While I am admittedly no financial whiz, I am thoroughly familiar with the practice of budgeting… (after all, it’s expensive living in NYC, and a girl’s gotta eat!). A budget is a breakdown of one’s expected income and expenses, and provides consumers with the power to adjust their spending/saving/investing behavior according to their desired financial goals.
But what does any of this have to do with nutrition, you may be wondering?
Funny you should ask
Just like budgeting moola to help us spend more responsibly, we also can budget our food intake to help us improve our eating habits and overall health. Before creating any budget, however, we need to first assess our habits – right now. This is where FOOD JOURNALS come in. Food journals are a powerful tool for doing a diet inventory (kind of like expense reports!).
When I meet with a client for the first time, I usually instruct them to keep a week’s worth of food journals documenting everything they consume (including portion sizes, method of preparation, and brand). I also encourage clients to make note of any emotions before, during, and after the meal or snack. Finally, I have them rate their satiety level on a scale of one to ten (1 being ravenous, 10 being stuffed).
Food journals not only provide insight into your eating patterns — what, how much, and even how food you’re eating — they can also give you ideas about the types of dietary adjustments you can make for the better. Another significant benefit of food journaling is that the very act of tracking your food intake can actually lead to making healthier dietary choices! Food journaling has even been shown to help people lose weight (probably because it promotes more mindful eating).
Here are some examples of new insights you might discover:
- You’re still hungry after your typical salad + soup lunch — which also happen to be lacking in protein. Intervention idea #1: Add some beans to your salad, a slice of whole grain bread with hummus, or a greek yogurt to your lunch for an added protein punch.
- You overeat in response to boredom, loneliness, excitement, guilt, etc. Intervention idea #2: Make a list of alternative activities you can do instead of eating, and choose one of these next time you feel triggered by one of these emotions.
- You eat a generally healthy, balanced diet during the day, but find yourself binging on junk food every night. Intervention idea #3: Throw out the junk food you have stocked in your kitchen so that it’s less convenient (or impossible) to access at night. If you feel that completely cutting out your nightly post-dinner sweet fix is too drastic, replace the junk with a bowl of fresh fruit and low-fat yogurt instead.
There are a ton of snazzy apps and websites out there dedicated to making the pursuit of food journaling easy and fun, while offering a lot of other neat resources as well (see below). For example, Supertracker will analyze your nutrient intake based on your estimated requirements (you have to enter some additional personal data to use this feature), and offers a physical activity tracker , a recipe data base, and customized health tips.
- USDA Supertracker
- Spark People’s Diet & Food Tracker
- My Fitness Pal
- Oh, and there’s also good ‘ole fashioned paper and pen! Below is a version of the food journal template I typically give to clients:
While food journaling can certainly be a big help for checking in with eating habits, reducing mindless eating, and inspiring healthy dietary changes, I wouldn’t recommend it as a long-term intervention. Writing down everything you eat all the time isn’t exactly practical, can get annoying, and can make you obsess unnecessarily. As Brit preaches in her last post, a healthy lifestyle (including nutritious eating) is all about BALANCE. Food journaling should not be used as a means to gain ultimate control over food. Rather, think of food journaling as check-up tool, with the intention of gaining a better sense of the connection between your current eating habits and your body’s needs.
Bon appetit, GRIT by Brit readers!
Guest post by Lindsay Krasna, Grit by Brit Nutrition Expert – A registered dietitian, psychological counseling grad student, former Israeli professional basketball player, former college teammate of Brit.