We tend to do some crazy things in the name of losing weight and getting healthy. Why else would fads like the taco cleanse and the grapefruit diet be so popular? As far as silly diet habits go, keeping a food log is one of the few sane and reasonable ideas—plus, it works! It's a common recommendation among nutritionists, and there's science to back it up. One study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition of Dietetics found women who logged their food lost 6 pounds more than those who didn't.
So we can agree that food journaling is beneficial, important, and even healthy. But keeping an ultra-rigid food log tracking every last bite? Sounds borderline nuts, I'd say, but that didn't stop me. I tracked my food for one full week. Not just my meals, but snacks (full disclosure, there were a lot of them), and drinks, and everything in between. That included the bite of mac and cheese I ate straight off my boyfriend's plate.
Anyone who's tried a food log can vouch for what a pain it can be. A 2015 study looked at 141 journalers and found many of them described the process as time-consuming, tedious, and requiring too much effort. In the past, my best intentions of keeping a journal went out the window the second I got home from work. True story: If you scoped out my food-tracking app, you'd see regular log-ins until everything just stopped at 7 p.m. Part of me felt accomplished enough for the day, while the other part of me knew my unhealthiest habits came in the evening and writing them down would be downright shameful. This time would be different. I relied on pen and paper, and I actually stuck with it. Here's what I found.
Writing everything down inspired me to eat healthier. Well, for the first two days anyway. I started off feeling self-conscious about what I was eating—even though no one would see the list but me. On day one, I found myself only choosing fruits and veggies I wouldn't be ashamed to write down.
The journal made me aware of bad habits. At least three times a day, I'd grab a mini handful of chocolate chips or crackers after spotting the bag wide open in the cabinet. It doesn't seem like much, but a little bite here and there adds up.
I outsmarted myself—and that wasn't a good thing. Four days into tracking, my brain had figured out how to beat the system. I realized my task was simply to write down everything I ate, not necessarily to eat extremely healthfully. And so, I started eating less healthy out of convenience. Turns out, writing "chicken sandwich and fries" was far easier than outlining everything packed into a veggie-heavy salad.
Tracking every last morsel is hard work. I'm a writer, so stashing a small notebook and pen in my purse isn't totally out of the ordinary. But pulling it out at restaurants so I wouldn't forget to log my meal got to be pretty annoying for me and everyone I dined with.
After seven days, I was relieved to sit down for a meal with no notebook in sight. However, I can now say that I'm much more aware of my eating habits and what I need to work on. First things first? Completely closing the chocolate chip bag.