Did you know that most people think they eat healthier than they actually do? Not only that, would it surprise you to know most of us underestimate the amount we eat by around 20%? When we’re trying to improve our wellness, what we eat matters. So if we have such a hard time estimating what we’re eating, how do we know if we’re eating healthfully? One easy way is to keep a food journal.
As we talked about in Using a Food Journal to Improve Your Wellness, “A food journal can give us a realistic view of what and how much we’re eating, how the things we eat affect the way we feel, and help us identify deficiencies in our diet.”
Food journals can be exceptionally helpful, but they can come with a few challenges:
- For some people, having to write down everything they eat as they eat it is a hassle
- If we don’t write down foods as we eat them, when we go back later and try to fill in what we ate, we may not remember everything.
- Even if we’re writing our foods down, we may still be underestimating the amounts.
One way we can avoid these issues is to use a visual food journal. This is a simple way to keep track of what and how much we’re eating without adding any ‘work’ to our day.
The Visual Food Journal
Keeping a visual food journal is so easy; the only tool you need is the one thing we have with us almost all the time — your cell phone.
Now if you’re trying to count calories, this probably won’t be the best style of journalling for you, but if you’re just trying to get a general idea of what or how much you’re eating, it’s a fantastic tool.
For example, if you want to get an idea of how many servings of fruit and vegetables you generally eat per day, this would be great. Or how about if you wanted to see how your portion sizes look?
Here’s my journal from yesterday:
As you can see, these aren’t great pictures; I just snapped them with my phone quickly. Although they’re labeled here, that’s not necessary when you’re doing your own visual journal.
Some Things to Remember When Starting Your Visual Food Journal:
- Just take pictures of what you’re eating – don’t judge it. When first starting out with any kind of food journal, the purpose is to get a baseline. You want to find out what you’re typically eating. If you start making judgements about your food, you may be tempted to be a little less-than-honest. It could be really easy to just not take a picture of certain foods. That’s not going to be helpful in the long run.
- Remember that everything counts. For instance, that energy bite above…. It doesn’t look like much, does it? It may not be that much in the grand scheme of things; after all, it only has 100 calories. But what if you ate five different things that only had 100 calories? That’s 500 extra calories you haven’t accounted for.
- If you don’t have a specific way of preparing foods, you might want to take photos of the individual components. One example – for my oatmeal, whatever kind of fruit or nuts I add – I always use a teaspoon of butter and 2 teaspoons of sugar to prepare it. When I see that bowl of oatmeal, I know I have to account for those two things. If I didn’t make it the same way each time, it would be helpful to photograph those separately so I knew to count them.
- Be brutally honest in keeping your journal. We’re using these journals to help us improve our wellness. If we’re not honest with ourselves about what we’re actually eating, how will we know what we need to improve? I can tell you I wasn’t happy about having to share that picture of my grande mocha with you guys, but I’ve never made any secret about my love for a mocha every now and then. And that brings me to my next point….
- Use what you learn from your journal to make small improvements. Once you’ve been keeping your visual journal for a while, you’ll start to notice patterns. Maybe you see you’re not eating many vegetables, or maybe you’re eating a lot of processed foods…. Maybe you realize you’re not eating enough…. Use this information to help you start to make small changes that move you toward healthier eating.
- Remember that you don’t need to eat perfectly all the time to make progress. While it’s important to eat healthfully the majority of the time, there’s room in our eating plans for occasional treats. Putting an expectation of perfection on ourselves can actually sabotage our wellness efforts. After all, who can eat (or do anything else) perfectly all the time?
Food journals have proven their worth over and over for those of us who are trying to ensure we’re eating as healthy as possible. For many people, though, keeping a detailed journal can be just one more hurdle they have to jump. If you’re one of those people, why not give a visual food journal a try?
Have you ever tried a food journal, written or visual? Did you find it helpful? Please share!