Thursday, December 5, 2013

Food Journaling: Making the Grade

The holidays are hard. The endless pies, cookies and pumpkin bread are enough to make you throw in the towel on a diet and weight you have worked to maintain all year. And everyone knows this. That is why every newspaper, magazine and online article is telling you how you can “keep the pounds off” this holiday season. Rather than tell you what you should and should not eat on the buffet table, I want to share with you an exercise that I personally find to be helpful when faced with tasty temptations.

I keep a food journal year-round, but it is a tool that is especially helpful around the holidays. Keeping a food journal is proven to help people control their weight because it increases your awareness and leads you to make more thoughtful dietary decisions. By writing down what you eat, you decrease mindless eating and raise your consciousness of not only the quantity, but also the quality of your diet.

Many people find it hard to keep a food journal.  Oftentimes people are enthusiastic for a day or two and then forget to fill it out and can’t remember what they had for breakfast at the end of the day. That is understandable. The key to successfully keeping a food journal is to find a way to make it easy to keep. It is recommended and very helpful to record every little detail down to the last bite. But how many people are willing to keep this commitment? I don’t want to be pulling measuring spoons and cups out of my purse to measure how much food I am eating. Not only does that take away from the present moment, it would annoy the people around you (especially your Grandma!) and hold up the buffet line.

Instead, what I do is write down a very generic outline of what I ate for the day and then give myself a grade—A, B, C, D, etc. –based on the overall quantity and quality of the foods I ate. A day in my log might look like this:

B: cereal with banana
S: raisins
L: salad, PB sandwich, yogurt, apple
D: fish tacos, rice, beans, dried mangoes

This would be an ‘A’ day. If I had more than a glass of wine with dinner, that would be an ‘A-.’ If I also had a large dessert that would be a ‘B.’ If I ate until I was stuffed and couldn’t move, that might be a ‘C,’ and so on. This approach not only makes me more conscious of what and how much I am eating, it allows me to look at my diet as a whole and helps me plan a balanced and varied diet on a daily basis. I keep it on my nightstand and reflect upon the day before I go to bed.

If you decide to try food journaling, the key is to be honest with yourself. Sometimes I find that I am more honest the next day because in the moment I am being more generous with myself. “Oh that piece of cake wasn’t that big.” When in the morning I realize how gigantic my slice really was and then I am able to grade more accurately. You can also set realistic goals. If you know you are going to a Christmas party, shoot for a ‘B’ day rather than an ‘A’ day. Eat a balanced hearty breakfast and lunch and enjoy the party. After the holidays you can set a goal to have a straight-A week.

The important thing to remember is that the holidays come once a year. If you fall off the wagon for a day or two –no big deal. Just get back on, be mindful of your actions and, most importantly, enjoy this time with the people you love. 

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