Virginia Bola

Article Summary:

How to keep a food diary, an invaluable weight loss tool.

How to Keep a Food Diary

All the weight control experts recommend keeping a record of what you eat. Seeing your daily intake in black and white reality can boost your pride in your self-discipline, gently confront you with some less than stellar choices you've made, or cast you into a morass of guilt and depression when you face the epicurean debacle that your food intake represents.

A food diary can become so much more useful for your weight wars if you use it as a tool for self-exploration and self-discovery. It allows you to create an oasis of support that anchors you in a world tossed by competing priorities, overwork, incredible dietary temptations, and social pressures that all lead to frustration, inwardly directed anger, diminished self-esteem, and terminal fatigue.

Keeping a Food Diary

1. Buy a good spiral notebook with lots of pages and a hard cover - you're going to keep this for a long time so avoid anything that's going to easily fall apart.

2. Enter the date you started your journey: this is the baseline against which you will compare your entries for the next several months. Under the date, enter the following information as accurately as you can make it, as of this very moment:

  • Age
  • Height
  • Weight
  • Measurements
            - Waist
            - Bust
            - Hips
            - Thighs
            - Upper arms
  • Clothing size
  • Type of hairstyle
  • Any daily exercise obtained
  • Today's primary mood
  • Self- Appraisal (find 3 adjectives for each area)
            - General appearance
            - Size and shape
            - Personal characteristics
            - Interpersonal relationships
            - Self-value
            - Family or romantic relationships
            - Self-satisfaction
3. Each day, you are going to enter not only what you ate, but the thoughts and emotions that accompanied the food. Note: Don't become obsessive - it is more productive to keep this daily but if you run out of time and energy now and then, skip it, and get back to it when you can.

4. It is going to take some thought and memory-searching to ferret out what you need so find yourself a quiet spot where you can be alone and quiet. Keep your book there, close at hand, so you can quickly visit when you want to record anything that occurs to you.

5. Start teaching yourself to identify the inner landscape that accompanies your food intake. Focus on the moments before you ate: How did you feel at the time? Were you (genuinely) hungry - create a 1 to 10 rating scale for yourself, ranging from "not really" up to "starved, faint, light-headed." Were you bored? Were you anxious and trying to calm yourself down? Were you angry and stuffing that anger down your own throat? Were you feeling sorry for yourself? Were you with good friends and just wanted to be part of the group? Were you just not thinking? Were you trying to punish yourself -- or someone else?

You may find that you ate several times a day for the same reason or that the triggers to eat differed throughout the day depending upon the circumstances and people involved at the time.

6. Once you have jotted down everything related to the minutes before you ate (you may start out with very little to say but as you warm to this exercise, you will find yourself recording more and more information), consider how you felt directly afterwards. Did you feel satiated and serene? Did you feel proud of your food choices? Were you satisfied with all your selections? Did you feel stuffed and uncomfortable? Did you feel guilty about the choices you made? Were you angry with yourself for giving in to temptation and blowing your diet for the day? Did the food make you light and energetic or heavy and sleepy? Did you think about tomorrow morning's weigh-in with dread or anticipation?

7. Take a look at the day from the perspective of now (last thing in the evening or a look back the following morning). Try to look at your entries as if they belonged to someone else. As a dispassionate third party, what are your conclusions about the individual who recorded this data? Is this a self-aware, consciously motivated person or someone who lives on auto-pilot with little planning or direction? Is this someone who has internalized their diet goals and attempts to control their environment and intake? Is this an individual who merely "talks the talk" but pursues actions that break those verbal rules? Is this a happy person who is cheerfully continuing the weight struggle with a sense of humor and self-forgiveness? Or is this someone who resents the conspiracies of nature which attempt to load on as much fat as possible, to ward off some improbable future famine?

8. If you are generally satisfied with the day's food intake, give yourself a mental pat on the back and relish the day's accomplishment. Promise yourself that one great day proves forever that you can do it. Identify a small, non-edible, reward for your self-discipline, inner strength, and personal commitment. Record your conclusions and bask in the self-satisfaction you so richly deserve.

9. If you feel disappointed in what you read, remind yourself that it is only one day in a lifetime of thousands of days. Forgive yourself and start over. Think about one or two changes you can make so the following day's record will not be quite so disappointing. Guard against swearing that today will be perfect: you are not going to get there overnight but you will get there, over time, slowly, one step at a time. You are learning to take baby steps that will nudge your food intake into closer alignment with your goals. You are going to gradually add techniques to your arsenal of weapons to keep temptation at bay. The simple fact of intake awareness will keep slowly propelling you towards the goals you have so carefully set.

10. At the end of your entry, enter your weight for the day -- it will always fluctuate a little bit but will show you how you are doing when viewed over a period of time.

Virginia Bola, PsyD is a licensed clinical psychologist who operated a vocational rehabilitation firm for more than 20 years. She studies the emotional effects of unemployment, aging, overweight, and social issues on the individual.  Her first book, The Wolf at the Door: An Unemployment Survival Manual addressed the emotional aspects of unemployment, provided psychological support for the rigors of the job search, and incorporated proven techniques for obtaining successful work. Her new (2005) book, Diet With An Attitude: A Weight Loss Workbook, approaches weight control through psychological strategies to permanently modify the body-food relationship. Visit her sites at DietWithAnAttitude.com and UnemploymentBlues.com.

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