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How to Keep A Food Journal That Works (+ A Free Month-Long Food Journal Outline!)

Update from Amy Jan 11, 2017: I wrote this post when I was in an unhealthy place with my eating. While some of this information might serve you, please know that there is triggering language and philosophies I no longer stand by within. The parts I would recommend you no longer follow and posts/challenges that have been removed from SIO are crossed out. xo Amy

“Where’s your food journal?”

If you’re one of my clients, and you’ve ever complained to me about lower-than-expected results, you’ve heard the above phrase.

The food journal is THE most important physical tool for a person trying to adopt healthier eating habits.

It offers so many benefits:

  • accountability to anyone you show it to (even if it’s just to yourself)
  • a track-record of what does or does not work for you
  • a sure-fire way to think twice about that second piece of cake

…and many more. These are just the obvious benefits.

If you’re taking on The 90% Challenge, I would highly recommend you start one of these bad boys up right now. It’s so helpful when you’re making new habits to record your progress. If for nothing else, do it so that you can look back on this day (literally) and see how far you’ve come!

The first thing I do when I want to get clients back on track after say, holidays, gastro-vacations, or an awesomely unhealthy weekend, is to pull out their Google Docs food journal and start seeing how they do with getting back on track.

Now, just an fyi here: This is not for everyone. If you tend to over-obsess about every morsel you put into your mouth, have a history of disordered eating, or are already insanely busy and just don’t know if you can add something else onto your plate, drop this idea right now. You can still be healthy without being obsessive or stretched to your thinnest point. This just may not be the tool for your particular tool box. Don’t worry, there’s plenty of others that will fit your personality better. :)

If you’re game, however, here’s the updated rundown of how to keep an effective food journal:

Determine if you’re a typer or a writer

Depending on your personality, schedule and access to gadgetry, you may want to keep your food journal online, in a word doc on your desktop, or in a physical *gasp* paper notebook.

I’ve kept all versions, but I now prefer to use google docs because I can open it up on any computer and Lord knows I’m on the computer a lot.

If you’d rather keep one online or in word, I have a little surprise for you: I’ve drafted up a month-long food journal for you to start off with! It even has some tips at the top so that you can remember the things we’ll be talking about in today’s post.

Here are directions to get the google doc and make it your own:

  • Click here to go to the google doc (they may have you sign in to see it)
  • Go to File
  • If you want to keep your own to edit on google docs, select “Make a copy”
  • If you want to download your own to have the word doc, select “download as” > “word document”

And voila! There’s a lot of the work done for you!

Write Everything Down, Every Day

Ideally, you’d write everything down as soon as you eat/drink it. Unfortunately, most people’s schedules don’t allow for that kind of timing.

Designate one or two times daily when you can fill in everything you’ve eaten that day. I would recommend one time midday and one time at night. The more often you can write, the less you’ll forget to write down… and that’s a very good thing for a successful food journal.

It’s really easy to forget those few bites of danish you had at the morning meeting, or that candy bar you ate just because it was there on your coworker’s desk.

Don’t let anything go unwritten! As tempting as it is, the point of keeping a food journal is keeping yourself accountable for everything you ingest.

Those little things could be what’s keeping you from getting the results you want. Keep track and plan accordingly!

How Much Are You Eating & When?

Just as important as what you’re eating, make sure to write down how much you’re eating and when. This is important to track mindless eating and cravings that pop up at certain times of the day.

Here is a guide for measuring serving sizes without having to bring kitchenware around with you:

Protein

  • women: the size of your palm is 1 serving
  • men: the size of both your palms is 1 serving

Veggies

  • women: the size of 1 fist is 1 serving
  • men: the size of both fists is 1 serving

Carbohydrates (fruit, grains, starches)

  • women: the size of 1 cupped hand is 1 serving
  • men: the size of both cupped hands is 1 serving

Fats (nuts, oils, nut butters)

  • women: the size of 1 thumb is 1 serving
  • men: the size of both thumbs is 1 serving

Want pictures of those serving sizes? There’s a great article with pictures at Precision Nutrition; click here to see them!

