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Top 7 Reasons to Keep a Food Journal

While I’m really passionate about eating healthy, my eating habits weren’t always great.

My eating habits soon changed the one week I kept a food journal using an online tracker and tracked my calories for every meal, every snack, and recorded any food that entered my body. It was an eye-opening experience for me and if you have not tracked your calories, or kept a food journal before, it can be a very positive experience for you as well.

This food journal will teach you the basics so you can get the most out of tracking your eating habits.

Here are 7 compelling reasons why you should try to keep a journal, even for only a couple of days:

1) Learn How To Control Your Calories

I think my most important lesson was learning more about calories in foods I eat on a regular basis. For example, as I was tallying a dinner I just ate at a Greek restaurant, I didn’t realize that the generous 5 tablespoons worth of olive oil I had with a pita was a solid 550 calories (1 tablespoon of olive oil has 110 calories). Then the cup worth of hummus I inhaled was a good 430 calories on top of that. By the time I was done tallying my meal, I was like, “Wow, I just ate 1500+ calories of food and I wasn’t even that full. Oops.”

Conversely, you may realize that on certain days, or meals you’re eating far too few calories, but I never had that problem.

2) Understand Your Sources of Calories

Calories aren’t just about total calories, but about the breakdown of protein, carbohydrates, and fat, which are 3 nutrients that provide energy for your body. You’ll also keep track of the alcohol you drink, which is the other element that provides calories to your body but is not a nutrient.

You may realize 70% of your calories are coming from carbohydrates, which is far higher than even what the USDA recommends (which is already high), or you might realize you only have 10% of your calories from protein despite being an active individual.

Learning more about the calorie breakdowns in the foods I ate and each day as a whole was probably the second most helpful part that I found to keeping a food journal.

3) Get a Feel For Portion Control

By learning more about calories, you also learn more about portion control and the types of foods you can eat in larger portions like lean meats, vegetables, and certain fruits, and the types of food you want to eat sparingly. Overall, you become far more cognizant of portion control.

4) Identify Situations Where You Binge

Every once in a while (ok, maybe all the time) I would inhale really unhealthy food in outrageous proportions until I was about to explode. Why did I do this? Well, I didn’t really know why until I started recognizing the situations I was in that would set off an epic eating binge.

There were usually a set of factors that would set off my eating binges, such as having too much alcohol at dinner or having a very small lunch, or light breakfast, which put my hunger into overdrive later in the day. Sometimes eating was more emotional; my problem was that I went on binges to celebrate, and when I was down in the dumps.

5) Provides a Hard, Objective Record

Many times in our minds we will trick ourselves into believing we didn’t eat something, or we didn’t eat that much unhealthy food. When you have a written log or journal, it takes the guesswork and the guessing games out of the equation. You will know exactly how you are eating and that objective feedback can help inspire change.

6) Identify If You Have a Calorie Surplus, or Deficit

Not only does a food journal tell you the total calories you are eating, but you can also figure out how many more, or less calories you are eating relative to your calorie burn. If you eat more calories than you burn, you gain weight, and if you eat less, you lose weight.

Calculating your calorie burn can be a little tricky but for most people, the basic calorie burn equations work pretty well.

Some calorie trackers (myfitnesspal) have ways to make calorie deficits for the day show up in green, and calorie surplus shows up in red. These markers can be a BIG motivator.

7) If You Saw a Nutritionist, You Would Keep a Food Journal Anyways

If you go see a nutritionist, one of the first tasks you will be assigned is keeping a food journal. This helps the nutritionist analyze your eating habits so he or she can make suggestions as to how you can change them over time.

If you are doing this on your own, you’re going to be analyzing your own eating habits on a less detailed level of course, but it’s still a very, very helpful exercise.

I only had the patience to keep a food journal for about a month, maybe even less, so I’m not saying you have to keep a food journal for the rest of your life. A few weeks is better than nothing. Maybe a couple of days during the week and the weekend could be very beneficial for you.

Our habits are subconscious, so by making yourself conscious of how you eat by keeping a food journal, it makes changing your eating habits a whole lot easier.