Should you keep a food journal? And if so, what should it look like?
Food journals are a really valuable mindful eating tool to have to help you develop awareness and a better mind-body connection.
You can learn how certain foods are working for your body and what eating behaviors you have.
There’s so much information available online about what to eat, but what’s truly transformative is learning what’s aligned with your own individual needs and body.
Developing more awareness through a journal practice can help you make choices based on what works for your unique body, rather than following one-size-fits-all plans or general recommendations.
I’m going to share the three things to jot down in a food journal and what to look for in order to make choices that better align with your wellness vision and the things that are supporting your body’s needs.
How a Food Journal Can Support Healthy Eating
As dietitians, we’re taught all about the many variations of a food journal.
There’s a ton of options, from a 24-hour recall to quickly assess what our clients eat in a day, to a five-day food journal to give us a solid snapshot of what a typical week looks in terms of meal patterns.
And there are also more specialized approaches we may leverage for things like managing a specific health condition or food intolerances.
After almost a decade of coaching women 1 on 1, applying the science of nutrition, common dietetic practices mixed with my unique factor of celebrating the art of healthy living — I’ve come up with a food journaling system I teach inside my program, The Method Membership, that combines all of these aspects to create a really strong tool to use when you need guidance on what to eat and what not to eat.
You guys know my work at Nutrition Stripped — we don’t have lists of clean/dirty, good/bad, healthy/unhealthy foods because almost all foods can fit into your lifestyle in some way, with some special exceptions if there are health conditions or food intolerances involved.
But knowing what’s working for your physical body and what’s not working can give you incredible insight!
Who Shouldn’t Use a Food Journal
With that being said, food journaling isn’t for everyone and that’s okay! If you have a past with eating disorders or disordered eating behaviors, then skip on food-specific food journals unless you’re working with a Registered Dietitian who is also strategically working with you on cultivating a more positive and healthy relationship with food.
Also, skip food journaling at any time if it becomes obsessive or significantly alters your mental or emotional state or makes your relationship with food stressful and out of balance.
Also, don’t use this practice if you’re recording the same exact meals day in and day out — this can lead to disordered eating habits/control.
Reflective Food Journal Template
The goal of keeping a food journal isn’t to track calories or to see how “bad” or how “good” you were in a day — remember your self-worth isn’t tied to how you define food and you’re not graded on how you nourish your physical body.
The purpose is to develop awareness around what foods make you feel your best, whether or not you’re getting all of the nutrients you need, what habits you have around your meals.
The goal is to have a couple of moments when you look back on your day or week and think, “huh, I never noticed that before,” or “oh, now I see why my energy feels low in the afternoon.”
Here’s a food journal template that you can write down after each meal:
1. What did you eat?
Simply write down the types of foods you ate.
2. Where did you eat?
Were you seated at a table enjoying your meal, or stuck at your desk at work or in front of the TV?
3. How did you feel after?
Were you full or still hungry? Did you crash a couple of hours later or did you feel well nourished?
What Things to Look for In Your Food Journal Entries
With your awareness around these things, there are two areas where you can play detective and make choices that work for your body.
1. Determine if you’re eating nutritious foods throughout the day
Looking back at your day or week, you can notice if you had a balance of protein, healthy fats, non-starchy carb, and plenty of veggies at every meal, or if you need to focus on adding those to your plate.
This is a simple check to see if you’re getting your basic nutrients throughout the day, and bringing notice to where you may need to focus more of your attention.
For example, if you’re running out the door in the morning and grabbing a piece of buttered toast, you may look for other to-go options that have protein, healthy fats, veggies, etc. so that you have a really balanced meal to start your day.
2. The second thing you can bring awareness to with a food journal practice is different patterns.
- I noticed I tend to skip drinking water until the afternoon
- I feel much fuller if I have healthy fats like avocado with my meal
- I don’t eat veggies in the morning
- I watch tv and mindlessly snack on chips at night
- I feel really energized when I start my day with a smoothie until lunchtime
- When I’m stressed at work at 3 pm I eat chocolate and drink coffee to keep up
All of this is fantastic insight and data to use on a base level to assess where to create new practices or pivot current practices that better support your long-term health.
The more you treat it as a journal including subjective and qualitative data (i.e. true journal entries touching on emotions and feelings) this can give you insight about what’s causing/triggering the behavior and why you’re choosing that food over another in that moment.
With that information, you can see what type of changes you want to make and you can seek resources and support that can help you navigate that.
Keep in mind that you don’t need to keep a food journal for the rest of your life. You can try it for a week and look at the insight it gives you. Remember it’s meant to be a tool that helps you build a mind-body connection and bring awareness to your choices and actions.
Once you develop that muscle a bit by writing things down and reflecting, it becomes easier to check-in with yourself throughout the day, without needing to journal it all out.
Along with keeping a food journal, download my free guide for creating habits with ease where I’ll take you through my process for how you can make changes and habits that will support your wellness vision and last for the long-term.