Those serving sizes will be different for everyone… which is kinda the point. If you’re smaller, you need less food and if you’re bigger, you’ll need more. See where I’m going with this?

Write down the amount of servings you eat honestly. Don’t try to fudge it; you’re only fooling yourself if you do!

Include Beverages

Whatcha drinkin’ there? No matter what it is, write it down.

You’ll want to keep track of fluids as well as food to make sure that you’re getting enough water, and not getting empty calories throughout the day.

As we saw with Ryan, sodas could very well be the culprit of a plateau or stubborn fat deposits. What some people don’t know is that juices, flavored waters and even diet sodas could be causing you to retain flab just like sodas would!

Try to make sure to get at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day (more if you’re active, working out, or living in a hot climate) to keep everything moving… if you know what I mean… TMI!

Highlight Opportunities

We talked a bit about opportunities last time, but here’s a sum-up of what this means:

An “opportunity meal” is part of that 10% of the time that you can eat unhealthy and still get the results you want. For most people, this comes out to 3-4 meals a week.

When keeping your food journal, highlight these meals so you don’t end up with more than 3-4. In the download, I have listed under each day, “OPPORTUNITIES TODAY,” and “OPPORTUNITES THIS WEEK.” This is so that you never lose sight of how many you’ve had this week and will stay on track more easily! You’re welcome. ;)

After 2 weeks of consistent journaling…

Notice Patterns

Now’s the fun part: time to dissect the data!

Now that you have some good, solid data to work with, let’s look at patterns of hunger, cravings, or inconsistent eating.

When do you crave sugar, processed carbohydrates, or fast food?

When do you get ravenously hungry?

When don’t you eat for longer than 5 hours at a time?

These questions will lead us to an action plan. We’re going to nip those cravings in the bud!

Take Action!

Looking at those patterns, start back-tracking to see what may be causing those issues.

Here are a few common examples:

Are you hitting the afternoon lull, running out of energy and/or craving something sugary to pep you up? Look at your breakfast and lunch. Are you making sure to get enough protein and healthy fat in there? If you’re not, your body could simply be running out of fuel at that time of day. Make sure you’re getting enough healthy fats and lean protein at every meal, and steer clear of the processed carbs in the morning (i.e. waffles, most cereals, instant oatmeal, muffins, etc.).

Are you skipping meals for more than 5 hours at a time? Look a little further in your food journal; are these skips causing you to get ravenous later on in the day? If so, throw in a healthy snack like an apple and almond butter or a couple hard boiled eggs and carrots. These will help kill that I-could-eat-anything-and-probably-will feeling that strikes after long bouts of not eating.

Are you heading for the pantry at night and coming back with wayyyy too many goodies that make you feel baddy? Trace your footsteps in your food journal; are you eating enough of the healthy stuff at dinner? How about the rest of the day? If you’re not getting enough to eat, your cravings can surge at night as your body’s way of saying, “Last chance before sleep!”

A few other culprits of late snacking: boredom and habit. You guys know that was my downfall before I took up the 30-day challenge. Face the reason you’re eating at night. Are you really hungry, or is this a coping mechanism? Create an action plan based on your personal answer.

*****

Now that you have the lowdown on how to keep an effective food journal, let’s give you things to write in there that you’ll be proud of!

If you have any questions about food journaling, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments! Otherwise, I’ll see you next week, guys!

Stay strong,

Amy

pics: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

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22 responses to “How to Keep A Food Journal That Works (+ A Free Month-Long Food Journal Outline!)”

  1. Ryan L says:

    Amy,

    I have a quick question about how to record beverages. I am typically drinking the same bottle of water or seltzer (anywhere from a 16oz to a 1 liter) for several hours. Should we just give our best estimate? Example: one liter = 34 oz, if I drink a 3rd of a bottle at a meal just round off to 11.5 oz and so on? I know I should be drinking a lot more water and I am really working on it… I just wanted to be honest in my recording.

