If you're like me at some point or another you've struggled with your nutrition.
Maybe today was another one of those days where you woke up with the best of intentions, but went to bed with a Doritos mustache, Oreo crumbs on your shirt and shame in your belly.
The problem isn't necessarily that we don't want it bad enough. Or that we can't overcome our cravings—as strong as they might be.
It's a lack of awareness and accountability in the kitchen.
Here's what I mean.
Bad eating usually isn't planned. It's not as though we wake up with the thought, “Hey, today I am going to feed myself with processed crap.” It's almost always the result of convenience, of mental fatigue, and of a lack of awareness.
We have a couple slices of pizza and tell ourselves, “It's just a couple slices, no biggie.” Or we eat one serving of veggies and think, “I ate really healthy today, I deserve a couple slices of pizza.”
The under-estimating of the bad stuff, and inflation of the good stuff is what gets us into trouble. With nobody and nothing to correct us on this we go on, day by day, happily eating ourselves fatter and unhealthier, all the while wondering where we went wrong.
A food journal puts this steaming pile of malarkey to a cold, shuddering stop.
There are some pretty snazzy things that happen when you start monitoring your food via a food journal:
- It can help you connect behaviors to eating. For example, often we eat not because we are hungry, but because we are stressed out or frustrated.
- It can help you plan your meals. I've talked about the power of meal prep before, and am a huge proponent of it as it allows you to be proactive with your nutrition. A food journal is an ideal place to get started with this.
- It will show you how your environment plays a massive role in what you eat. For instance, you know that when you have a fridge stocked of healthy food you are more likely to eat better versus when you are standing in line at the school cafeteria facing a deep fry line-up.
But the biggest, and most powerful benefit of journaling your food is this: increased self-awareness.
Here are just some of the things that happen next:
You learn precisely how much you are eating.
We are simply awful at when it comes to remembering and guesstimating food. Can you remember what you ate yesterday? Or the day before?
Because we eat mindlessly so often there is very little thought to nutritional content. While we'd like to think that we eat with performance in mind, our eating is almost always powered by habit and craving.
Tracking your food intake will give you a crystal-clear insight to what you are actually shoveling into your cake-hole day-in, and day-out.
Shines a light on the gaping holes in your nutrition.
When I work with athletes on their nutrition I almost always get the same bravado: “Oh yeah, I eat enough protein and carbs” and, “I drink tons of water.” But when I have them journal their meals and keep a workout log this never ends up being the case.
It turns out there are all sorts of weak spots that they never even considered, while they come to also realize how much they were pumping up how much healthy food they thought they were eating.
A food diary opens up hood on your nutrition so you can see what's really going on down there. It makes changing things a lot easier when you know where to start.
Connects lifestyle and the way you eat.
Whether you have big workout goals, want to lose weight or just want to have more energy over the course of the day, there is one over-arching goal we should all have with our nutrition: to feel better.
This was one of the biggest things I noticed when I finally managed to clean up my diet after years of struggle. It wasn't the improved recovery time after a hard swim practice. It wasn't even the rapidly shrinking waist line. It was the general, hard-to-describe feeling of wellness.
I simply felt better. (About 20 percent better if you want to get a little more specific about it.)
It was something I had never experienced before because ever since I could remember I had listened to my cravings and eaten based on convenience rather than what was actually good for me. This is perhaps the greatest power of the food journal; it will show you in clear, black-and-white figures how eating better simply makes you feel better.
It will also, on the other hand, show you how eating some food makes you feel like a bag of smashed up elbows.
And more often than not, that is all the motivation in the world to make lasting change.
The first step in changing something is having the understanding necessary to know what to change. And this starts by monitoring your performance in the kitchen, and then applying that new heightened level of awareness to making the change towards better eating.
All you need is a pencil and a piece of paper to get started, so start food journaling your way to a healthier and 20 percent better-feeling you.