Thursday, September 8, 2011

Benefits and Challenges of Food Journaling

I haven’t kept a food journal in a long time, but, lately, little licks and bites, handfuls of this and that, have become a bit too frequent, and I feel keeping track of them may be a good way to “get them under control.”

The last time I kept a food journal was when I tried to lose the “baby weight” I had gained when I was pregnant with the toddler. I had gained too much weight (almost 50 pounds) during the pregnancy, and it wasn’t easy to get the last 20 pounds of it off. Writing everything down (with a purple pen in a pretty pink and brown journal) really worked. I actually didn’t calculate the calories, but just seeing everything in purple on white really helped me to be more mindful, and soon I actually didn’t need the journal anymore.

Years earlier, I had used a food journal to lose a serious amount of weight. At that time, I kept track of the actual calories a bit closer, but I found it very difficult to look up the calories in everything I ate, and I ended up eating a lot of packaged foods because it was easiest. I didn’t like that I ate so many processed foods as a result of keeping track of calories. However, keeping track of calories helped me lose a lot of weight.

Back to the present. I don’t have a huge amount of weight to lose, but I think being aware of everything that goes into my mouth for a while will be beneficial. To start off my journal, I decided to keep a photo journal of all my eats for a day. I have never done this before, and I don’t intend to do this very often, at least not on this blog.

So here is everything I ate yesterday:

Breakfast: Oatmeal, plain Greek yogurt with Vanilla NuNatural drops, and walnuts.

Morning Snack: String cheese and almonds.

Lunch: 1/2 quesadilla with salsa and Greek yogurt and tomato/cucumber salad.

Afternoon snack: Frozen banana slices with nut butter and figs.

Dinner: Eggplant casserole and salad with tomatoes, celery, cucumber, avocado, and egg whites.

Keeping track of everything definitely made me more aware! There were a couple things that didn’t make it into my mouth because I stopped and thought if I really needed and wanted to eat them. And I didn’t! I think keeping track a bit longer in one way or another might definitely be beneficial… Also, I realized that I didn’t eat any veggies or fruits until lunch. Plus, I could have probably used a bit more protein as I was quite hungry by dinner time.


Have you ever kept a food journal? Why or why not? 

Have you ever counted calories, points, etc.? I only counted calories for a relatively short period of time. As I stated above, calculating the calories in everything I ate seemed very difficult, especially since I like to cook without recipes and don’t normally measure things, so I didn’t have any recipes I could just enter into a program to calculate the calories. However, keeping track of all the calories I was consuming in a day was eye-opening, and I believe it was very important for me to do so at the time. It’s what helped me lose a lot of weight and really made me aware of calories.

If you count/counted calories, points, etc., how do you keep/kept track of them and how do you like the tool you are using to count calories, etc.? I know a lot of people like DailyPlate, SparkPeople, and similar sites to keep track of calories. And there are also quite a few smart phone apps. When I counted calories about 6 years ago, I kept track of them online, but I don’t remember which site I used.

Have you ever taken photos of everything you ate in a day? This was my first time, and I know I couldn’t do this every day! I really had to concentrate to take a picture every time I reached for food (which also turned out to be a good thing!) While it was fun for a day, I don’t think I’ll do it very often. Plus, I doubt you would want to see my eats very often as I eat the same things a lot… However, I am thinking of creating a new twitter account to tweet my eats once in a while.  That way I won’t overload you with all my food pics…. Since it’s so easy to take a photo and tweet it, and I think it may be just what I need once in a while to keep myself honest…

Be well,


  1. I think food journaling can be soooo important. I always find it interesting that it seems to get a bad wrap in the blogosphere but the most respected fitness professionals/organizations almost always recommend journaling. I've heard on one trainer who charges his clients $150 an hour and will not let his clients workout unless they bring in a filled in food journal. That seems a little excessive but his clients get results. Sometimes it seems bloggers throw the baby out with the bathwater when in comes to this. NOT YOU! :-)

    Yes, I've counted calories and when I do I use TDP. I do it when I need it and look at it as a TOOL. I don't let it "consume" me when I do it. I tried doing a food blog once with a picture diary and it lasted all of a week. Not my thing. I may try to do it once in a while.

    I love your approach to food and fitness. You always seems to do what works for you without being apologetic. That's awesome.

  2. food journaling is a great tool for sure!

    I don't think I've ever photo'd my entire days' eats.

    I also have calorie tracked my guts out.

    I'm kind of over it, and than again it works.

    good luck!

    and your food looks so mouth watering!

  3. I track calories preeeetttyyy much every day. I actually weigh a lot of my foods out and I use Lose It! on my iPhone to store the information.

    When it comes to making a recipe I'll make sure my portions are correct (4 oz of chicken, 1/2 c grains, etc.), figure out the "base" calories of that and then sort of... guesstimate. I don't worry about things with tiny calorie amounts like mustard on my burger or the handful of spinach I threw in the tomato sauce. However if I added olive oil or butter or cheese or sugar in, I am mindful of how much and adjust my guess accordingly.

