Food Journaling Challenge

We’re conditioned at a very young age to believe that if we follow the food pyramid/plate, we’re going to be a-ok nutritionally; but I got news for you, what’s good for you is not necessarily going to be good for me. You may do better on a vegan diet than I ever will, my body may be fueled by fats, whereas every time you have fats you may feel bloated and funky. This is normal.

Everyone needs a slightly different amount of micro and macro nutrients in order to be at their best. Trick is, how do we figure out what those micro and macro nutrients are?

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It begins with understanding how your body works, listening to what your body is trying to tell you, and making small shifts here and there until we find the sweet spot.

As part of my shifting gears and staying motivated project, I’ve found that in order for me to make the most of my diet and maintain a heightened awareness when it comes to my food choices, food journaling is the key.

I’ve challenged myself over the last week to track everything I eat in my food journal to make it easier for me to put all the nutritional pieces together. When I’d mentioned this on the weekend, many of you were interested to learn more, so here it is!

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How it works

It’s quite simple really. All you need is:

  • A template to fill in your daily eats
  • 15 minutes a day to record your daily eats
  • An open mind and forgiving heart – just write it all down!

You don’t have to carry your food journal around with you everywhere. Keep it at the office, at home, in the car, whatever works best for you. Set aside a couple of minutes a day to enter your foods into your journal and keep track of how you feel after you eat; how you feel after a meal is the most important part and will tell you far more than you realize.

See the attached pdf to print your very own food journal!

Entering information into your journal

  1. Begin with the date, circle the day of the week it is (this will come in handy when you start to link together your eating patterns) and record your weight, if that is of interest to you.
  2. Track the time, quantity (roughly), food, type of food – fruit, vegetable, protein, fat, etc, and the symptoms you experienced after your meal.
  3. At the end of the day, input the hours of sleep, activities, water, overall energy level, and sum up your total intake. Lastly, jot down a summary of your day, and anything you learned about yourself that day.

Here’s one of the pages from my journal as an example. Excuse the messy writing, yours will look like this too, promise.

Don’t be scared of the ‘bad days’

Please understand that there are no bad foods or bad days, and that these days are just as important to report as the good days.

Remember that guilty days where we feel like we’ve cheated our body are only bad patterns that come to the forefront when we’re journaling. It’s important that we record each and every thing, no matter how we feel about ourselves during/after we ate it. The whole reason behind food journaling is to begin to understand why we made these choices, so write it all down!

All the answers are right there

So you’ve recorded a week. Now what?

Set aside a couple of minutes per week to review your journal to understand:

  • What you eat
  • When you eat
  • How much
  • Where
  • With whom
  • Why

From there, you can begin to look at what you’ve eaten and start picking out patterns. Some things I look for:

  • How many fruits, vegetables, proteins are you getting on a daily basis? Are there days where you had more of one type of food that you felt better than other days?
  • Are you skipping meals and subsequently overeating later in the day?
  • Are your meals balanced? Are you eating all of your starchy foods in the morning and packing in the protein in the afternoon?
  • Is there a long span of time between meals?
  • Do you notice any food groups that are completely missing?
  • Do you notice you overeat if you wait too long in between your meals?
  • What is the perfect amount of time between each of your meals? What is too long, what is too short?
  • Do you get a particular symptom after eating a certain type of food?
  • What is the ideal day for you? What patterns were you following that day? Why did you feel so good?
  • Is there a meal that you may have too often?
  • When you consider the day as a whole, is most of what’s being consumed whole, unprocessed food or is it primarily packaged?

Translating the answers into solutions

Now you know all of these neat things about yourself. How does that help you exactly?

I usually add a blank page to my journal and write down all of the things I learned in the previous week. Then I write a list of the things I’ll work on for the following week. For instance, here’s the list of things I’m currently working on:

  • Remember to take my B complex daily. It really helps with brain fuzziness.
  • Try to have at least 1 vegetable protein per day, preferably in the morning.
  • Increase protein during my morning snack, maybe with stevia sweetened coconut flour muffins?

I refer back to this list on a daily basis to make sure that I’m setting some of the learnings into action!

The challenge

Food journaling has already been so useful in helping me understand the weaknesses in my diet, areas for improvement and my strengths when it comes to making healthful choices that are right for my body. If you struggle with not fully understanding what to do next with your own diet, I encourage you to take on the challenge!

I’ll report back soon on my progress, learnings and struggles as the weeks go on and would love for you to share, too!

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  1. This was very helpful, Leanne – thank you! I used to food journal extensively, obsessively, and get very upset with myself when it didn’t come through as I’d planned. It got unhealthy, so I quit completely. However, I’ve been thinking it would be helpful to get back to that in order to figure out some energy/stomach issues I’ve been having, so your suggestions might be a great system to try.

