"You are what you eat". We hear this maxim so often that it sounds tired and cliched. In any case, it is something I occasionally say to myself in an effort to move towards a better diet. This month I tried something a little different. For a week, I kept a food diary.
A food diary or a food journal is simply a detailed record of what a person eats. For a period of time, one has to jot down *everything* that crosses the lips. The purpose of keeping a food diary is not to become obsessive about food or calorie-counting. It is quite the opposite- it helps a person to truthfully evaluate their current food habits and realize where there is room for improvement, and where they are doing quite well. This can help to maintain and reinforce all the positive habits we have already acquired, and to take small steps towards changing some of the more unhealthy ones.
Keeping a food diary requires only a small notebook and a pen, but you need to hang on to these and take them everywhere with you (trust me, it is all too easy to forget the little things we munch on throughout the day). The minimum details that need to be entered into the food diary are, of course, the food (what did you eat and how much of it you ate) and the time of day when you ate it. In addition, certain other details can be very useful too, such as mood (eg. to determine if you tend to eat certain types of food when you are bored or tired or unhappy), or noting whether you were alone or with someone else, and your activity (eg. whether you eat while driving or watching TV or working at your desk). All of this reveals patterns of eating that we practice consciously or unconsciously. It is important to be brutally honest while writing this information down (I was overcome by remorse when I had to write down that I had eaten half a big bag of tortilla chips in one sitting!) and to include beverages and not just solid food (know how many calories there are in that grande frappachino?). A food diary can be kept for as short as 2-3 days or as long as one likes. I thought that a whole week was ideal, because it covered weekdays and weekends and was more representative of my typical eating habits. Nutritionists often suggest keeping a food diary for a few days, making small diet changes if necessary, and then perhaps keeping a food diary again a few months down the line to get an idea of dietary improvements.
It was an interesting experience to keep a food diary. It was easy for me to see at a glance what I am doing right and where there is room for improvement. I could clearly see my snack-attack moments- the fact that mid-mornings and mid-evenings were woefully littered with junk food. Little moments of snacking added up to a startling amount of my daily food intake. On the other hand, my main meals are quite healthful and full of vegetables. I tend to eat when I am bored and when I am watching TV, but not when I am reading or at the computer. I very rarely eat desserts with the exception of needing something sweet to dunk into my tea. I eat very little fruit. Since keeping the food diary, I have put some small changes in place. After all, what is the point of spending a lot of time and effort cooking nutritious meals if you are going to throw it all away by eating so much junk food? I won't ever stop eating chips and stuff like cheez-its (those addictive snack crackers) because I love these foods too much (and don't see the need to banish them altogether) but now I take the time to enjoy them instead of gobbling them down ravenously. I dole out a portion into a small bowl and savour every bite (no more eating out of the bag). You know how parents of small children go around with little bags and boxes of snacks? Now I do the same! I carry portions of snack foods with me everywhere- fruit leather, dry fruits, roasted nuts, or chivda (a spicy snack) made with cereal. It feels good to slowly let go of the baggage of habits that were doing me no good.
If you want to see an extreme example of a food diary, take a look at the book "Everything I ate: A year in the life of my mouth" where Tucker Shaw has documented and photographed *everything* he ate during 2004. He eats a lot more junk food than I do! We don't have to go that far. My personal goal is a simple one- to be a mindful eater. A food diary is just a simple tool to help me get there.
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