10 Day Habit Refresh
Day Seven: Food Journal
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Three questions we’ll answer about each habit in this series
In this series I will answer three questions about each of the habits:
What benefit does this habit bring a post-op patient?
How might the lack of this habit effect a post-op patient?
How can you best build up this habit in the post-op daily life?
What benefit does food journaling bring a post-op patient?
I mentioned on Day 6 when we talked about water that it can feel like a boring topic.
Let’s be honest though. We are about to talk about food journaling and then vitamins. If you’re feeling a yawn come on, I don’t blame you. But do stick with me!
Food journaling is typically a hard habit for patients. There are a strong and mighty group of post-ops that have been faithfully food journaling for days and days on end and I find them amazing! Members to my website (especially those who have done a focus challenge with me) know that I admit my own struggle with keeping up with a food journal.
Nonetheless, the power of the food journal is strong and multi-faceted.
Let’s talk about the two big reasons why a food journaling habit benefits a post-op patient.
Recording food intake yields more results
One Google search will show you that just about every research study ever done on food journaling has found those who keep a food record lose more weight than those who did not.
I have seen many studies come back with different amounts of how much more weight was lost. Some will even state the food journal group lost twice as much as the other. I have also read it is an average of 20% more weight that is lost with a food journal.
This, of course, makes sense to us when we think through it. It’s great accountability. It puts things on the front of mind, has you thinking about your food choices both before and afterward. You might skip something you don’t want to journal or open your eyes to something that surprises you and you don’t want to eat it again.
Patients often love to food journal when they are doing well and hate it any other time! I will touch on this emotional side of food journaling a bit today.
Keeping a food journal helps you learn faster
Next to research showing food journaling brings more results, the other huge benefit to having a food record is that you learn lessons more quickly.
Even more so when you take your food journal to a dietitian (members are welcome to email me for food journal feedback!)
As a dietitian, I am so much more helpful and efficient if a patient shows me their food journal for at least 3 days. In fact, most any dietitian would agree if you bring in a journal with at least 2 weekdays and 1 weekend, they would be able to give a ton of great feedback.
It helps us to really get some insight into you and your day. Why do you get hungry at that time? What makes this meal hard? What if you tried this instead? It’s a great use of appointment time if everything is ready to go, written out with detail instead of you trying to remember! Write food down for just three days before your next appointment!
And I’ve already mentioned this benefit but you have the opportunity to learn if a food was surprising if you’ve journaled it.
Let’s say you order a salad at Chipotle and realize adding cheese was 100 more calories but honestly you could have skipped it and not have missed it. Next time you’ll order it without cheese. Maybe that examples doesn’t work for you (if you really like cheese) but the point is you might learn some lessons that are low hanging fruit.
How might the lack of food journaling effect a post-op patient?
In some ways, I think you could say it wouldn’t be that noticeable if a post-op wasn’t journaling.
Comparing this to dehydration which is a habit that will have negative effects show up more quickly.
I would venture to guess there are more patients not keeping a journal everyday than the reverse. Many of them might be doing just fine. This might be why it doesn’t feel like the stakes are as high.
When food journaling would be most beneficial though? Getting back on track.
It’s such great accountability and a chance to learn. In fact, put a pin in that thought for our next section on the mental side of journaling.
Patients tell me all the time when they get back to food journaling they get back to their better habits more quickly. This might even be an argument for starting food journaling sooner than later so you have a foundation. When you get off course, haven’t been journaling, letting old habits slip in (guys it happens, even to me, we are human) having that foundation will be really helpful to course correct and get back on track.
The other great use of a food journal is to identify the source of any trouble, should you have some. Meaning if you’re having GI upset, bloating, blood sugar issues or any other physical trouble and you wonder if your diet has anything to do with it. A journal can help you look over the big picture and/or see a dietitian for more help.
A note on the mental side of food journaling
Having a rocky history with weight and weight loss means all these things are heavy laden with emotion.
One thing food journals can do, is start to pull up some of the emotions. These emotions have a wide range for everyone but they might include:
Feeling like your journal needs to be perfect
Spending too much time finding the exact portion size, exact brand of the exact ingredient
Only wanting to journal the good things and none of the “bad”
Only journaling the good days, not the “bad”
Negative feelings that you can keep a journal at all “I am terrible at journaling, I always have been”
My encouragement here is to approach a food journal as an investigator. Take a moment to take a deep breath, identify if you’re feeling anxious and remind yourself you are simply gathering information. This not a report card. I have never once given someone a grade, only praise for the hard work and ideas for the hard spots.
I personally would rather a patient do best guesses on portion sizes and ingredients and move on with their day than to stress it. In fact, when I look at a food journal I don’t look at any of the numbers. Not the portion size, not the grams of carbs, not the calories (I never look at calories). My eyes go to what the food was. Not how much. Quality over quantity.
And if you have put the label on yourself that you’re a terrible food journaler and you always have been, I encourage you to flip the script. Instead, you could say you haven’t found the method that works for you yet. May it also be an encouragement to you to keep trying.
How can you best build this habit in the post-op life?
The best recommendation I have about food journaling is to find the system that seems to work the best for you. Nothing will be perfect. I have tried a lot myself. Which method feels like the easiest to get started?
Broken record alert. Never give up!
I use Baritastic and many bariatric surgery patients do (in fact members can connect with me on Baritastic and I can pull reports on their journals!)
If you’ve tried Baritastic and it wasn’t working for you, keep looking.
Many swear by MyFitnessPal. No doubt it is a powerhouse of data.
But wait, there is more!
There are apps that allow you to take a picture of your meal to journal your food. Yes, that’s it! Whether it calculates your food perfectly or not I’m not sure that I would care too much because it still has the benefit of accountability and record keeping! If it works for you, do it! (The one I am familiar with is Bitesnap.)
Don’t forget pen and paper by the way.
In fact, I would argue pen and paper is the best way to go if food journaling does tend to make you over stress. If you just write down what you ate and you don’t worry about the amount, the calories, the macros and if you have the exact right item from the ingredient database it can take a lot of those emotions down.
The last Focus Challenge my own goal was a paper journal. I bought a small journal and kept it next to my knife block. I jotted down my meals and water. It was refreshingly simple compared to using my phone for the millionth time that day.
Paper journals may not allow you to learn lessons (like the cheese on a Chipotle salad example) but it still allows you to notice your food, how you feel, track your water and overall have awareness in your eating.
This is a great goal for the Focus Challenge! For more on the challenge click here. The dates were announced yesterday and our theme will be announced in just a few short days!
Ready for day 8?? You’re not too late! ;)