Journal Your Journey: Five Ways to Track for Better Health

Just mention journaling/tracking and it gets quite a reaction.

 

What a pain in the a$$!

I hate it.  Who has time for that?

What’s the point?  I don’t add the “bad stuff” to my journal anyway!

 

When I was doing Weight Watchers and LA Weight Loss I hated…wait no, that’s not a strong enough word…I ABHORRED journaling.  I felt so restricted.  The foods I wanted to eat never fit into the little boxes.  Even when I ate to fill the little boxes I didn’t feel satisfied.  If I ate food that didn’t fit into a little check box I felt horribly guilty…as if I was bad and was failing.  The whole approach to journaling in this manner did not work for me.

I then began my own journey in 2010 and decided I needed to journal what I ate.  All the “experts” said that statistics show when you journal you lose more weight.  So even though I wasn’t a fan of journaling, I TRIED it…again.  I used good ole’ pen and paper and wrote what I ate along with the calorie count as close as I could manage.

I was eating from 1700-1900 calories each day and I figured that was enough of a deficit to lose weight.  At that time, I had no idea what I should be eating calorie-wise, nor did I know much about what I should eat more of in terms of macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fats).  What I did was base my total calories each day on the generally accepted 2000 calorie per day standard (and then ate less calories per day than that so I had a deficit) and made a point to eat MORE veggies and LESS junk.

As I learned more about what to eat I didn’t spend as much time journaling…I just ate.  I had some periods where I used MyFitnessPal or LoseIt, and then shared my journal with friends for accountability.  This never worked for me very well.  First, I tend not to be completely honest when I know others will be reviewing.  I could never show my imperfect eating…it felt like a failure.  Second, I simply don’t do well with that overseer type accountability.  It adds pressure and then that begins to work against me.  I’m an under-the-radar do-er…once I decide something I do it and I prefer to do it without an audience.

While I was writing down the food I ate (most of it!) and all the calorie counts, it was helping me see what I was eating, but I was missing something.  That something was connections between what I ate and how I felt.  I did finally make some connections over time from the food I ingested to mood, sleep, cravings, energy, and hunger.  However, these insights didn’t come about easily and they took a long time.

In hindsight, I wish I had journaled and recorded in a different method with a different purpose.   I could have learned a lot…and much quicker, too!

So…journaling!  There are lots of different ways to journal as well as different elements to include.  Just as I say about most anything, you need to find and decide WWFY!  This will mean some trial-and-error…and that isn’t a bad thing!  It’s how you learn and  how you happen upon the things that work best for you.

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What you are trying to discover about yourself and your patterns,  will determine the journaling approach that will be best for you.

Here are some journaling ideas to try on:

1.Calories and food eaten by portion

  • This is simple calorie counting.  Do this via pen/paper or hop onto an online tool like MyFitnessPal.  Record the food/drink, the serving size, and the calories (if you need to calculate on your own).
  • Benefits:
    • It gives you an at-a-glance idea of the foods/drinks you are ingesting.  You can quickly see what you eat a lot of versus not enough of (e.g. grain heavy and protein light).
    • You see your total calories and can understand your typical intake.  The accepted American standard is 2000 calories daily.  Are you coming in much higher than that?  Are you coming in much lower than that?
    • You begin to learn portion sizes.
  • Drawbacks:
    • There isn’t any correlation to other areas of your health.  You don’t learn how your food choices are affecting you.  e.g. Does avocado give you a stomach ache?
  • When, specifically, this might be helpful:
    • At the very beginning of your health changes when you truly have no idea what you’ve been eating or the portions.  Use this approach short-term to simply learn your patterns and portion sizes.

 

2. Food eaten + movement AND how your sleep, hunger, mood, energy, cravings are effected

  • This approach will help you cue into WWFY.  You journal what you eat and at what time of day (but not calories or portions), your movement, AND how you feel as the day goes.  e.g. Breakfast:  oatmeal with raisins, flaxseed, and maple syrup.  Hungry again by 10:30 am.  Small snack of almonds.  Lunch at noon of turkey breast and shredded cheese on mixed greens.  Felt really tired at 2 pm.  Ravenous at 4 pm.  Ate carrots to sustain until dinner at 6 pm.
  • Benefits:
    • You begin to make correlations from the fuel you consume to how it then affects how you feel.  This is important because you learn if there are certain foods that cause you distress.  In addition, you learn what food/food combos leave you feeling fuller longer or what brings on cravings.  You begin to learn how your appetite fluctuates with movement or lack of.  You learn what foods to add into your daily intake to up your satisfaction.
  • Drawbacks:
    • It feels very foreign at first to not calorie track.  It can feel scary and daunting to not monitor calories and you may fear overeating.
    • This one takes a lot of trust in yourself early on in the process.  You have to simply DO this for awhile in order for your unique patterns to come to light…some patience and faith is required.
  • When, specifically, this might be helpful:
    • Anytime really, but it is a great transition from calorie counting and will lead you into that elusive, yet empowering, area of discovering WWFY.
    • When you are in the mindset of making your approach to health YOUR OWN…when you’ve decided you don’t care to follow meal plans and a rigid 21 or 30 day program that simply lays out exactly what to do for every single person that buys it.

