Oh what a beautiful sight. Decline push ups.
Ah, this sight warms my heart.
We advise all our clients to keep a food journal. Whether one is interested in fat loss or improving strength and endurance, a food log helps us to see the big picture. According to ABC News (June 2008), "In a recent study by the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research, participants who kept food journals lost almost double the weight of their nonjournaling counterparts. After five months, participants lost an average of almost 13 pounds -- a significant amount, according to physicians. However, those who used a food diary more than five days a week lost almost twice as much weight as those who didn't. And perhaps more impressively, they kept the weight off."
Logging food/drink intake helps to create a conscious awareness and ownership of everything you consume. In terms of weight loss, a journal can provide vital information to accelerate your results or take your performance to the next level. Are you training for your first 10K and need to drop a few pounds and increase your speed? Are you a stay-at-home mom who is exhausted and is just trying to get back into the swing of things? Do you have your sights set on a figure competition and need to squeeze every ounce of excess fat from your physique? When we think of food as fuel we can begin look at it from a different perspective. Do you notice that you suffer from the daily 3pm afternoon slump? Monitoring your intake of simple vs. complex carbohydrates can make a world of difference in maintaining a steady energy level throughout the day rather than suffering through peaks and valleys on the the proverbial blood sugar roller coaster. Are you at your most alert from 9-11am? Try to plan your workout in that time frame. Do you feel bloated and gassy after dinner? Reviewing the trends in your journal can give you a picture of when you feel and perform your best. You'll begin to notice patterns with how your food intake correlates to your energy and performance levels.
You can get as basic or as fancy as you'd like with your journal. I've seen everything from a simple spiral notebook to a snazzy scrapbook complete with pictures of milestones, recipes, and dream outfits. There are also many online sources to manage your food log. My sister, for example, is close to her 100 lb. weight loss milestone with the help of www.thedailyplate.com. She meticulously logged her food and exercise, as well as joined their support groups of people with similar goals, lifestyles, hobbies, etc.
When all is said and done, what's most important to ensuring your success is your content.
You'll want to record everything that passes your lips. Whether you chew it or slurp it, every calorie counts so be as precise as possible.
Accurately report portion sizes. A digital kitchen scale is not necessary; however, it is important to "eyeball" serving size. (Compare a portion to a familiar item: 3-4 oz. chicken= computer mouse, 1 oz. hard cheese= 9 volt battery, 1/2 cup rice= golf ball)
You can get creative by making 6-9 little boxes that you will check off each time you eat a serving of fruit or veggies. Do the same for lean protein, healthy fats and water.
Log the time and content of your workout. This will provide you with an immense amount of feedback. Did you work out on an empty stomach or too soon after a meal? Did you find that your were most pumped up in your Zumba class after a bowl of oats with flax and blueberries or grilled chicken salad. Those are both great meals, but you'll most likely find that each serves a different place depending on your workout.
What time of day and where did you consume your meal/snack? (This tells us how long you're going between meals, and whether you're eating at your desk, in your car, in front of the tv, or at the table). Studies show that those who are most successful at weight loss are in the habit of eating with minimal outside distractions such as tv or computer, and instead focus on taking the time to chew and swallow each bite.
What was your mood before and after eating? (Very important to pinpoint your unconscious triggers before eating and to gauge whether you've stuffed yourself or properly fueled your body with your meal)
How much (and what type of) liquid did you consume during your meals and throughout the day? (Are you filling up on water, therefore too full to eat? Are you not drinking enough and confusing hunger for thirst?)
The most important thing to remember when logging in your food journal to make it the most effective is to be completely honest. Record everything and do so as soon as possible to avoid forgetting or embellishing the truth. In terms of weight loss, taking in just a couple hundred extra calories per day can bring your success to a screeching halt. It's easy to overlook bites, licks, and tastes (known as "BLTs" to professionals). But that's a huge mistake - there are 25 calories, on average, in each mouthful. Translation: Six little bites a day add up to around 15 extra pounds a year*. If, every time you go into the kitchen you grab a couple Hershey's Kisses or crackers, you may be inadvertently sabatoging all your hard work.
Rule #2: Share your journal with someone. When you know you have to report to a friend or your trainer, you will be less likely to have an extra bite here and a little snack there. You may think twice before going back for seconds or ordering dessert. A third party may see things that you don't, such as too much sodium or not enough fresh produce.
Rule #3: Plan to maintain your food journal for a long time. Incorporate it into your day just as you brush your teeth or wash your hands. Researchers in the Kaiser Permanente study found that the number of pounds people lost was directly related to the number of days they wrote in their logs. It has been proven to be effective, so hang in there! You may not like what you see on paper initially, but that's the point. Only once you see the big picture can you make the necessary changes to facilitate results.
Now comes the fun part. What to do with this beautiful journal you've meticulously created? How often should you review it? How can it help you? Review your journal daily and again at the end of each week and month. Daily, add up your calories and divide food into food groups to see if you're covering all your nutritional bases. Often times we find with our clients that they either A) are not eating enough, which can sabotage weight loss endeavors as much as overeating, or B) are just afraid to write down what they really are eating. Review Rule #1: Be Honest. You're only lying to yourself.
When you look back on the past week and month you can take into consideration things such as your menstrual cycle and how that plays into portion sizes and cravings, strength training schedule (when you felt strongest and weakest) and how your nutrition can help determine your abilities in the gym, and holidays/celebrations and how to prepare to stay in control during these times.
Common mistakes that people make when keeping a food journal are giving it up before seeing results, not recording proper portion sizes, and not logging every bite taken.
Armed with some basic nutritional knowledge, you can analyze the heck out of your journal and use it as a powerful tool to facilitate results, be it improvements in your performance, weight loss, and/or energy levels.
Keep your metabolism revved by consuming meals/snacks every 3-4 hours. Balance carbohydrates with lean protein and healthy fat at each meal. Carbs are NOT the enemy. Bad carbs are. Simple carbs such as white bread, rice, pasta, cereals, sugars, flours, etc. set you up for a high and a crash.
Healthy fats will supply energy AND help you to absorb more nutrients from your salad/veggies. Think: flax, avocado, olive oil, nuts and nut butters.
High fiber foods such as whole grains, beans and legumes, and fruits and veggies will help fill you up and give you a sustained energy source to get you through the morning and help avoid the late afternoon slump.
Best of luck and happy logging!