    I also usually over-guess as opposed to under-guessing. I know sometimes my guesses are wrong, but I keep having weight loss success so I'm not worried about it.

    Also if I feel hungry I ignore that voice saying "You already ate all your calories" and eat again.

    I try to limit myself but I also try to listen to my body. I have a fairly relaxed approach but I really like it and I don't find it difficult to count on a daily basis.

    I take pictures of most things I eat every day and post them on my blog! I do this with my iPhone 4 though (takes decent pictures in the daytime!!) and upload the pictures with an app so it's all very smooth and not time consuming.

  4. Tracking food is a great way to be mindful of what you eat.

  5. Oh your breakfast sounds (and looks) sinful! Yet, it's so healthy! I love it.
    Ok, so I don't think I could ever keep a food journal. After having an eating disorder for four years the thought of keeping a food journal just brings back bad memories. I'm almost afraid if I ever started keeping one I would start becoming obsessive. I think journals work for some, but not for others. My goal as of lately is just to keep track of my extra calories (like those extra bites here and there that you mentioned). If anything, I will keep track of those, and make sure that they are under control!

  6. I have journaled occasionally and find it very, very helpful. I have never taken pictures of my food though! Love your food.

  7. I journaled for awhile last year when I realized I wasn't doing a very good job exercising and eating well. I had kind of fallen into a rut, and I felt it. I was tired all the time, and had trouble sleeping. So I started journaling what I ate and how much I exercised and recorded how much I walked with a pedometer. But I kind of took it a little overboard, and when I started feeling like it was becoming a bit of an obsession I had to stop. By then, I had gotten me exercise and eating patterns back on track though.

  8. Hi Andrea - I'm an ex Weight Watchers girl who lost 40 pounds on the plan and kept it off. Weight Watchers biggest asset from my perspective is the journaling and the community. Counting points (or calories) to me is secondary. As you say, writing down what you eat keeps you mindful. When the pounds start creeping up, I start writing the food down, and sometimes I'll use an online calculator like SparkPeople. But the real truth is that if I exercise every day and keep the garbage out of the house I don't have a problem anymore. For me, activity makes all the difference too. Great post!

  9. Loved this post. I'm am pro journaling for exactly the reasons you mentioned and our clients journal. I only journal when I feel off kilter, sort of like you mentioned. I think you raise an important point about packaged foods. It makes me nuts that people eat them because they're easier to count. I never thought about that until now. There's an old trick to use a container and put all the bites and picks you would normally eat in that container for a week and see what it looks like. Gross but enlightening.

  10. Hey that was fun and I actually enjoyed seeing your eats for the day!

    Tracking in some form is a great tool. I used WW to lose my weight and it has just become habit to count my points and think about how balanced my meals are. I still like to weight certain foods as well to keep my portions in check.

    I journal off and on, when the eating becomes mindless I pull out pen and paper and it really helps.

  11. I think journaling is invaluable for reasons as you mentioned. I KNOW I couldn't have been successful in weight loss without jounraling. And as it goes, it's the thing I struggle with most. It's hard to make it a habit! Amazing, though, that just writing it down (without any calories!) can do the trick!

  12. I never kept a journal in any serious way, but I did obsessively count calories. And kept a mental tally of everything I've eaten. My key thing was just not eating mindlessly. I ate often, but I deliberately sat down, ate my afternoon snack or whatever, and then stopped eating. That mindfulness, though at times it got a little nutty, also was really beneficial for weight loss. I agree that weight gain is easy when you just snack on something out of the bag and don't really think about it.

  13. I think you know about my food journaling history...I've done it in all forms (photos on blog, calories on SparkPeople, Twitter, handwritten). It DOES work in terms of watching what I eat, but sometimes it encouraged me to be a little anal and paranoid. I have probably strayed from it too much and could use a little journaling, but I'm not sure I ever want to do it again for a long period. I think what you did in this post (just picking a day to "check in") is the best way to do it.

    What I ate today (just for kicks!): B: Green smoothie with banana, blueberries, spinach, Amazing Grass, and almond milk. L: Green salad with leftover stuffed chicken breast (1/2), avocado, dried cranberries, fat-free feta, and lots of lettuce. D: glass of red wine, wholewheat pasta with 1 chicken sausage and green beans & mushrooms.

  14. So, I think a lot of people in the blogosphere tend to put down "calorie counting" or food journaling, or whatever. Some I feel shy away from it because of past eating disorders and others because of readers who may be struggling with eating disorders.

    But, that aside, I think tracking your food and/ or calorie counting is a great tool. I count calories. I have PCOS and w/ it comes a big struggle to lose weight. I meet with a dietitian every 2-3 weeks, and every time I bring a tracker of what I eat. For some, how I do it may be excessive. I keep track of what I eat, the calories, and at what time. (i.e. 7AM - oatmeal with cinnamon and brown sugar (160cal)). It's really no big deal now, because I keep track of it on my computer and I can always write it in as a note on my phone when I'm out and about.

