Food Logs: Beneficial or Waste of Time?

What's the deal with food logs?

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The first task I give to all my clients is to keep a week's worth of food journals. I see it as an essential starting point for anyone trying to lose weight, gain muscle, or improve overall health. 

No matter how aware you think you are of your current diet, there is always something to be learned from food logs.  Even as a nutritionist with 10+ years of refining my own diet, I still keep food journals every now and then to get a pulse on my dietary habits. 
 
 

Benefits of keeping a food journal: 

  • Brings awareness to what you're eating
  • Brings awareness to how and why you're eating
  • Shows how different foods/amounts of food affect you
  • Allows you to identify your food habits
  • Minimizes mindless eating
  • Adds an element of accountability, especially if you have to share your logs with someone else!
  • If your goal is body composition change (fat loss or muscle gain), tracking your food is the most accurate way to make sure you're hitting your calorie and macro goals.

Methods:
There are many methods of keeping food logs. There's some great (free!) apps out there such as MyFitnessPal and the FitBit app. Some people prefer the old school method of writing things down. Whether you use an app, a written journal, or notes on a napkin, make sure to gather these essential pieces of info:

  • Record everything you eat and drink throughout the day. No cheating! There's no benefit to only logging your "healthy" meals!
  • Note what time you ate and how long it took you eat (did you inhale a burrito in 60 seconds or sit down at the table for 20 minutes?).
  • Note how you felt (physically, mentally, emotionally) before and after each meal and/or snack. 
  • Aim to log your food on both weekdays and weekends to get the most accurate picture. For most people, their diet does not look the same on days that they have less structure (weekends, vacation, etc.). It's very important to become aware of how your diet is affected by this.

Be sure to include the following in your logs:

  • Log at least 3-5 days a week, including weekdays and weekends in your log. 
  • Write down everything you ate or drank and at what time. 
  • Note the circumstances (at home alone, happy hour with co-workers, etc.) and how that affected what and how much you ate. 
  • Note how you felt before and after each meal and snack.
  • Measure things. This can be done using a food scale or standard measuring tools such as cups, tablespoons, teaspoons, etc. Don't just guestimate! More often than not, our perception of measurements is wrong, so to be as accurate as possible, take the time to weigh or measure your food. 
  • Save your food logs! It's useful to return to them later on to see how your diet has improved (or not!). 

Analyze without judgment

Be kind to yourself during this process, as it can be really difficult to come face to face with your food choices. Criticizing or guilt-tripping yourself won't get you anywhere, so be honest about your food intake while analyzing your data without judgment. Are there habits or patterns that you picked up on in your logs?  Did the act of food logging alone cause you to make any changes to your diet? Can you pinpoint one or two areas that you could improve upon? 

Is food logging necessary for YOU?

As I mentioned earlier, everyone can learn something from keeping food logs. However, keeping accurate logs can be time consuming and a pain in the ass. For this reason, it's important to recognize whether or not this is a beneficial practice for you.

There are cases in which logging is more necessary than others. If your primary goal is to change your body composition, food logging is a must. If you're not tracking calories and/or macros, you're just taking shots in the dark and hoping for the best (this doesn't usually work!). 

If your goals are to make healthier food choices, improve your relationship with food, or get better at skills such as mindful eating or meal planning, logging isn't as necessary. These are cases where focusing on other skills is more worthwhile.

As with all things, each individual is unique. Some people find that regardless of their goal, they eat better and stay on track more easily if they keep daily logs. So know your goal, and know yourself. Does keeping logs help get you closer to your end goal? Can logs potentially serve another purpose to you such as acting as a meal planning tool or adding accountability?

Have additional questions about logging or nutrition in general? I'd love to help you out. Fill out the email form below and I'll get back to you asap!

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