Saturday, October 20, 2007

Food journal: what you think you eat vs. what you really eat

Often, people say, "I eat so little but I'm still gaining weight! It seems I made every change you can think of - I have no idea what I could possibly cut off from my diet!"
Sounds familiar?

Not always, but often, the problem is that what we think we eat is very far from what we actually eat. We tend to forget snacks, calorie-rich drinks, little bits we taste when we cook and leftovers we finish after other family members.

That's why I'm a big fan of food journals. For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, the principle is simple: you carry a pen and notebook with you and write down everything you eat and drink, and how much of it you had. You should try, of course, not to change your eating habits, or you won't get an accurate picture. I understand it's annoying, but it's a truly wonderful way to show you what you really eat. To demonstrate it to you, I kept a food journal for one day, and then tried to write down from memory what I ate. When I compared the two lists, the difference was striking! So, here it goes…

What Anna thought she ate

Breakfast:
1 slice of bread with cream cheese
Cup of coffee with whole milk and sugar
A cookie
Yogurt (whole milk)

Snack:
1 Apple

Lunch:
Tomato soup
1 slice of bread
2 potatoes with cheese

Snack:
Yogurt

Dinner:
Salad
Toast with cheese

Before bedtime:
A glass of buttermilk

Doesn't sound like too much, right? But now let's open the food journal and see what Anna really ate…

What Anna really ate

Breakfast:
1 slice of bread with cream cheese
Cup of coffee with whole milk and sugar
A cookie
Yogurt (whole milk)

Snack:
1 Apple

* 5 peanuts I sneaked when I opened the refrigerator

Lunch:
Tomato soup
1 slice of bread
2 potatoes with cheese

* A slice of cheese I ate when I prepared the potatoes

Snack:
Yogurt

* A cookie I forgot about

Dinner:
Salad
Toast with cheese

Before bedtime:
A glass of buttermilk

So, as you can see, I managed to forget about foods I ate even after I wrote them down in the food journal. The typical forgotten foods are small, don't belong to a real meal when you sit down to eat, and often are calorie-dense. A handful of peanuts, a slice of cheese and a cookie aren't something you can ignore! At least I can be sure about drinks between meals, because we don't even have any soft drinks at home, only water.

Of course, ideally the food journal should be kept for a week, or at least include a couple of days during the week and the weekend, because on weekends, our eating patterns often change.

Anyway, if you haven't done it yet, give it a shot! You might be surprised at the results.

20 comments:

Rebekah S. said...

Great post! That's a great tip! I should do that-it definitely helps to insure that we eat in a healthier manner.

USAincognito said...

My diet is: See food, eat food!! ;) lol.
I love food and no matter what I eat or how much I eat I do not gain a pound. Not sure which side of the family I can thank for that gene, but I am thankful for it, nonetheless! :)
Of course, doctors keep telling me I need to gain more weight anyway. So, maybe one day my "see food, eat food" diet will actually do me some good! ;)

Kelly said...

Great advice!!!!

Mimi said...

good advice in order to help us to eat a little more healthy...
and you are right it is the little forgotten bites that are the killers, because they are usually the bites that are unhealthy...

Jenn V said...

Anna,

I love this post! Those little sneaks add up, especially as we age. I don't know if it's OK with you to mention a website in a comment so feel free to delete me if that's the case, but I use Fitday (free) to keep track of what I eat daily. It also tells me if I've met my daily nutrition requirements, burned more calories than I have taken in, and has about a half dozen other reports. Of course, with your background in nutrition, you might already be aware of this one.

Jenn V

Mary said...

I have kept a food journal in the past and it is surprising how much goes into our mouths that we forget about. Thanks for reminding me to start my food journal once again. I need to lose a few pounds.

Thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting on my elder abuse post. You're welcome anytime.

Mary

Mrs.B said...

Excellent post! I need to do this because I know I eat more than I think I do. (o;

Mandy said...

Great tips and reminder! I've kept a food journal before, but somehow I end up forgetting to write everyday. :) The snacks definitely add up and keeping a journal makes me realize just how often and how much I do snack.

Chelsey said...

