Often, when my clients come in and ask about dietary recommendations and such, I will do two things:
- I will remind them that I am NEITHER a registered dietician, nor a nutritionist.
- Suggest that they maintain a food journal for a few days or even weeks. (The more entries, the better).
You folks wouldn’t believe the looks that second point elicits! Honestly—make one suggestion that people put pen to paper and it’s like you’ve asked ‘em for a national census!! Calm down, it’s just not that painful of a process, and modern app technology has made the whole procedure even easier.
Have a look at a few of the benefits we can reap from just jotting down what’s being shoveled into our super-sized maws on a daily basis:
- Accountability—This is a big one for a lot of people! Just having to answer for what food choices are being made (whether from public scorn or internal shame) can lead one to modify their eating habits. Imagine having to hear “Why did you choose to eat that Boston Cream donut for lunch?” in the back of your head or from your social group all week as you attempt to rationalize your weight gain as “water weight.”
- Education– Some people just don’t have a clue what they are wolfing down in a 24 hour period. For them, a food journal allows for a black-and-white picture of their diets. As well, keeping a food journal requires the attention to food labeling, which is another source of smartening up on this whole nutrition thing. “So THAT’S what’s in SPAM!”
- Development of Habits—Changing anything requires constant repetition (ever tried to knead out pizza dough from a tube?!?). This fact holds up especially true for changes to the human body and behavior. Of course, in the weight room everyone wants to crank out reps and put together sets which will lead to overall muscle change. But, don’t forget that the goal of solid eating habits is also repetition: to duplicate the same overall calorie/nutrient intake on a consistent basis.
- Collection of Data— If we want to get somewhere, then it is probably a wise idea to take a moment and look at just where we are. Making entries in a food journal allows us to gather numbers and patterns on what we are doing NOW, and then alter that to produce some outcome, be that weight loss or gain, etc. Asking someone to effectively change something when they have very little concept of what the root problem is really like Stevie Wonder walking in to a nuclear control room and pressing buttons hoping to stop a meltdown…sure, it could happen, but probably either by luck or divine intervention. I’d rather not leave my personal appearance to either of those two ideas.
- It’s What The Pro’s Do—Whenever I want to achieve something, I look around at the people who have that thing I want, figure out what they did to get it, and (this is the part that escapes some) then DO that routine. If keeping a food journal works for most of the people who make a living from their appearance or athleticism, then it’s a really good bet that your average schmo is probably gonna’ squeeze something positive from it also.
Historically, there has been only one major negative to maintaining a food journal: time. With the proliferation of MyFitnessPal and its contemporaries, the argument that one just doesn’t have time is about as credible as the “affluenza” defense. Even the most time-taxed and computer illiterate can stumble through the simple process of inputting their daily diet using smartphone apps or computer websites.
If you are eager to maximize all that time you spend in the gym, then it might just benefit you check in on your dietary situation. As you can see, you have nothing to lose. And if you did, you won’t lose anything anyway unless you do a food journal…so do it.