February Health Habit: Keep a Food Journal
So here February is almost over and I have yet to write about my healthy habit of the month.
This habit morphed over the course of the month as I figured out what did and didn’t work for me. My goal was to find a practical way to be more mindful of what I eat.
At first, while making my plan in December, I decided that toward the end of being aware of what I ate, I would plate my food. That is, I would not eat anything out of containers or bags nor nip a bite here or there of various foodstuffs. If anything was going to go into my mouth, it had to first be put upon a plate. This serves three purposes:
- The hassle factor is a deterrent.
- You decide before eating how much you will eat and you see that amount consciously.
- It adds a level of ritual to the process that is inherently satisfying.
Plating one’s food is extolled both by Mireille Guiliano, author of French Women Don’t Get Fat, as a necessary infusion of meaningful ritual and mindfulness, as well as by Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating as a research-proven solution to casual overeating.
However, I was failing abysmally at this habit for the first two weeks of the month. Many of my failures were due to simple forgetting of my resolve because I wasn’t looking at my daily list. Moreover, I had this notion at the beginning of the month that because my breakfast, lunch, and dinner are plated, and I do eat them sitting down with a real plate and silverware, that all I had to do was not snack and I was keeping this resolve. So, really, it was a sneaky, double-tongued “don’t snack” resolve. Turns out, however, that what this did was bring to awareness that I actually do snack – and often need an afternoon snack to keep my blood sugar and mood up. And, my lifestyle is not one to accomodate a fourth time of sitting down with portioned-out, properly-served food. Whether it was serving the kids a bready afternoon snack and finding something protein-rich for myself or sneaking a treat I shouldn’t have, either way I had to keep a low profile to avoid questioning or sharing or complaining comparisons.
And, then, of course, there’s the end-of-the-day treat-seeking when all resolve and willpower and care is used up, and I just want to eat chocolate until I don’t want to eat any more – I want to savor 5 or 6 or 10 pieces of chocolate, not 2. Thankyouverymuch.
So, I was in this predicament about whether to scrap the habit, replace the habit, or make the habit happen, when I was reading The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business and encountered the idea of “keystone habits.” Keystone habits, according to Charles Duhigg, are habits that give “small wins [that] fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach.” And, just as I was wondering to myself what some keystone habits might be, Duhigg mentioned that food journalling was one verified keystone habit:
But this keystone habit – food journalling – created a structure that helped other habits flourish. Six months into the study people who kept daily food records had lost twice as much weight as everyone else.
Of course it wasn’t the writing it down that made people lose weight, but the awareness that it fostered. Food journalling brought to light each individual’s places of weakness and areas needing change. It also brought the “small win” of being able to write a “clean” journal entry for the day.
So, it’s only been a couple days since I have adopted food journalling as my habit to replace plating my food, but it is one that fits my established patterns (I keep the notes in my daily note for the day). So it is not at all yet a habit, even though the month is almost gone, but it is one I plan to continue pursuing. I am sure I have indulgences and excesses that I am not even aware of. Hopefully by having to pull out my iPod Touch and note what I just ate, I will not only become aware of bad patterns, but will simply choose not to eat something unnecessary to avoid the hassle of writing it down and the embarrassment of admitting it.
Two months into the year and I have lost 2 pounds out of 35. Even if food journalling doubles my weight loss rate, it will still be very slow.