Wonderful reminder!! I had to do this a few weeks ago for my midwife. My sugar levels came back a little high and so she wanted me to keep an 8 day food diary. It was amazing the difference I saw in what I "thought" I was eating vs what I was actually eating. It really helped me put things in to perspective and I find having to write things down (especially when someone else is going to see it) helps hold me accountable.

BTW, I've started a series on Healthy LIving on a second blog - feel free to check it out. (I know you are vegetarian, but I think most of it still goes along your lines of eating/living). http://biblicalhealthyliving.blogspot.com/

Again - great post! :)

Laura said...

Right now I'm trying Slim-Fast. I was curious what your opinion of it was. I'm going to try it for 6 days. I'm doing this to maintain my weight and eat healthier. I'm starting a new job and want to look my best. Today I will drink 2 slim fast cans and ate my 1 meal at Ruby Tuesday's. I had the broccoli and cheese soup w/ texas toast and 1 trip to the salad bar (carrots, cucumbers, spinach, tomatoes, cold lima beans/peas, sunflower seeds, etc.. and probably 2 tbs of avocado ranch dressing)

Jordin said...

Thank you! A food journal is a great idea. Sometimes, if I'm making something that requires a lot of tasting throughout cooking (like soups), my appetite diminishes before I'm finished cooking--and I wonder why I'm absolutely stuffed by the end of the meal! ;)

Terry said...

Great post. You're right. I probably eat way more than I realize now that I think about it. I need to keep a food journal. Thanks for the tip

Karen said...

*Glares at USAincognito with jealousy*

I've done this once or twice. It takes up too much time, and I don't know that it really helped me because, I really DON'T eat that much. I just don't exercise enough I guess. I've been trying to be better about that lately though. Even vigourous cleaning burns calories.

Serena said...

What a great post!

Brenda said...

It's too scary--I can't!

OK, I will try. Goodness knows I need to.

Candy said...

Wow, you eat really well...healthy portions.
I am just learning to eat like that! I joined a weight loss clinic (L A Weight Loss) to learn just how to eat like you just described (minus the sneaking a cookie or piece of cheese here and there without writing it in my food journal :)
My food journal helps me alot. Actually I have to do it because I have one on one counselling with my weight loss representatives 3 x per week and they check my food journal. They keep a close eye on me and help me reach my goals..
So far so good though, since I started 3 weeks ago, I lost 2 pounds per week!
I would love more posts on your daily food intake in the future. Its neat to read and gives me ideas of what I could have. I think thats the biggest challenge for me...thinking of small simple menu ideas. Im used to cooking large meals, cooking without THINKING...etc.
Anyways....interesting post Anna. I enjoyed it :)

Candy :)

Anna S said...

To Laura:

"Right now I'm trying Slim-Fast. I was curious what your opinion of it was."

- This is just my opinion, and you can take it or leave it of course - but I, personally, dislike and mistrust - and would never try, or let my children try - all sorts of fad diets, pills, and other methods of fast weight loss. Why? Because they might be effective in the short term, but don't help maintain a stable weight in the long run. Not to mention the possible health risks of tampering with your metabolism. The only trustworthy way to lose weight, keep it off and remain healthy is an overall change in eating habits and exercise.

Karen said...

My problem is, even when I do write down EVERYTHING I eat, and only eat a certain set amount of calories (usually quite low) I don't lose weight. Oh I do at first. Maybe as much as 5 pounds, but then, nothing! Nothing and nothing. I even started walking every day, and still lost nothing. I've lost a lot of weight in the past using diet and exercise, but as I tell my husband, I just can't stay motivated when I go weeks and weeks of suffering with that chronic empty feeling and seeing NO results. I even sometimes Gain while dieting! And when people try to comfort me by saying oh you're probably just gaining muscle, I just want to scream, at my weight I can't afford to gain ANYTHING! I'm just flat out too heavy!

Buffy said...

I've done this before and it is always surprising! You can probably use this technique for other areas in your life, like how often you criticise someone or how much time you spend watching TV.

Rebekah S. said...

Great idea, Buffy! I had never thought of that before!