 

3.  Feelings/mood

  • You journal once or multiple times a day to work through strong feelings and moods.  Simply write as if this was your diary.  It can be prolific or you can jot notes/shorthand that make sense to you.  Be very honest!  No one will see this but you, so be frank with yourself about exactly what you are feeling and thinking.
  • Benefits:
    • This approach is very exploratory and reflective and can help you make connections to WHY you are feeling certain things or to situations/people that trigger moods and feelings (good and bad!).
    • Downloading thoughts to paper can be an offloading/coping mechanism for you.  Did you ever get pissed off at work and write an email response that you have no intention to send, but you simply needed to vent?  This practice can be the same…a way to vent frustrations and learn what is at the heart of the emotion.
  • Drawbacks:
    • Again, this can feel a bit daunting to start examining feelings.  It’s scary to inspect your own emotions.
    • Where and when can be tricky.  Not always are you able to explore and reflect right in the moment…hello!  We’ve got kids and jobs that don’t simply pause while we try to cope, right?!   Circling back around at some point later can be difficult.  Once the emotion has passed we feel less urgency to reflect on it.
  • When, specifically, this might be helpful:
    • You’ve made some connections about when you eat and know you’ve got some emotional eating triggers.  Journaling when you have these emotional triggers could help you avoid reaching for food and ultimately help you manage and cope through the emotion instead.

4.  Gratitude

  • Write daily any number of things you are grateful for in your life.
  • Benefits:
    • It connects you to the here and now and reminds you what is good right this moment.  It is so easy to look around and compare and feel as if you are lacking.  Or it’s easy to always worry about the future and what is to come.
    • It breeds a feeling of joy and happiness..it’s a reminder that things really aren’t that bad.
  • Drawback:
    • Hmmm…I’m not finding any with this one!  The tradeoff of the few minutes of time it takes to reflect on the blessings of life is worth it.
  • When, specifically, this might be helpful:
    • When you are feeling a bit defeated or when you find yourself dwelling on the struggles of daily life.

 

5.  Confidence/accomplishment/worthiness

  • Record daily improvements and accomplishments from any area of your life .  Write out “I am” statements to begin to instill a sense of confidence and belief in self.
  • Benefits:
    • This is concrete proof to yourself that you ARE making progress and improving.
    • The practice of searching for the positive things you are doing begins to rewire your frame of reference so you aren’t always putting yourself down.
    • You are building a great affirmation tool for yourself.  When the negative talk kicks in, page/scroll through all the positives and accomplishments to remind yourself of your capabilities.
  • Drawback:
    • Just like #4, I’m having a hard time finding some downside to this.  Yes, it will take you a few minutes in an already busy day, but the payoff is so much greater than the effort required.
  • When, specifically, this might be helpful:
    • Anytime!  But particularly when you know your mindset is the piece that requires unlocking.  Learning to be positive about yourself will always be of benefit to you!

 

Is it better to focus on only a single method of journaling or mix-and-match?

Well, again, you really need to decide what makes sense in your life RIGHT NOW.

 

For example,  I have kind of evolved with my journaling practices as I’ve changed.  I began with calorie counting and portioning, then I dabbled ever so slightly in making

My new journal...love my old school paper and pen!

My new journal…love my old school paper and pen!

connections to how eating certain things in certain amounts made me feel.  I want to get better at this, but currently I’m putting more emphasis on my mindset.  Which means…for me…at this point in my life…where 2016 is the year to “get out of my own way”…that I am focusing heavily on #5 and cultivating confidence and worthiness.

 

 

 

As with any practice of change and improvement, effects don’t show themselves in just a handful of days.  Give the journaling method you try a fair shake and work at it for 3-4 weeks and really assess the impact after that time.  You may decide to chuck the practice…if that is the case so be it, no apologies.  But you may also find a lot of breakthroughs occur when you begin paying attention to yourself and focus within versus on all the noise around you!

 

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Did you find this helpful?  Do you think you will try journaling?  Leave me a comment here or back on my FB page and let me know!  Let’s get a discussion going!

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