Ever tried to keep a record of everything you eat? Here's how doing so can help (and hinder) efforts to eat well.
It all started with Harper’s Bazaar. I’m not a regular reader, but whenever I pick up a copy I’m always amused by the “Eating Diaries,” wherein three slender and well-dressed women recount their daily food intake and exercise regimes. Reading what these women eat feels more salacious than pawing through their handbags. For every entrepreneur/mom who lives off grilled fish and organic salads, there’s a fashion editor who “eats” vitamins and mineral water for breakfast and lunch, and four glasses of champagne for dinner. Then the nutritional experts weigh in and suggest ways for these women to improve their eating habits. I laughed out loud when they recommended that legendary model Iman–whose diet is utterly above reproach–stop having her afternoon treat of three hard candies. I’ll probably never be asked to wriggle my way into a size-2 couture gown or share my eating habits with the readers of Bazaar. But it did get me thinking. I’m sure I overestimate the number of fruits and veggies I get in a day and have a conveniently bad memory about sugar and other junk I eat, so why not write it all down for a couple of weeks? The first few days went well. Despite my promise to eat “normally,” knowing I was tracking myself put me on my best behaviour. I had salads and grilled chicken for lunch, drank lots of water, ate two fig bars instead of four, and stayed away from the cupboard with the ancient Halloween candy. Wow, I thought, I’m getting healthier just by doing this! But soon enough, my old habits started to reappear. Filling out the journal was accompanied by dread instead of pride. I decided to sit down and look back through my days as a diarist and see what patterns emerged. What I discovered seems obvious now, but came as a shock when I saw it. The long wait between lunch and dinner made me so ravenous that by four-thirty I’d be inhaling whatever junk I could get my hands on. Then I’d feel lousy and tired. Sometimes I snacked so late that I lost my appetite for a proper dinner, but then I’d be back in the kitchen two hours later, poking around for more snacks. So that’s where the bedtime stomach aches were coming from! These problems were easily solved by planning a healthy snack between two and three o’clock that included those neglected fruits and vegetables. It was also clear that a breakfast without protein made for a major slump before lunch, because those were the days I’d have to go back and have that second cup of coffee. That was remedied by making sure I added some yogurt or almonds to my morning meal. I don’t keep a diary anymore; that would be a little too control-freak for me. But it was a valuable way to see where I could improve my eating habits and my moods. I may not be ready for Harper’s Bazaar, but I feel better already.