    Another tool that I liked that I think someone above mentioned was the Lose It has a great database, and before my dietitan wanted me to bring in a detailed food log (it's easier to have something to print out and to maintain like that everyday that to show an app lol), I used Lose It as a great way to keep track of my exercise and eating habits. Sometimes I still use it as a way to get a general idea of the nutritional stats per serving of a recipe I create.

    Good luck with whatever you decide to do! You just need to find something that will work for you, and you'll have no problem sticking to it. :)

  15. Anonymous9/10/2011

    Your food looks good! I'd love to see more posts like this!
    I don't do food journaling anymore... not for the last 1.5 y I think! It's too much trouble and also feel the pressure to eat different food so i don't bore my readers. I did it mainly for the blog not for the purpose of keeping track of calories. But I know that it will definitely help to lose weight because you get more conscious about how much you're eating.
    I hope it works for you and you get back to track soon! :)

  16. I used to journal quite a bit, I just started counting calories this week only for a temporary " am I still doing alright" ... kinda way. I think I'd like to lose a couple of vanity pounds so I know it would help give me a starting point. I do think it helps you be more accountable, it is nice to see what you take in by the numbers as opposed to the pictures!

  17. It's always good once in a while to check in and see what you are really doing versus what you think you are doing. Plus it keeps you accountable. I am not a fan (professionally) of doing this all the time for long periods of time, but I do think (depends on the person too) a week here and there lets you check back in and see what's really going on. too often people start of and are really doing what they were educated on and have portion sizes down, but then after some time those portions start to increase without really knowing and the grazing kicks in a little more, so journaling from time to time is like a reality check. Good for you!

  18. Anonymous9/11/2011

    I've _always_ done fat and sodium content counting since 2007, and recently calorie counting (a month prior to my vacation). Now I don't focus much on fat, but calories and sodium. Also, when I see white rice on my plate, as much as I love white rice, I hold back and eat half of what I normally would say 10 years ago! Last but not least, the thing I've been doing for ages is weighing myself every morning before bath/breakfast--no clothes. I record my weight every day on my calendar. If not for this simple task, I would be heavier. I'm sure of it.---Marilen

  19. Anonymous9/11/2011

    I wonder what beverages do you usually have with your meals? --Marilen

  20. Anonymous9/11/2011

    Andrea, what's a yummy Greek yogurt brand? I didn't like what I bought from Safeway called
    -brand: Open Nature
    --name: Greek Lowfat Strained Yogurt
    1 percent milkfat.
    it had no taste, no sugar at all.
    I didn't expect that as it didn't specify that at all.

  21. I always seem to eat better when I take pictures. I don't know if it's being held accountable, but it is a great feeling. Love your eats for the day. Not only healthy..but delicious!

  22. @Everyone: Thank you for all your wonderful, thoughtful comments. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on food journaling and calorie counting and got some new ideas! Thank you! Food journaling and calorie counting is certainly not for everyone, and I think it's important if you identify it as a problem for you personally not to do it. Again, thanks everyone for chiming in!
    I drink one cup of coffee with breakfast. With lunch and dinner I usually drink water. Throughout the morning and early afternoon I drink green tea and water.
    My favorite Greek yogurt brands are: Fage, Chobani, and Stoneyfield Oikos. Fage is actually the creamiest in my opinion, but Stoneyfield Oikos is the only organic one. Both Chobani and Fage are made with milk from cows not treated with rBGH. I tend to switch between brands quite regularly.

  23. I used to track religiously (no photos - but used SparkPeople) - it worked! And when I stopped I maintained my weight... but now I haven't tracked in a while and the weight is creeping back on. MUST get back on it! Thanks for this post to inspire me to track again - seriously - I needed it!

  24. I count points and use WW eTools, which I love - but I agree, sometimes those extra licks and bites catch up to you!

    I am definitely food journaling everything this week and hope it shows up on the scale next week.

    Enjoy your Sunday!

  25. Anonymous9/11/2011

    first of all your food looks fab for the day. i think you are on track if you eat like that everyday for sure. i dabbled in writing everything down once when i was doing body for life. it does make you think. how has it been going for you since you posted?

  26. HI Andrea. I'm on weight watchers, and journaling is a huge part of the program. I fell off the tracking wagon a bit in August but am back and it feels good to know exactly what is going in. Have a wonderful rest of the weekend.

  27. I admire how healthful you eat through the day. I have never kept a food journal; I think I'd be too afraid to, given some of the dinners I eat (as you know). LOL

  28. @Kalli: I created a twitter account to tweet my food (@wellandrea_food, just in case anyone is interested). I tweeted my food on Friday and today, and I definitely felt a difference (compared to Saturday when I didn't tweet.) I think I'll tweet for a while. Most of the time probably without pics (like today). Just writing everything down seems to work!

  29. All your food looks delicious! I'd be taking pictures every few minutes if I photographed everything I ate :)