The Food Journal Journey

I can’t even remember how many times I’ve heard the advice of starting a food journal to accomplish my weight loss and fitness goals. For me, the concept of going from extensive mindless eating all day everyday to recording every single thing I ate, when I ate it, how many calories it was, and how I felt as a result was like climbing Mount Everest in a wheelchair. I tried several times and failed miserably, until I decided to make my food journal a journey instead of an overnight implementation. It’s gone something like this…

Phase 1: Finding my journal…
I started by going through a trial and error process to find out what the best “food journal” was for me. I tried using my calendar, but that didn’t give me enough space to write down everything. I tried using the notepad on my phone, and while I liked it because I always carry my phone, I didn’t like that I couldn’t see my entire day of eating in one quick glance (which I wanted). So, I settled on a spiral notepad that I now carry in my bag/purse throughout the day. I found that physically writing down the food I ate was an important part of making me think about what I was doing – as opposed to typing something in my phone that I might do more mindlessly. 
Phase 2: Just write it – all of it…
Once I was set on my perfect food journal, I wrote down everything I ate throughout the day, in the most basic form:
 “toast and fruit” 
No quantities, no calories, no times… just the food as I saw it.
Phase 3: Adding specifics…
When I was comfortable writing down everything throughout the day, I began paying attention to the quantities and food brands/specifics that I was consuming and when:
 “2 slices of San Francisco Sourdough bread with 1/2 tablespoon of Smart Balance butter/margarine @ 8:15am”

Phase 4: The calorie count…
After I was writing down everything I ate including the specifics, adding in the corresponding calories was a lot easier. I bought a small and easy to carry book by The Calorie King that lists tons of foods and their calories, carbohydrates and fat content. However, as often as possible, I stick with what the label of what I’m eating says (because calories vary a lot depending on the specific brand). 
“8:45am: 1 slice of Ezekiel bread @ 80 calories; 1 tablespoon of Trader Joe’s Almond Butter with Roasted Flaxseeds @ 100 calories; 1 banana @ 100 calories”

Phase 5: Even on the weekends…
It was easy for me to food journal when I was making my own meals, but eating out was a whole different ball game. Usually I don’t know all the specifics of what I eat when I’m out, but I started writing down what I did know:
“Friday night @ Dog Haus Biergarten: turkey dog in a King’s Hawaiian roll with arugula, pickles and mustard; side of tater tots with ketchup; 1 glass of white wine”

Phase 6: Adjustments as necessary…
Since my food journal is a journey, I frequently make adjustments as needed. For instance, once I started calorie counting, I thought it would be best to set a daily calorie intake goal and show myself my remaining balance after each meal. The problem with that, for me, was I felt restricted and I would get discouraged if I was going over my intake goal, etc… So, I switched to making a running calorie total throughout the day, while keeping a general intake range in mind for the day as a whole.
Phase 7: Commentary…
Just last week I started adding commentary to my food journal. Either at the end of the day or throughout the day (whichever is more convenient), I scribble notes all over my food journal:
“So glad I ate this for breakfast – started my day right and wasn’t hungry at all until lunch….. Caved in and ate some candy, not super happy about it but proud of myself for recording it anyway and glad I gave myself a treat I really wanted….. Protein snack after my workout – GO ME!”
Phase 8: Consistency…
Sticking with my food journal could be the toughest phase of all. At first, it was new and exciting; it was something I had to work to accomplish and improve. Once I worked out the kinks and got into a good pattern though, it was all about keeping it up consistently. For me, I have to coach myself through it:
“Don’t forget to write that down, Rachel. If I don’t have my notepad, I’ll write it in my phone and transfer it over when I get home… Just do it.”

Phase 9: Review and reflect…
Go back and review what you’ve been eating, how you felt, and if you’re reaching your goals as a result. If something isn’t working, make a change. Some of the areas I had to review and reflect a lot about were breakfast and snacks throughout the day. I realized that I wasn’t eating the right foods to keep me full and satisfied for long enough periods of time until my next meal. I changed my snacks from unnecessary calories like crackers and candy to healthy low calorie ones like fruits, veggies and protein. I also reviewed and reflected my eating out a lot. Now, I try as much as possible to go somewhere that I can find the nutritional facts for, whether they are provided by the eating establishment or somewhere on the Internet or in my calorie book.
Phase 10: SUCCESS!
This process is not a fast one and it requires patience and persistence. You can do it, and always remember that you’ll reach the finish line if you don’t give up. Missed recording some meals or a whole day or an entire weekend? It’s not the end of the world. Grab your journal as soon as you can and start back up again. 

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