire change.
6) Identify if you have a calorie surplus, or deficit
Not only does a food journal tell you the total calories you are eating, but you can also figure out how many more, or less calories you are eating relative to your calorie burn. If you eat more calories than you burn, you gain weight, and if you eat less, you lose weight. Calculating your calorie burn can be a little tricky as I describe in my how to calculate your calorie burn article, but for most people the basic calorie burn equations work pretty well.
Some calorie trackers I’ll be introducing have ways to make calorie deficits for the day show up in green, and calorie surplus show up in red. These markers can be a BIG motivator.
7) If you saw a nutritionist, you would keep a food journal anyways
If you go see a nutritionist, one of the first tasks you will be assigned is keeping a food journal. This helps the nutritionist analyze your eating habits so he, or she can make suggestions as to how you can change them over time. If you are doing this on your own, you’re going to be analyzing your own eating habits on a less detailed level of course, but it’s still very, very helpful exercise.
I only had the patience to keep a food journal for about a week, maybe even less, so I’m not saying you have to keep a food journal the rest of your life. A few days is better than nothing. Maybe a couple days during the week and the weekend could be very beneficial for you.
A lot of our habits are subconscious, so by making yourself conscious of how you eat by keeping a food journal, it makes changing your eating habits a whole lot easier.
Next part of the series Best Online Calorie Tracker and App teaches you the types of metrics you want to track along with my top picks for online calorie trackers and apps to make keeping a food journal MUCH easier!