If you just don’t understand why you can’t lose weight, keeping a food journal may be the most informative piece of writing you’ll ever do. Without a journal, even the best memories among us would have trouble recalling the samples we tasted of the dinner we made last night. You may think of your tasting as necessary to adjust seasoning; your body thinks of it as extra calories. And how about the pasta your five year old left on his plate? Hardly worth putting away and so you ate it. A piece of leftover Halloween candy snatched while dusting the living room; the party platter in the employees’ lounge all of these are items that barely register if at all in our memory banks.
But now is the time and you’re serious, so make a journal. Buy a blank book with lots of pages. Flowers on the cover don’t hurt as this is going to be your inspirational road to success. Use two pages for each day of the month. On the left hand page, list each waking hour of the day and midnight too if you get up for a snack. Write down everything you eat and drink (yes, even water). On the opposite page, you’ll write comments about what you were doing when you consumed the item on the left. If you were watching television while you ate two pieces of pie, note that. Also leave a column for your mood. Were you happy? Sad? Hopeless? Disappointed? At the end of the month, you’ll be able to draw conclusions like “when I’m depressed, I eat twice as many sweets.” Or, “when I’m happy and busy with my kids outside, I don’t eat anything.”
Next, include a column on the right hand page for exercise. How much and how long you did an activity. Most people will see an inverse ratio between exercise and eating. The more they exercise, the less they eat. In all of your recording, be honest. It won’t do you any good, if you list a bowl of stew as a taste. If it truly was a taste, how big? One teaspoon? One tablespoon? Consider yourself as a chemist searching for a new formula for healthy life.
Don’t try to make your journal look good by eating too little. No matter what your diet is, it should include 9 servings of whole-grain cereal, rice or pasta; 5 servings of fruits and vegetables (1/2 cup); 3 servings of low-fat milk, yogurt, or cottage cheese (1/2 cup), and 8 ounces of protein (lean meat, poultry, fish, 1 egg, cup beans, or 2 to 3 ounces of tofu).
Once your journal is in place, begin to experiment. What happens if the only liquid you drink for a week is water? Do you feel better? What happens if you eat a bowl of cereal with fruit for breakfast instead of a cinnamon roll? Make notes on the changes you make and the outcomes not only of your weight but also of your mood and activity level.
Like any good scientist, you’ll be able to use your journal research to come to valuable conclusions about the formula for a healthy diet for you. It may be as simple as never eating in front of television or as complicated as rethinking the nutritional value of all of your meals. Your journal will be your guide to success and will also serve as a diary of how easy it is to stray. So write on! And take off! The two go hand in hand.