Nutrition Tip of the Week: Visual Food Diary Challenge

Tracking apps do not tell the whole story. We lie to tracking apps. Even when foods are input accurately (serving sizes carefully measured and the exact food is logged), tracking apps don’t provide clues as to what motivates our decisions regarding food. If you are up to the challenge, try the following exercise.

Challenge: The Visual Food Diary

Take this challenge as the first step toward success with your nutrition-related goals!

Want to improve your nutritional habits but have no idea where to begin? Or are you trying your best and don’t understand why you are not progressing toward your goals? The chances are that you don’t have a clear and accurate picture of your consumption or your eating habits.

The first step toward success is an honest and accurate self-assessment. What does your intake really look like? Are you nibbling on the Halloween candy in the office? Did you finish your kids chicken fingers that they left behind on the plate without thinking about it?

Tracking apps do not tell the whole story. We lie to tracking apps. Even when foods are input accurately (serving sizes carefully measured and the exact food is logged), tracking apps don’t provide clues as to what motivates our decisions regarding food.

If you are up to the challenge, try the following exercise:

For three consecutive days, take photos of everything you put in your mouth and keep a detailed journal of your intake. If you are a BLOC nutrition client, you are already familiar with this and know it as the Visual Food Diary. Include details such as time of day, whether it was a social meal, why you chose what you did, and how you felt after the meal or snack. For instance, “I felt stuffed and lethargic after going back for the third slice of pizza” or “that was a perfect pre-workout snack, I need to remember that and try it again.”

You will notice that reflecting on these photos and accompanying notes paints a much bigger and more personal picture than looking at three days of input in MyFitnessPal (or another similar app).

The food diary will show you patterns and priorities or lack thereof. Do you heat up a frozen breakfast burrito because you are always in a rush in the morning? Do you undereat through the first half of the day then binge on snack foods before dinner? Maybe a certain food or snack is a ritual for you? (For instance, I eat chocolate before bed most nights 😉.)

You will also notice that your choices are motivated by factors far more complex than physical hunger. Did you eat the donut just because it was there and it was free? Did you have a bag of popcorn because you were bored? Did you say yes to the second helping of lasagna because your mother made it and it would hurt her feelings if you said no?

Once you have three (or more) days in front of you, you can start to truly analyze whether your decisions line up with your goals. Are you over-eating? Are you under-eating? Are you eating tons of processed food? What stands out to you about your eating habits?

Next, make a list of things you are proud of about your eating habits and things you would like to change. More than likely, your diet is not a total mess, and the areas you want to improve upon will be obvious.

This list of questions may help you examine your intake:

  1. On most days, do I eat too many calories, too few calories, or just the right amount of calories to be moving toward my goals?
  2. Which meals do I tend to make the best choices and why?
  3. Which meals do I tend to make the worst choices and why?
  4. How much water am I drinking?
  5. Am I balancing my meals by including protein, carbs, and some fat in each?
  6. How much processed convenience food am I consuming?
  7. How many servings per day of fruits and vegetables do I average?
  8. Am I consuming any foods that do not make me feel well?
  9. Do I have some eating habits (good or bad) that I was unaware of?
  10. What is the most glaring thing that I see that I would like to change and the first habit to work on?

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