Food Journaling

Food JournalDisclaimer: I’m not a registered dietitian. I won’t provide meal plans for you. The following advice isn’t revolutionary, but is sensible.

How to Lose Weight

If you want to lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories than you burn, but not so few that you are hungry, tired, or obsessively fantasizing about food throughout the day (Admittedly, this is a simplified explanation, but a useful shorthand).

Many name brand programs make you eat less by giving you set menus, eliminating entire food groups, or offering meal replacements like shakes. They work because you eat fewer calories.

These programs, however, are rarely long term solutions. Oh, and they are called diets, so don’t be fooled by language pretending otherwise. Diets don’t work long term for most people. And, if you aren’t aiming long term, what is the point?

According to studies of sustained weight loss, no one diet emerges as the weight loss winner, but one type of dieting does — tracking every thing you eat.

You have probably tried this before. It can be annoying. Unfortunately, it is effective IF you are completely honest about what is going into your mouth. Most people aren’t. This blindspot is normal.

No Thanks. I’ve Already Tried Food Tracking

If food tracking helped you lose weight in the past but didn’t keep the weight off, you might have been so focused on losing the weight you forgot to eat a diet you can sustain forever; or, you had unrealistic expectations about how much you could or should lose; or, you relied on brute willpower and deprivation to reach your goals, two things that WILL NOT WORK IN THE LONG RUN.

Better to lose less weight with food choices you can sustain than more weight with an overly restrictive menu.

Indeed, many experts believe the longer you stay at a certain weight, the more your body adjusts to it, making it harder to keep large amounts of weight off. This doesn’t mean weight loss is impossible, but it does mean adjusting expectations. Remember, healthy is as healthy does.

Balancing Hormones?

Many weight loss gurus talk about eating to balance your hormones. If you can’t lose weight, could your hormones be the culprit, and will a specific diet “balance” them?

Be careful not to pinpoint your hormones or your big bones, unless your doctor has identified a specific hormonal problem or has declared you a big boned giant (if undiagnosed giantism is the culprit, consider a monetizing strategy).

Of course hormones play a huge role in weight loss and gain, but most popular diet programs drastically oversimplify the science. Sure, some women naturally have faster resting metabolic rates and some women have slower ones. Additionally, our hormones can be out of whack, especially if we are sleep deprived, chronically stressed, or the victim of extreme diet hopping.

However, don’t let an online guru or book you ordered off Amazon dictate your supposed hormonal problems and the supposed diet fix.

Instead, get some sleep (much easier said than done if you have small children), exercise, find some sunlight every day, eat a reasonable range of food, address causes of chronic stress, and then let an endocrinologist diagnose an underlying disorder if you still suspect a problem.

Nutrition Science is Not Simple

Nutrition science is not simple. But advice on a healthy lifestyle IS pretty simple, although DIFFICULT to enact. I love my chocolate as much as the next woman, actually more, so I get it. (I’m also an emotional eater. I’ve included some optional exercises for anyone struggling with that roadblock to healthier eating).

You’ve heard the good advice before: Eat varied food that isn’t junk. Sleep. Exercise. And learn how to manage stress. As I said, simple to state, difficult to live.

Not Everyone Needs to Lose Weight

I am not suggesting everyone needs to lose weight, or that we should all strive for an unrealistic “ideal weight.” Ideal weights are dumb. A crazy low body fat percentage IS NOT THE GOAL of food journaling. The goal is intellectual honesty with yourself and no one else. You are the only one living in your body (barring pregnancy or a medical mystery).

Instead of focusing on a specific number, we should focus on food habits. This includes being honest with ourselves about what and how much we are eating.

Caloric Quality

Even if you don’t need to lose weight, food journaling provides insight into caloric quality. You can lose weight eating anything, but you can’t maintain health eating anything. Additionally, certain food choices make satiety easier to attain on fewer calories.

I don’t want to lose weight, but like everyone else, I don’t always make the best caloric choices. Food journaling is my way to occasionally audit my choices.

I still eat my peanut m&ms, only now I know the sharing size bag I don’t actually share costs me 480 nutritionally void calories. Every once in a while I eat them because I like them, and I refuse to feel guilty about that, BUT I also refuse to pretend they are imaginary calories.

(Sidenote: A “helpful” person once assured me I could get rid of my little tummy pooch by lowering my body fat. I had already lost all my extra baby weight, and I’m not a large person. Therefore, this advice was maddening. I have extra skin that no dieting will remove. But, more importantly, I don’t want to chronically slash my calories just to make my stomach a little flatter. I like food. I like dessert. Could I have a flatter stomach if I had less body fat? Probably. Do I need to obsess about it? NO. Food Auditing helps me look at my food choices, not achieve a fitness model’s body).

How to Food Journal

I recommend a food journal for the length of the program, but food journaling is not synonymous with calorie counting.