    Thanks,

    Ryan

    • Amy says:

      Hey Ryan!

      Happy to help- If you’re drinking out of the same bottle, don’t worry about recording at every meal. Record every bottle you drink during the day- it’s much easier to record, and fits into the once-a-day schedule! At the end of the day, you can break it down into ounces to make sure you’re getting enough that way.

      Does that help?

  2. Paula says:

    I write my food intake each day on an index card. I track calories more than anything else. I toss the cards out each night. Maybe holding on to them for 2 weeks for review or keep a journal to review at the end of 2 weeks will make a difference. Perhaps I am just not seeing what is holding me at my current weight. It could be something other than just “calories” but the type. I like the idea of “eye balling” portions, but is it possible to figure out what portions of fruit, protein etc is appropriate by ounces. I’ve been using a kitchen scale, but am unsure of what is considered a portion.

    • Amy says:

      Hey Paula! I think I should have been more clear. I DON’T count calories anymore, nor do I have my clients count them. It makes people too obsessive for my tastes.

      Can you try to go with the serving sizes as listed above? It will be more relaxed and much more portable. ;)

      • Paula says:

        Since I’ve regained some of my weight lost, I just don’t know if I can want to completely do away with tracking calories. Do you take in how many portions into account?

        I am wondering if it is possible to over eat good foods. I am struggling to figure out exactly where this gain is coming from & after reading an article about Chef AJ, I am wondering if I am eating too many fats. Not oils so much, but nuts, seeds, nut butters, olives. Keeping a journal for more than 1 day for review might be what I need to see & figure this out.

        By the way, I am looking forward to the challenge & have asked friends to sign on and join!

  3. Stefanie says:

    Hi Amy. I worked with a trainer for several months and kept a food diary online through the gym. I found it to be extremely helpful, especially since my trainer could also see it. She would give me that disappointed mom face when I went a little overboard. She and I had differing ideas about cheat meals. Her “cheat” was a homemade turkey burger. Mine was a CHEESEBURGER. But I only gave myself one a week and found that my cheat meals got a little tamer over time. I lost 20 lbs that way and I’m very happy with the results. However, I am no longer working with my trainer and I am still working towards losing another 5-7 lbs. I love your 90% idea and I need to get back on the food diary to reach my final goal. I feel like a food diary needs to be a daily thing even after I reach my goal. It is very easy to start eating a little too much or too much of the wrong things and suddenly the pounds come creeping back on. I think your way is an excellent way to maintain both my health and my sanity. It will give me something to look forward to and it’ll keep me on track. Thanks for all the great ideas. Stefanie

    • Amy says:

      Hey Stefanie!

      Thanks for sharing here and congrats on your achievements! I have a lot of clients that continue to keep food journals even after they get to their goal physique. It’s an easy way to bring structure into our lives and ensure that one less thing needs to be worried about.

      Really happy to hear that you like the 90% idea. Please do update me on your progress as you jump back in!

  4. […] How to Keep a Food Journal that WORKS […]

  5. Eizu says:

    Wow, well said!!!
    I have been writing on my food diary but the habit always breaks down after 3 or 5 days. But right now I’m motivated to write longer than one month *hopefully*

  6. Rachel says:

    I’m in

  7. Fiona says:

    I’m in!

  8. […] Begin by taking a cold, hard look at your diet. Keeping an honest food diary for a week, that includes everything, is an excellent way to get a clear and accurate picture of just where there are problems with your diet. Here are the guidelines. […]

  9. Ginnie says:

    I’m in

  10. Logan says:

    I’m in.

  11. Stephanie says:

    I’m in!

  12. charlene says:

    Im in. Thanks

  13. Niesey says:

    I’m in

  14. ANNA says:

    I’m in!

  15. Helen says:

    I’m in!

  16. Mini says:

    I’m in!

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