Facing the Music with a Food Journal

The other day I was driving to see a client, sipping on some coffee and listening to a podcast, and I drove right past my exit on the expressway and way overshot my destination. I was late 5 minutes (embarrassing) and shocked at how frequently I must be operating on "autopilot" (scary).

The truth is, a lot of the tasks I accomplish in a day are done on "autopilot": cooking, checking & deleting emails, driving, tidying up, colouring the same freaking Disney Princess colouring book... not by myself, of course. I'm also in the same automatic, mindless mode when it comes to eating much of the time. Not when I'm preparing and eating a meal that I've planned and enjoy - that is an experience, as I think we can mostly agree. Good meals are memorable, fun to share and satisfying in physical and emotional ways.

Can you say the same about that desperate 5 minutes with the fridge door open after work, when you haven't eaten for hours and you can't wait long enough to select and prepare something meaningful and satisfying? What about the drive-through cheeseburger? Or that pastry you gobble down every morning with your coffee?

One of the first things I recommend to a new client is that they keep a food journal. Whether your goal is to lose weight, gain weight or just maintain a healthy, happy weight that you've naturally settled at, being aware of your regular food choices (i.e., the choices we make on "autopilot") is a very smart and effective first step.

On my second week reviewing the Healthy Weight Action Plan program, I was asked to examine a week of my own food journal (Your journal can be recorded on paper or electronically on the HWAP site - paper for me; sorry, Greenpeace.) and evaluate my eating habits. I have to admit, I was a tiny bit skeptical about the type of advice I would be given. Would it be that old-school, low-fat, high-carbohydrate, 80s aerobics, Richard Simmons, leotard-wearing sort of plan?

No. Actually, it isn't.

I was able to express my preference for a higher-protein or higher-carbohydrate diet right from the outset. I was even given 5 sample meal plans to choose from, built on a certain number of servings from the major food groups: protein, dairy, grain, veg & fruit, and added fat, all with different ratios of protein to carbohydrate and different total calorie counts. My personal weight goal and daily activity level were taken into account and I was able to steer the boat. I decided what my meal plan would look like and how dramatically or undramatically I would alter my current habits.

This is not your typical online eating plan. Take it from someone who's checked out an online eating plan or two in her lifetime.

So here are a couple of things I learned after examining my own eating last week:

  • I don't eat enough fruit. I used to eat tons of fruit and mostly prefer vegetables, so I've fallen out of the habit of including fruits daily. Yummy! This is an easy problem to remedy. This weekend I'm stocking up on delicious melon and berries for home, plus the old stand-by, apples, to toss into my bag when I head out in the morning.
  • I eat on the run too often and miss meals. I leave early in the morning, before I've even had a chance to form an appetite for breakfast. I often miss breakfast altogether and then eat quickly in between clients and Belly Bootcamp classes, or even not until 2 or 3 p.m. when I'm done my work day and home with my little ones. If I have to eat out the house, which is the case most weekday mornings, I can bring my pre-peeled hard boiled eggs, the aforementioned fruit and some nuts or seeds for a healthy, protein-rich breakfast.
  • I drink too much coffee. If you know me, you already knew this was true and I didn't need fancy software from the Heart & Stroke Foundation to tell me this. I haven't quite decided what I am going to do about this. I will say that I have a cup of tea steeping in the kitchen as I write this - a conscious effort to vary my substance choice and decrease my caffeine intake.

I'll keep you posted.

If you haven't signed up yet, get started on the Healthy Weight Action Plan now and face your own music. It's simple, free and way more customizable and individualized than you might expect. What are you waiting for? You can't improve without knowing where your starting point lies.