I have been food journaling for 8 years. I began tracking in MyFitnessPal in 2011 and then I would write down my meal plan for the day along with my workout in a little notebook. The hand written food journaling has been the habit I've been able to keep the longest.
When I first started, it was because I wanted to lose weight. More so, I desired the fitness model look: sculpted arms and back, definite 6-pack, and a round booty. I was in fine shape for an 18 year old girl but I wanted to look like Jamie Eason, a body-builder from the earlier 2000's. She looked awesome and strong!
But chasing the physique isn't what keeps me journaling today. At this point food journaling is just a habit that I stick with because I enjoy it. I've also learned so much about my body and seen benefits beyond weight loss. You can read about that here.
Having an advanced awareness of my food intake wasn't always just positive. I definitely played the "can I eat less than what I need" game. I've seen my calories go so low that it became a competition I was positively rewarded by, especially when it was resulting in me to have defined abs. I'm aware of this pitfall which is why I don't recommend food journaling without having a coach.
But it wasn't just journaling that caused me to have that relationship with food, that's on me and my personality at the time. Much more Type A than I am now and I didn't have the critical thinking skills or the knowledge of nutrition that I carry with me today. I don't think it's fair or valid to blame the journaling itself on those nutrition behaviors especially because the behavior didn't last but my food journaling habit has.
Getting my undergrad in nutrition made a huge difference in my understanding of fueling and nourishing our bodies. That understanding got even deeper during my clinical rotation and in graduate school. My mindset about nutrition was crafted in a way that the nutrition behaviors I support and coach my clients through are positive, sustainable, and defensive against cognitive distortions. For example, there is no good food bad food when I'm reviewing journals or writing my own food down. Food journaling is just a skill to enhance our over-all self-health literacy.
In fact the skill of food journaling is one of the first things we are taught in nutrition undergrad. My first year of college I took SCI 120 which was Nutrition. It was a super introductory class but we had to write down everything we ate for 3 days then analyze the data. What a dream assignment for me! I was already doing that. I still have that food analysis print out (haha!). I was able to direct the nutrition I was giving my body then give myself diet advice on how to improve.
Two years later, when I was a junior I took another NTR 201 another Nutrition Intro class, but a more advanced version. We had the same assignment: log your food , analyze the data. Yup, I still have that analysis too! It's a skill to journal your food and then as a Registered Dietitian I am trained to look at what someones nutrition intake is and how I can assess it for improvements.
I equate it to working with a financial advisor or accountant. You have to show him or her your income and spending in order to know what kind of financial shape you are in and then that person can make recommendations. Food journaling is writing down your intake (income) and if you write down your workout, which I do, you can see what the "expense" is also. Food journaling is a little more complicated because it's much more qualitative and there are barriers to journaling that make it less accurate. (Blog post topic for another time!).
For example, the most accurate way to know how much you are eating is to weigh it out. Using grams is my preference. I have had a food scale as long as I have been journaling. It's just a tool in my kitchen I equate to having as much significance and utility as the sheet pans I sue to meal prep. It's honestly really easy and second nature to weigh my food before eating it. I know there's backlash about that in the dietetics community, but I guess I'm just a scientist and I really like data. That's what food journaling to me is all about: gathering data.
I learn what keeps me full, what gives me GI pain. My favorite part about food journaling is how mindful I am. There are a fuck ton of benefits to mindful eating, so if food journaling is an avenue to reach mindful eating, well that's pretty internally motivating to me.
I get that food journaling isn't for everyone but so far there have only been positive outcomes for me, personally. There's also a lot of research on the benefits of just journaling in general. You also hear about journaling from a lot of self-development leaders. There are 5-minute journals, gratitude journals, daily planners that have prompts like journals, we keep diaries, and food journaling is just an arm of journaling.
I'll be writing more about the topic and along with evidence based research articles, I would love to share more tips & tricks along the way!