2 Major Benefits of Keeping a Food Journal
Tracking everything you eat daily is not difficult today. We have apps for everything. You can download an app to your smartphone that has every type of food in the world available, along with every meal at restaurants. Modern day apps will automatically calculate the macro nutrient ratio of what you consumed, helping you adjust overtime if weight loss is not occurring. It can be argued that technology has made the traditional “food diary” obsolete. Why carry around a food diary to write out what you ate, when a simple app on your phone is all that you need?
Writing your meals down manually in a food journal is a thing of the past. Besides, it was always a hassle to carry around a “food diary” and write down everything you ate. For some people, this created more anxiety about eating than the process of dieting itself. But what if we told you that keeping a food journal, different than a food diary, is the ticket to creating a better relationship with your eating habits? After all, its your relationship with food that determines your resolve to moderate intake and ultimately lose weight.
Let us explain how keeping a food journal can help change your eating philosophy.
First, let’s define the difference between a “diary” and a “journal”. A diary, in the traditional sense, is a record of your daily activities. Do you remember Doogie Howser, M.D. with Neal Patrick Harris? His end of the day routine was to write out his daily events – to record what happened and briefly impart his conclusion to the meaning of those events. By all accounts, he was keeping a diary.
A journal, on the other hand, is a bit different. Take a gratitude journal as an example. Instead of reflecting on the events of the day, you are diving deep to uncover what you are most thankful for in your life. It is therapeutic in a sense with a psychological objective of overcoming hang ups, guilt, anxiety, or depression. With food diaries, people will meticulously write out what they eat and drink every day of the week. According to a study published by Obesity, tracking what you eat daily takes about 23 minutes a day. By the sixth month of the study, the 142 participants became much more efficient at logging in their food diary and averaged only 14.6 minutes a day. The study highlighted that people who logged their food twice per day had more success at weight loss than those who only logged it once – while people who logged in their food diary 3x per day were the most successful.
But what if you are the type of person who has once suffered from an eating disorder or has obsessive compulsive tendencies – a food diary will spike your anxiety and stress levels. A food journal, on the other hand, may calm your anxiety and help establish a new relationship with eating.
With a food journal, you can begin to understand why you overeat in the first place. You take the time to expressively write about your past and present experiences that have led to yo-yo dieting, weight gain, weight loss, and everything in between. You can begin connecting the dots in your life, identifying patterns, and eliminating troublesome foods from your life.
For example, many people unknowingly struggle with sensitivity to dairy products. They may be able to tolerate a glass of milk or a piece of cheese on their sandwich, but their bodies create inflammatory markers every time a dairy product is consumed. Simply put, the inflammation slowly and steadily damages the cells and ultimately ages your body overtime. It is difficult to pinpoint a food sensitivity by going about your daily life without considering how you feel after consuming a specific food type. By keeping a food journal, you can reflect on the bowl of ice cream you ate the previous night to identify causation patterns with your fatigue and moodiness today. Maybe the sugar or the dairy (or both) are wreaking havoc on your sleep? Perhaps the lack of high-quality sleep is what is causing your fatigue and moodiness? Food journaling gives you the platform to explore and internalize these types of cause and effect moments of your life. As your journal, you can then experiment with a daily intention to forgo sugar and dairy for a period of time to “test” how your body reacts. Here is an example journal entry:
Not sure what is wrong with me today, but my mood is about a 3 on a 10 scale. I cannot seem to focus on the positive aspects of life today. Last night I woke up about 5x to use the bathroom, which is quite odd because I usually only get up once, maybe twice at the maximum. I had a large bowl of vanilla ice cream last night around 8:30pm – which I think might have caused my restless night. Today I don’t feel like my optimal self. As an experiment, I am going to stop eating sugar and dairy for a period of 21 days to see if it makes a difference. Before doing it, I’ll research the topic and journal about it for a few days. Researching and journaling about dairy and sugar cessation can only educate me and strengthen my resolve. I want to understand how eliminating certain food groups can positively impact my life.
This is just a short journal entry sample. With JournalOwl, you can embed YouTube videos in your journal entries to reference at a later point, link to other articles, add photos, and add audio. The idea is to invest the time & effort into fully understanding a topic while writing about it. Take a moment to watch a 5-minute video on YouTube on a topic of your choice. Then go back and watch the 5-minute video again while taking copious notes in your journal as you pause, rewind, restart, and actively engage in the content of the video – rather than passively watching. You gain more knowledge and understanding by actively engaging in the video, instead of passively watching it.
Now that you understand the psychology of food journaling, let us touch on the 2 major benefits of maintaining a food journal in your quest to becoming the best version of yourself.
1. Change Your Relationship with Food. With introspective journaling, you have a powerful tool available to analyze and understand how overeating developed into a negative habitual pattern for you. After all, overeating is just that – a bad habit. As you maintain your food journal, you will be able to spot triggers or major life events that led to a period of overeating and weight gain.
For instance, maybe you were laid off – which caused a storm of negative emotions like that dreaded feeling of rejection. Rejection is an insecurity that stops many people in their tracks. Not only did your employer “reject” you by casting you aside as a non-essential employee, but now you are facing the prospect of rejection after rejection in finding a new job. To make matters worse, you fear the looming and potential rejection of your spouse from the lack of income generated. By journaling, you can “catch yourself” ruminating on the potential negative outcomes to the situation and re-direct your focus into positive outcomes. If you are not taking the time to mindfully journal daily – your mind can and will run rampant. Take control back of your mind, which will ultimately curb the negative emotional patterns like overeating in times of great distress.
Instead of turning to food as an emotional crutch from the job loss, turn to exercise as a method to harden your mental state and thicken your skin. Get up every morning, lace up your shoes, and run a few miles. Journaling can help you identify what needs to be done to avoid the negative spiral that occurs in many people after a major rejection. By learning to smile in the face of rejection, you can achieve greatness. View your situation as the perfect training ground to developing thicker skin and a never-quit mentality.
2. Set Your Daily Intention to Guide Eating Behavior. With journaling, you can set intentions for the day or week ahead. Every morning in your journal, you could intentionally write out that our intent for the day is to avoid all forms of sugar and dairy. By writing out your intention for the day, it lodges itself as a promise you have made to your mind. Most people dislike breaking promises, so they will go to extraordinary lengths to follow-through on the intention they’ve set.
Setting intentions in your food journal every morning is a smart way to navigate the day. Maybe your employer is organizing a team lunch at a local restaurant. When you fire up JournalOwl in the morning, you can do a little research about the restaurant by looking at the menu online, then set an intention in your morning journaling to choose the grilled salmon salad with balsamic vinaigrette with a glass of lemon water. By setting the intention in your journal, you have made a pact with yourself that is difficult to break. When your colleagues are devouring the cheesy nachos as an appetizer, you can rest easy knowing that you have already set an intention to eat a grill salmon salad. Knowing this gives you the strength to casually avoid partaking in the appetizer. Little tricks like this, stacked on top of each other over time, make a enormous difference to maintaining a healthy weight over the long-term.
We hope this article opened your eyes to the psychological benefits of maintaining a food journal. It is not just about writing down what and when you eat, it goes much deeper than that. At JournalOwl, we created a 21-day Food Journal Challenge to help you dissect the psychology behind your eating patterns. With daily prompts and help from our global network of Owls, you can reshape the relationship you have with food to achieve your health & wellness goals.
JournalOwl is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, medication, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptoms or conditions. JournalOwl is not authorized to make recommendations about medication or serve as a substitute for professional advice. You should never disregard professional psychological or medical advice, or delay in seeking treatment, based on anything you read on JournalOwl’s website or platform.