With endless diets out there, you may be surprised to find out that there is one method everyone can agree on. That is a food diary. Behavior modification weight control is the number one most successful method for long-term weight management and the number one tool used in behavior modification weight control is the food diary. Why is a food diary so effective? An important step in any weight management program is understanding one’s eating habits and what triggers excessive eating. All of us are overweight for different reasons. For some of us it’s because of the quantity or type of food that we eat, but for others it might be that your mood triggers uncontrolled eating, or that your work style encourages poor eating choices. By using a food diary, you can easily identify your eating style. Your food diary is like a fingerprint, unique to you. Many food diaries simply measure food intake. In this article, you will learn to use a lifestyle diary which addresses the most common behavioral aspects of weight control.
Why Use A Food Diary?
- Because it just gives you the facts – Many people are baffled by why they are overweight. They can’t figure out why they overeat. Our feelings are abstract and hard to pinpoint, whereas a food diary puts things in black and white. We can’t deny that which is on the paper.
- Because you can’t eat unconsciously – Our most damaging eating happens when we’re not paying attention. Our eating style is like a reflex, a habit. We have built it up over time so we naturally eat as a reaction to certain situations or moods. By using a food diary, you can instantly create awareness where before there was none. How many times have you been on the phone while snacking on some chips and soon realized that the entire bag was gone? By using the food diary, you turn automatic behaviors into conscious decisions.
- Because it makes the connection between food and mood – Most food diaries measure just that, food. They measure what you ate and how much you ate. Those diaries are missing the most important components of behavior. How often do we eat because we’re bored, stressed, celebrating, etc? These emotional connections to food should be recorded so they can be identified. If you find that you eat because you’re stressed, then maybe your focus should be on finding stress reduction techniques.
How To Use A Food Diary
The food diary is one of the most powerful tools in weight management, but it is also one of the most resisted. A food diary can be seen as tedious and cumbersome. You should carry your diary with you at all times and record immediately upon eating. Nothing should be left out. That single cookie and that handful of popcorn does count. Don’t depend on memory at the end of the day for recording your entries. Remind yourself that it’s the times that you don’t want to write down that are the most important. The only person that you’re hurting when you’re not honest on your diary is yourself. The following should be categories on a food diary:
Location: Where was the food eaten? The car? Your desk? Your dining room table? We want to track where you’re eating to see how it’s connected to your food choices. For instance, if you are eating in the car, we can pretty much guess that you’re not eating with awareness.
Time Started / Time Finished: Most people who are overweight eat too fast. By tracking the time that you start and finish eating, you can become more aware of if you take time to savor your food or if you scarf it down in a matter of minutes. By now, most of us know that small frequent meals are better than a few large ones throughout the day. By graphing the times you eat, you can easily see that you don’t eat often enough or that you often skip breakfast.
Position: You might be wondering why we care what position someone is in while they eat. Well, can you truly be aware of your eating if you’re walking? Ideally, we want to sit down when eating.
Company: Have you ever noticed that you always make poor eating choices when eating with certain people? Or on the reverse side, maybe you make great eating choices when eating with certain people. It’s important to know how your company effects your eating.
Type of food: This is what you typically record on a food diary. If you want to lose weight, it makes sense that you need to know what you’re eating. It’s very important to be specific. Don’t just write “chicken”. Write “fried chicken breasts”. It’s the little things that add up. Don’t forget about condiments, sauces, etc. If you try a sample while strolling through the aisle at the super market, it needs to be recorded.
Quantity of food: Along those lines, you need to be specific about how much you ate. Did you eat 1 or 3 chicken breasts? Was your roll about the size of a yo-yo or a softball? Be very specific in describing portions. If possible, use weight, volume or inches to describe your food.
Calories / Fat (Optional): Because the food diary is already time consuming, you may choose to skip recording calories and fat. If this task is too overwhelming, think about adding it in at a later time.
Activity: Ideally, you shouldn’t be doing anything else when you eat. If you have other distractions such as the TV, the phone or the computer, it takes your mind away from the task at hand.
Level of Hunger: We want you to be in tune with your hunger cues. I suggest rating your hunger on a scale of 1 – 10, with 1 being full and 10 being famished. Eat when you are hungry and stop eating when full. We don’t want you to be so hungry, however, that you don’t make wise food choices. If you find that your poorer eating choices are a result of extreme hunger, then you may want to try more frequent, high fiber meals or increased water intake.
Mood: This is an important one. Our food choices are very often a result of our emotional state, not necessarily our hunger. By tracking your moods, you can see connections between how you feel and what you choose to eat.
|Time||Place||Position||Company||Mood||Hunger||Food / Amount Eaten||Activity|
|8:00-8:15||Kitchen Table||Sitting||Alone||Neutral||4||½ cup Raisin Bran
½ cup milk
8 oz orange juice
How To Interpret
Use your diary as a strategy to encourage better eating habits. There’s nothing to be gained by trying to look good on your diary. Be honest and your diary will lead you to better health.