What to record each day:
- The time you get out of bed in the morning
- The time you eat
- The foods you eat
- Portion sizes of each food item
- How you felt each time you ate
- What time you go to bed
I would recommend keeping your food journal for a solid two weeks before reviewing it. Even with special events planned this should catch a good view of your typical eating habits, including weekends, giving you a real snapshot of the true state of your eating. You might be surprised at what you see. Of course you could also get creative and take pictures of what you eat.
Okay, so why record the time you get up in the morning and the time you go to bed at night? This tells you a couple of things. The first is how many hours of sleep you are getting at night. We're learning more and more about sleep deprivation and obesity. So if you're not getting your ZZZZs for about 8 hours a night, that's one adjustment to make! The other thing it tells you is how close your eating is to waking and going to bed. A sound goal to shoot for in the mornings is to break your fast and eat within an hour of getting up. So, if you're waking at 6am and not eating until 10am, that's not ideal. (Don't even get me started on not wanting breakfast, just eat it!) The opposite may be true of evening eating. A good rule of thumb is to do most of your eating during daylight hours. If you need a snack before bed, choose a lean source of protein that your body can use efficiently while you sleep. So if you realize you're noshing on carbs right before bed, you'll know to make some different choices.
Recording the times you eat can tell you if you are waiting too long between eating occasions or if you have time periods of eating too frequently. In general, you will want to eat about every 3 hours, no more than 4. Eating reasonable portions of lean protein combined with quality carbs and/or healthy fats this frequently will help keep your energy levels up and keep you satisfied. It can also show you if you're neglecting your eating during the day and eating too much at night because you're famished. Some people cannot imagine eating that often, but remember that it doesn't have to be an elaborate meal, it can be tuna out of a packet with an apple.
Portion sizes are tricky and you may have to guess, but be as descriptive as you can. As you identify appropriate portion sizes, you can compare your journal entries to them to know when you're eating too little and when you're eating too much, and the foods that give you a problem with this.
How you feel when you eat is important in terms of the psychology behind it all. Was it a social occasion? Did you feel pressure to eat? Were you angry, lonely, sad, happy, tired? How did you feel afterwards? This will help you identify what sabotages you now. By removing some obstacles that consistently derail you, you can eat well enough to plan a cheat meal, eat some ice cream and actually enjoy it!
Give a food journal a try. It should be a helpful tool that shows your opportunities for improvement. Once you know them, take action! Productive use of a real-time food journal over a period of time should lead to proactive meal planning, which is even more effective for mastering your eating habits.