Knowing where you are is imperative to getting where you want to be.
Think about it. If you are driving somewhere, you have to know where you are starting from in order to figure out your best route. Have you ever had someone call you and ask for directions, and when you ask them where THEY are, they don’t know? That’s so frustrating! You can’t tell them how to get where they want to be if you don’t know where they are starting from. It’s the same in health coaching.
When I have a new client the VERY FIRST THING I have them do is keep a food diary. Before we ever meet face to face, before we have an official consultation, I ask them to start writing down what they are eating and when they are eating it. Why? Because we can’t plan your route if we don’t know where you’re starting from.
There is a ridiculous amount of diet advice out there, and so much of it is dubious at best. Don’t eat after 7 pm, never eat white colored foods, always drink 8 glasses of water a day, don’t eat red meat, never eat potatoes, never combine fruit with any other food, fruit makes you fat, fat makes you fat, carbs make you fat...the list is long and confusing and mostly made up by people with books to sell or endorsement fees to earn.
So how do you know or figure out how and what you should be eating? You start by figuring out what you are currently eating. Once you have a week or two of data showing you what your current diet looks like, you can start making changes to achieve your goals. Without that information, you might as well be throwing darts at a list of celebrity endorsed diets and sticking to them for a week at a time.
Keeping a food diary, or log if you prefer, doesn’t have to be complicated or onerous. It can be as simple as using a pencil and a small spiral bound notebook, or as fancy as installing an app on your phone and using it to scan barcodes, calculate macros and export data via .pdf I don’t care what method my clients use, as long as they keep an honest record of what they are eating and drinking. Yes, I make them include beverages too—liquids account for a lot of daily numbers for many people.
Over the years I’ve noticed a few important things about food logs. First, the very act of keeping one seems to make folks more aware of what they are consuming. I always stress that I am not asking for the food logs in order to ‘judge’ your food choices, I just need to see what you’re eating so we know where we’re starting. Lots of us eat on auto-pilot, and once we have to write down our foods, we are suddenly more in control and make better choices. This is what you’d call eating more mindfully.
The second thing that almost always happens is that people fudge the numbers a little. Especially on the weekend data. Whether its the number of beers at a cookout or how many cookies at a baby shower, that little bit of shame crops up and people err on the side of under-reporting when recording the numbers. Remember, no one is judging you. All I care about is figuring out what you are currently putting into your body, and helping you create and meet your personal health goals. If you decide you want to cut back on the beers, or discover you are eating way more sugar than you thought, we can work on that once we start making our plan.
The most common thing that happens when someone starts keeping a food diary, is that they discover they have been way off in estimating just how much they eat on a daily basis…and this goes both ways. Some people vastly UNDER estimate their daily intake but just about as many greatly OVER estimate their intake. That means some people are eating way more than they need to, but just as many aren’t eating enough. We’re all familiar with the perils of overeating, but under-eating also has serious consequences on your health. Your body has specific nutritional needs and you can’t meet them if you don’t eat.
Once you start tracking your food, and using that information to start planning a healthy approach to meeting your body’s caloric and nutritional needs, you will be amazed at the improvements you’ll experience. Whether you want to lose weight, gain weight, sleep better, experience fewer colds, or have more energy, all of that starts with what you are putting into your body.
Try tracking for a week and see what you learn about yourself.
Do you use a food log or an app to keep track of your daily diet? What have you learned about yourself? Has it helped you achieve or maintain your goals? Let me know in the comments!