    Thanks!

    • From someone who has had that toxic relationship with a food journal, I can completely understand where you’re coming from. Something you may want to try before this step, is noting down changes everyday. Instead of listing off all the foods you ate, at the end of the day just summarize what you noticed that day. Something like, “Instead of having cereal for breakfast this morning, I had a bowl of oatmeal. It kept me fuller longer. Then for snack after dinner I had an apple because I was a bit snackish and was proud of myself for choosing fruit over the bag of chips” You can still find out loads of information about yourself that way, and it’s less likely to become abusive. :)

  2. This is such a great post Leanne! I used to journal my food intake all the time, but have sort of fallen away from it.. you’ve inspired me to start again though, especially since I find that winter is a time when my mood slips and I start to feel a loss of energy (darn Canadian weather!!!) Thanks for the boost! :)

  3. Hi Leanne,

    Thank you so much for this post! I promptly downloaded the template and am printing it soon. Though I have been keeping a food journal since February this year, it is nowhere as detailed. This will be of great help for me to figure out what has been bothering my digestion recently.

  4. Such great information Leanne!!
    Sadly the food pyramid/plate is such a joke… I just laugh thinking about the people sitting around a table coming up with the representations of how everyone should eat =)
    I love how you point out that everyone’s needs are different — and that it’s not about trying to fit your daily intake into a pyramid or plate (what someone else thinks you need to eat)!

  5. Thanks for posting this…I’ll be using it! I like the way it is laid out as well – it makes it easier to see the “whole picture.” I also appreciated what you said about “there are no bad food days” – they are just “days” like all the others thay may have something to teach us about how food fits into our lives.

  6. Hi-This is SO helpful. I have tried to journal but haven’t found a template I like-I love this one and am going to try to use it for a while. I have a question-I eat a lot of non-traditional foods like you and I find it hard to know how to class them and what amounts-for example 1 cup almond milk is 1 fat?? Other examples that I wonder about-1 T chia seeds, maca powder, how many nuts is 1 fat, squash (how much squash is one starch-counted as starch or veggie-same with beets and carrots??). So if that isn’t confusing enough-what about mixed food like homemade lara balls with nuts and dates (1 small 100 cal ball is counted as what??). Or yesterday I had 1 1/2 cups of a homemade stew with pinto beans, brussels, sweet potatoes, tomatoes….there were 3 sweet potatoes in 6 servings-have NO IDEA how to count this. Its things like this that leave me frustrated with journaling then I stop. It seems food journals and classification systems are geared to a “meat and potatoes with a side of veggies” style of eater that i am not at all. Sorry for the long post-something I have been confused about for a while and really hopign you can help-or at least show me how you count some of the more obscure things.

    Jacqui-a fellow Albertan from a few hours north:)

    • Hi Jacqui – I’ll try to address all of them, hopefully this will give you an idea of how to clasify –
      almond milk = 1/2 fat
      2 tbsp nuts = 1 fat
      1 tbsp oils = 1 fat
      2 tbsp dried fruit = 1 fruit
      For meals you’re making, you just have to break out what’s in them – sweet potato = starchy vegetable and about 1/2 cup = serving, 1/2 cup beans = 1 serving, 1/2 cup tomatoes = 1 serving.

  7. This looks so much less daunting than I thought it would! Thanks so much for making this post. I’m looking forward to starting this soon.

  8. Thanks for the detail! It looks like a pretty incredible journey to being in touch with your body. I’m currently working through something similar, right now currently focusing on recognizing hunger and satiety after years of calorie counting. I can see something like this being a fabulous tool in the coming weeks and months when I’m ready to move on to understanding how different foods and amounts affect my body and well-being, and also learning to rely on my eye and intuition for serving sizes as opposed to a scale or measuring cup. Thanks!

  9. I use http://www.dailyburn.com for my food tracking instead of the written out method that I’ve used for years. While it doesn’t have a particular section to jot comments about how the foods you’ve consumed make you feel, I’m definitely taking more and more notice of this. I know that dairy makes me feel terrible (and eating that chunk of cheese before heading to hot yoga last night was a bad idea) so I’ve quit buying yogurt for example. I think most people would be really surprised at what they’re actually putting in their mouths if they committed to food journalling for a few weeks!

    • I’ve never heard of dailyburn, I’ll have to check it out. Thanks for the recommendation, Kristin! I prefer the written out version of journaling, I guess because I don’t have to worry so much about the calories, fat, etc. But I love knowing what other tools are out there!

  10. I don’t food journal but I like seeing your handwriting on the blog on that piece of paper…that’s a fun touch but what I really love is that journal itself. It’s beautiful!! Where did you get it? I love it! I need to start writing my recipes in something like that rather than on random pieces of scratch paper.

