What we are discussing today is a tool that I use very often with my clients to gain clarity on their eating patterns. It’s also something that I use regularly in my own life to keep me ‘on track’ with my nutrition and be able to reference back on when needed.
For a long time I found myself frustrated with the ‘typical’ advice given for food charting, as I found it to be very restrictive in nature. In fact, I can recall MANY times in the past where I attempted to keep track of my intake and I often felt worse after doing so.
It always seemed like I was focusing on the wrong things and becoming hyper aware of all the ways I was ‘failing’. Not to mention, it was a lot of work to measure all my food, count all those calories and input everything into those recommended apps.
I never felt like this was a tool that was serving me in a positive way- until that is, I changed the way I was doing it. As it turns out, when I released all of the advice that had been given to me previously about the ‘right’ way to food chart- I began to feel better AND see some movement towards my goals.
I’ve come to realize over the past few years that the more restrictive actions are, the less good they feel and the less they work. Rather, the more space/freedom we give ourselves to observe and instead create awareness around our habits- the more changes we actually end up making in the long term.
Therefore I am excited to dive into today and share with you why food charting can be a valuable tool if done in a healthy way, and how exactly to do just that.
Let’s get started!
What is it and why is it helpful?
To be honest, I really do love the concept of keeping track of your meals.
However, this needs to be said right off the bat: Food charting is NOT about counting calories.
What it is about, is connecting the dots between what we eat and how we feel throughout the day. Keeping a food journal makes it clear how our eating patterns are interconnected with every other aspect of our lives.
If you have eating habits that you are not happy with, you need to acknowledge them before you can change them. When you let go of feelings of guilt or shame or judgment, there’s an empowerment you will experience that comes from just writing it all down and observing.
Food charting is a mindfulness practice. The only way to make a significant change in how you are doing something is to be aware of your actions in the first place.
You may be surprised to find how simply writing down what you eat can make you way more conscious of those trips to the fridge or those handfuls of chips. And there’s science to back this up: Studies show that simply self-monitoring (without making any deliberate changes to your diet) is associated with weight-loss.
Another great benefit to food charting is discovering patterns in your daily routine. While what we eat is critical, why and how we eat are just as (and often more) important.
Do you hit a slump every day at 3 pm and eat something you don’t really want?
Are you tired and cranky immediately following breakfast?
Or maybe you get home from work feeling so famished that you eat a handful of cookies while making dinner- and by the time it’s ready, you’re no longer hungry.
If any of these scenarios sound familiar or if similar ones come to mind, keeping a journal might help you understand the relationship between food and other areas of your life.
It can also enable you to make small changes that can have a big impact. When we stop isolating nutrition from the rest of our lives, we get the bigger picture: what, why, and how we eat are deeply rooted in everything else in our lives. Your journal will reflect that.
Food charting is not meant to be a super restrictive habit. Charting in a way that feels like work, or creates a negative relationship with food, is NOT a healthy habit.
Personally, I do not believe in counting calories or measuring food- and I strongly believe that these can (and usually do) become harmful habits. You shouldn’t have to second guess everything you eat or restrict it in anyway. Instead, food should be enjoyed and balanced: everything in moderation.
When done in a healthier way, food charting therefore CAN be a really good tool that can help you:
- Figure out a food intolerance or sensitivity
- Understand what your habits are
- Figure out the cause of your cravings
- Determine if you are eating too much or too little for your goals
- Keep you on track and mindful of your eating choices
& so much more.
How to food chart in a healthy way:
Ready for this babe? It’s really quite simple.
- Choose your favourite journal, an excel document, the notes section on your phone, a scrap piece of paper, a meal plan template- whatever you prefer!
- Write down the time and a general summary of what it was that you ate or drank.
- Include any feelings or symptoms you notice or experience.
- Continue doing so for at least a week, ideally two, so that you can get a good idea of your patterns.
However, please note- do NOT measure your food or count calories. This is meant to be general!
7 am- 2 whole grain toast and 2 eggs over easy. “I’m tired this morning.”
1030 am- an apple and a handful of cashews
1 pm- a big green salad with grilled chicken and balsamic vinaigrette dressing. “This was yummy, I felt really good after.”
330 pm- 2 pieces chocolate, small handful chips, 2 peperoni sticks, couple cheese slices. “Work got super stressful and I turned to food for comfort”.
6 pm- Vegetable soup with quinoa. “I don’t feel good. I’m bloated and exhausted.”
Again, the summary should include a time, general description and a feeling/symptom if there is one present.
If you are new to food charting and/or are not currently doing it, then I definitely recommend writing down the time of your meals so you can judge to see if you are eating enough, too much or too little. Often we aren’t eating near enough! Charting the times can help us make adjustments and build habits.
However, if you are familiar with food charting and do it often (and are aware of your habits/eating patterns) then you do not need to chart the times. I personally do not chart the times for myself- instead I write ‘breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, snack’.
I recommend charting for at least a week or two to get a sense of your habits, but you can continue charting (with or without times listed) until it is no longer serving you. I use this tool on a regular basis personally, and it really is a positive activity for myself.
One thing you will want to continue checking in with yourself about is the intention behind how/why you are food charting and what you feel when you are doing it. Remember, when it becomes an obsession or you notice a negative relationship forming, it is no longer serving you and is a habit to let go of.
Finally, remember to be honest with yourself and write everything down- there is NOTHING to be ashamed about and journaling provides a safe and judgement-free zone, and in order to make appropriate changes you need to know what is your ‘normal’.
There you have it babe! An easy way to food chart that is healthy and will help you move towards your goals!
You can also check out my video HERE that I made to explain this subject as well.
Best of luck babe!