Count your calories the rest of Week 1, then in Week 3 and Week 5. Other than those weeks, the food journal can simply be a literal list of what you ate. You don’t need to journal every day. Some experts suggest keeping a food journal approximately 3 days/week (two weekdays and one weekend day). Or, you can even ease off the food journal completely if you have internalized your own acceptable food choices.

I know some women HATE food journaling. If you are one of those women, I suggest giving it a try anyway. You don’t have to do it forever (because THAT would be tedious); it is simply a useful “audit.” At the very least, try it during Week 1, Week 3, and Week 5.

Calorie Counting

Counting calories can precipitate weight loss—as long as you are brutally honest. After being brutally honest, add 300-600 calories to your count because you probably weren’t as brutally honest as you thought you were. Even registered dietitians consistently underreport their caloric intake.

Conversely, if you under-eat as a way to control your weight, you need to be honest with yourself about the number of calories you need to maintain a healthy weight and energy level. It may be more than you are “allowing.” No one likes a hangry mommy, and your body doesn’t want to be in starvation mode.

Counting calories lets you notice if some meals leave you feeling hungry, while other meals provide more satiety. As a general rule, whole foods, simple foods, non-overly processed foods will be filling without making you feel deprived. I’m sure that isn’t news to you.

Let me be clear, the goal of calorie counting is not to force your body into losing weight it doesn’t want to lose. It is not to make you feel guilty if you go over the allotted calorie count. This is why I draw a distinction between food journaling and calorie counting. Calorie counting is a form of food journaling, but so is a simple notebook in which you write down your meals without dissecting every calorie.

Personally, I counted my calories for the first couple weeks of the program. After that, I wrote down what I ate without counting. The food journal should provide you information about your diet, show you nutritional holes, or reveal overly processed meals. It is not meant to hound you or force anything. Therefore, if the food journal starts to feel like a chore after the first few weeks, feel free to simplify it, or to even stop using it, as long as you promise not to go on a fad diet instead.

The Steps

Step 1:

Go here and plugin your info to estimate how many calories you need to maintain, lose, or gain weight. This isn’t an exact science. Some people gain or lose weight more easily than others. Some people have slower metabolisms for a variety of reasons. Nonetheless, this is a good general gauge.

Step 2:

Buy a small notebook or sign up with a food journaling website and/or app. I like My Fitness Pal because their database is huge, but any you like will do. If you use a notebook, use Calorie King or a comparable site to manually add up your calories in Week 1, Week 3, and Week 5 of the Program.

If you have a fraught relationship with calories (a.k.a you obsess), I recommend the notebook method. It is more work, but you can add up the calories at the end of the day, rather than track as you go along. This way you won’t be tempted to “save up” calories and deprive yourself earlier in the day.

The goal of tracking calories is not immediate weight loss. The goal is transparency and good enough food choices. A food journal isn’t meant to incite a perfect diet. It’s meant to record a real one and make minor adjustments along the way.

CAUTION: Don’t weigh yourself more than once or twice a week. Most short term fluctuations are the result of fluid, not fat, so give yourself a break and hide the scale until you need it.

But don’t banish the scale altogether unless you know it is a trigger for personal disordered eating. The National Weight Control Registry shows that successful weight losers step on the scale at least once a week.

Personally, I don’t. The number means little to me, but 75% of successful weight losers do. However, if small fluctuations in your weight upset you, I recommend hiding the scale. A couple times a year you should weigh yourself or let your doctor weigh you. Other than that, focus on adopting healthy and sustainable habits. If you do this, your weight will settle where it needs to be.

Step 3:

Record what you eat. See if you are eating more or less than what is needed to maintain your weight. If you need to lose weight, it should be less. Then, glance at your food choices. Are you eating too many processed foods? Are you satiated at the end of a meal? Are you eating fruits and/or veggies with most meals?

That’s it.

Lighten Up

99% of healthy eating is consuming more fruits and vegetables, adequate protein, and fewer processed foods. Otherwise, lighten up and enjoy food. Eat meat or not. Eat grains or not. Eat pizza or not. Eat bananas or not. I don’t care.

The Motherfigure Program is not a diet. What you put into your body for any number of reasons is up to you. The good news is you can lose weight, maintain weight, or gain weight eating all sorts of foods.

Note: If you would like more specific information, look under “On Nutrition” on my resources page.

If you feel compelled to find the perfect human diet, you will drive yourself crazy, as well as everyone else who has to eat near you.

Humans can thrive on a range of food choices. If a popular book, program, or documentary vilifies one food group as the cause for all your woes, you can be sure they are going where the science hasn’t.

Plus, what is with the weird compulsion to find THE ANSWER? Food is meant to nourish, to connect, to provide enjoyment and health. The last part — provide health — has been the subject of a book culture obsession. But this obsession misleads and paralyzes. Trying to perfect your diet is as foolhardy as trying to perfect your body.

Improve = good; Perfect = impossible

Go back to Week 1

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