  11. Seriously, love your blog! You always have such diversity in your posts. I notice you have been doing body rock – woo you go girl. Did you buy all the equipment? I want to give it a try but I don’t have the equipment. Thinking of maybe adapting it so I can do it at the gym.
    Anyways, thanks for the great post!

  12. Great post and lots of helpful tips for food journaling. I went through that for a while when I had stomach issues and a host of other symptoms about a year ago to help determine what the culprit was and it helped immensely. I’ve been having skin problems, specifically on my scalp (not to be too TMI) but I’m wondering if there’s any connection to my diet.

    • I’m glad you found it helpful, Katie. Re: issues with your scalp – Have you recently decreased your oils, eatting more bananas or changed the type of water you drink?

  13. This is such a helpful tool Leanne! I love the template, I’ll have to print that out – but I love that you showed yours as an example for others to know the types of things to write down. I am completely lost when it comes to the “1/2 fat, 1 fat”, etc. though.

    I was wondering how can someone know how much protein/fats/carbs they need to consume in one day? I would love to know what I need personally, so I can compare to what I actually consume in a day.

    • Hi Andrea, glad you found my example day helpful! Regarding what you need on a daily basis – of course I have to start by saying it’s ideal to work with a nutritionist to come up with the proper values, but as a rough guide – figure out your BMR then add your activity. There are many calculators out there to help you do that. Then, figure out what ratio works best for you. I’m pretty sure my body does best on a 45% fat, 25% protein, 30% carb ratio. Then I just make sure that my day reflects this. You kind of have to play around with that one, and honestly, it’s always changing depending on what’s going on in my life. Hope that helps :)

      • Yes that does help, thank you :) I will see what different BMR calculators I can find, and work with that. I’m sure the ratio for my body and everyone else’s changes all the time based on how active they are, etc, like you said! I think it will actually be kind of fun to experiment with this as well as your food journaling challenge. It’d be cool if everyone that tries this out could share their experiences with each other in the comment section of a blog post, maybe? Just a thought! Have a great night Leanne :)

        • That’s a great idea, Andrea! I’ll see if I can organize something in a couple of weeks. Enjoy your evening :)

    • Hi Andrea, I’m far from a nutritionist so I’ll understand if you’re not that impressed by my advice, but I can tell you that I use MyFitnessPal.com for my food journal, and I think it would be very helpful to you if you want to keep tabs on your ratios. It gives you a recommended amount (after you enter certain information about yourself) and then later you can adjust it to what percentages you prefer.

      It does also have a ‘Food Notes’ section on each day’s page. I hope that helps :)

  14. I completely get this! I’m learning about it with my nutrition course! I’ve been journalling my meals for years now. My body changes constantly and with my dietary issues, it helps me understand the things that are going on when I have good and bad times. I love understanding me now. This is a great tool. Thank you for sharing!

  15. YOU ARE MAGICAL. This template is so so helpful. Ahahah literally I like have to do a project like this for my nutrition class and it’s so unorganized but this helps a lot. Thanks chica!

  16. Leanne, what a fabulous post. Thanks for the samples/examples and guidance! I love that you recognize that every body is different and that no single food plan will work for everyone. I have to say, I’m (personally) glad you’re on board with the high fat + low grain lifestyle! I’ve had years of digestive issues and problems with my skin, and a high fat/low grain (“Paleo”) diet has been the ONLY plan that has worked for me. I could have cried when you said (a few months ago) that you’d be doing a low fat + low oil diet, because I knew that wasn’t right for me… But I kept checking back because I love your site and I have to say I’m GLAD that you’re off the low fat train! Woo HOO!
    I love what you do. Thanks for all the insight and great food!

    • You know, I’m glad that I’m off that train too! I guess you never know what doesn’t work unless you give it a try, and that really, really didn’t work for me! And thanks for sticking with me through the transition :)

  17. What a fabulous challenge! I learned last year that when I notice a change in how I feel (particularly with running) the first thing I need to look at is my nutrition. A week of a food journal usually does the trick! I realize too much or too little and take a closer look at the when, where and what of my eating habits. And with that it’s easy to make a change or 2 and almost always feel better.

    Thanks for the template!

