Record Keeping to Change Your Perspective--And Your Eating

I'd LOVE to eat your food record, but I'm really not that hungry!
“My dog ate my food record.” “Oh, I left it at work.” “I know what I eat, I don’t need to write it down.” And finally, the very honest and most insightful comment I’ve heard, “I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Because if I don't write it down, then maybe it didn't happen." This, perhaps, sums up why, in spite of knowing that food record keeping is recommended, it is often not done. But of course you know I can't just let it go at that! 

First, let me clarify. A food record, generally speaking, is a journal of what you ate including the quantity of food, and when you ate it. A valuable food record also includes some other critical information—your perceived hunger when you begin eating, your thoughts and your feelings—both physical and emotional. Noting where you ate is also quite useful, as we’ll discuss in a bit. Oh, and if food was consumed but eating disorder behaviors followed, that should be noted as well.

And calories? In my view, these have no place in your food record. “But don’t they count and impact my weight?” Absolutely. Yet counting them is not my idea of a healthy way to change your relationship with food and normalize your weight. We are trying to get out of your head—away from your over-analyzing what's acceptable to eat—and into your body, aware of its signals to eat and to stop eating. A goal of record keeping is to help you learn to rely on these signals so you can trust your body—I know you're not there yet—but this is a great way to start.

Why all the fuss about keeping a food record? Why do Dietitians like me recommend it and why do so many struggle against doing it? 

Accountability, compassion and shifting perspective

If you know that someone is going to be looking, you certainly think twice about what you eat. Now you may think that you already are painfully aware of what others think about your eating. And that recording only makes you obsess more about what you're eating. But writing it down in the way described below does something different. It allows you not to hyper focus on the meal you overate or the fact that you ate when you think you didn't need to. Rather it allows you to look at the bigger picture. Truthfully, this is where having another set of experienced eyes makes all the difference. 

Just saw this in NYC--can you imagine?!
Most of my clients find that my perspective on their eating  helps them to be less critical of their eating. They see that their overeating followed too long a span of time, or that their recurring hunger makes perfect sense, given the large volume of food devoid of adequate calories they were consuming.

Recording allows you to distinguish between physical hunger vs other eating triggers. Recognizing that you weren't hungry helps you to realize that something else contributed to your eating. Seeing that you were hungry but didn't eat, forces you to ask yourself what your intentions of restricting were.

Recording the food you've eaten also takes it out of the closet, so to speak. It legalizes eating. And hearing someone like a Dietitian react not in the way you'd expect—rather, acknowledging how delicious the brownie might have been, or that you only had 3 versus the whole package of cookies, or that you seemed to have needed to eat when you did and it was great that you entitled yourself to do so—get the idea? These messages help to counter the negative assumptions you have about your eating, and may help you feel more justified to eat in a balanced way. No, not the way you think you should be eating—full of restrictions and deprivation, but a more human way of enjoying food.

Would you sleep or do other things on your kitchen table?
(Ok, you don't need to answer that.)
Identifying the location you eat in is also quite important. Do you only eat when driving—where no one can see—not even you? Do you do a lot of eating in your bedroom late at night? Must you eat your food alone, out of the watchful eye of family members?

And what do you choose to eat? Do you limited your selection to diet foods, light in calories and in satisfaction? Do you include a range of nutrients including fats, carbohydrate and protein—or tend to shy away from one or more of these groups? Do you allow yourself to really eat what you like—not just to eat it, but to see it and take it in with all your senses?

Sure, there are some of you that feel so overwhelmed that recording feels like just another chore—which it is. And some of you feel you just can't get organized to remember to write things down. But largely most readers may prefer not to know—not to see it, not to acknowledge what you've eaten—at least on the days you didn't think you ate as you should have—and so you don't record.

If you're serious about shifting your relationship with food, get yourself a notebook you can keep in the kitchen. Or do you live with your smart phone at your side? Check out a fabulous free app, Recovery Record, which leaves off the nutrition details common to so many apps, but appropriately includes the thoughts, feelings and behaviors that so influence your eating, and how you feel about yourself. Then get started. And be sure to share this info with a professional experienced in this area—not the gym trainer who may have a slightly different way of seeing things.

And do start by moving your scale out of site. It is much more challenging to begin to trust yourself when you are being jerked around by that object on your bathroom or bedroom floor constantly.

Thoughts? Comments? I'd love to hear from you.

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