  18. Great idea for a challenge – especially with the holidays just around the corner! Good luck food journaling. :)

  19. This is awesome and extremely helpful and informative post. Thanks for showing us how to log in our food journal. I printed out some pages and am starting the challenge today, I am positive this is going to be great in helping me figure out how I feel after eating some kind of foods.
    Thanks!!
    Ana

  20. This is such an awesome post!! I love that you included a printable pdf and I love even more that you put up your own hand written day of food journalling. That is what is so special about your blog..you take into consideration the little things that we as readers may find helpful and you always seem to go that extra mile for us!:) I really appreciate what you do and so look forward to reading you everyday to see what else I can learn and how I can continue to improve my health/life! What you are doing is a true gift!!:)

    • Aw Mel, you’ve just made my week. Your comment couldn’t have come at a better time. I’m absolutely touched that you feel that way about my blog. Thanks for making me smile ear to ear :)

  21. I meant it one hundred percent!! You are so doing what you are meant to do!! You have found your calling girl!!:)

  22. I’ve always had an aversion to food journaling, but I think I will give it a shot with your template. I think I psychologically don’t want to keep track of what I eat because I don’t want to have to face that maybe some of the foods I love and eat every day aren’t what’s best for me. I think I eat clean, so I would hate for a food journal to tell me that I’ve been living a dietary lie. But the template is incredibly cute, so why not.

    I read through your sample and your physical activity log for the day gave me a chuckle. I’m there today. I’m supposed to BodyRock tonight, but my legs and butt are super sore! I’ve been thinking lately that I’m not getting enough protein in my diet. I guess keeping a journal will finally allow me to track it. Thanks for the template!

    • Good for you for realizing that it may be a good step for you :) I’ll be doing a follow-up in a couple of weeks and would love to hear how it’s been going! Regarding the tired legs – my gosh, I’m happy I’m not alone on that one! They were just too tired. No sense pushing myself and falling into a wall.

  23. Wow this is super cool, I personally have always wrote down what I ate ever since I lost 45lbs but I never thought to take note on how I feel after I ate. I would always wonder why some days im more hungry than others. Im a personal trainer and myself and very active so Im going to use your way I like that its like a dairy and a food journal in one! thanks so much for the pdf :D

  24. I keep track of what I eat online through livestrong.com. It’s so easy to use, has a HUGE database, and does all the calculations for you. :) Keep it up, though! It’s a great goal!

  25. It’s good to know that I’m not the only one whose body adores squash! My only problem–I’ve been eating whole winter squashes (like 28 g or so) in one sitting or throughout the day. I haven’t turned orange yet (haha), but I’m worried that, perhaps, a) I’m addicted, and b) I’m stretching my stomach to the point where I’m beginning to “need” more food to feel full, due to all the bulky squash. What do you think, Leanne?

    Great post!

    • I guess it depends how you function. That would be too many carbs for me in one sitting – I’d get very lethargic afterward, but it may work for you! As a general ‘rule’ you should always be having protein with your meals – maybe you do half the squash and a handful of walnuts or pecans in the inside? Ohh maybe you could roast the nuts in the squash? That might be good!

  26. I just started food journaling today…and realized what I ate today was 65% carb, 5% protein, and 30% fat (Ahhh!!!) (also, i’m mostly vegan). I really really need to up my protein. I think I’m going to start working in some fish and lean chicken. Is that the best way to go about doing things? I eat a lot of beans, broccoli and leafy greens, so I thought they covered the protein bases, but according to my calculations and thanks to your food journaling tips I actually find that they don’t really….I don’t feel comfortable with tempeh or seitan as I eat mostly gluten/soy-free. Should I work in some fish, or am I just calculating wrong about the veggies/beans? Thanks for any help!

    • Hi Kayla, good for you! This is awesome information :) If you’re open to eating chicken and fish, this is a great way to up the protein. Even if you had 1-2 animal sources of protein and 2-3 vegetable sources you’d be in great shape. I like reserving the veg sources for snacks and breakfast, like hummus, nut butters, hemp powder/seeds, then going for the animal proteins at lunch and dinner with lots of vegetables and oils! Have fun experimenting! :)

  27. Hope you see this…

    I just decided to start keeping a journal. I was wondering if you could clarify what the difference between a “veg” and a “veg protein” is? I know protein is in tons of vegetables, but I wasn’t sure how to distinguish which was which.

    Thank you!

    • Hi Crystal – a veg protein is something like chickpeas, lentils, hemp seeds, hemp protein powder… hope that helps!

  28. Hey Leanne,
    I have used a lot of different apps for food journaling but I’ve never been consequent as adding up calories doesn’t really appeal to meal and I lose interest after a while. I like your idea of writing down how you feel after a meal and I am so going to give this a go! Especially as I was diagnosed a meniscal tear yesterday and don’t know yet how long I’m off yoga, pilates & workouts in general and I really have to keep an eye on how much and what I eat and don’t end up eating because I’m bored sh…less.
    If anybody out there has a good idea how to keep occupied in such a situation apart from reading books or browsing the internet – let me know ;-)

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