First off, I just want to start by saying congratulations on beginning your journey to a new and improved you! The first step to achieving any real goal in life is taking the first one.
In the training world, there is a saying that goes "what can be measured, can be managed". When looking to make a change regarding weight loss/gain or weight management it is important to establish a starting point. This is what we refer to as a baseline and can be achieved by keeping a food diary. Usually conducted for 7 days; recording everything you eat or drink, even sauces. Everything is logged at the time of consumption.
A food diary is a great way to bring mindfulness to our food choices. Think of how often a decision on what to eat or drink begins by opening the fridge and just seeing what's inside, or walking to a store you always visit with that fresh-baked smell at lunch, going to the supermarket after work for dinner and having no real plan on what to buy. Through established habits we become unaware of what, how much and when we are consuming different foods and drinks. This can lead to choices that are not always in line with our goals or values for health. Often our choices are driven by established habits, our emotions, social or cultural drive, religious beliefs, finance or lack of planning.
SLIP UPS WILL OCCUR
By establishing a food diary, it gets you to pause, it gets you to think and to be present. To ask yourself “Why am I going to have this?” Is it in line with your goals and values for a healthy life or is it simply because this is what you always had? Possibly it’s because you are having a bad day at work and need a pick me up, or maybe you have not eaten enough and are now finding yourself hungry at the store with your hands on the family size pack of chips. Slip-ups will occur, life happens so it will be important to address a food diary in the same manner on a meal by meal basis. Just because one meal may not be in line with the overall goal and it will happen, it does not mean to throw in the towel. It will be important to recognize why a choice was mademaking you more prepared next time. Life is about looking to make little improvements and as the saying goes no path up the mountain is a smooth one.
STEP ONE: FIND OUT WHAT WORKS BEST FOR YOU?
The first bit of advice I will give when establishing a baseline is to find out what method for recording your diary is going to be most convenient, for you. It will be important to record what you consume at the time you consume it, so if you prefer to write your log down then do so (refer to page 5). Otherwise, I recommend downloading the app My Fitness Pal on your mobile device. Benefits include the ability to make entries by either searching for what you are going to eat on the My Fitness Pal database which includes a massive 11 million items or simply scan the product barcode or make entries based on previous choices.
STEP TWO: DON'T CHANGE ANYTHING YET!
Often a mistake I see when people begin to record a food diary is that they start to make changes immediately before first setting a baseline. Remember a food diary is there to establish and highlight current eating habits and where potential improvements can be made. Making changes in food choices, portion size and eating frequency from what you would normally have may affect results later on. Drastic changes in food type and portion sizes will often result in going back to old habits due to poor compliance and low sustainability. So, when you decide to start your food diary eat what you would normally eat. Thereby giving you or a qualified professional a clear insight into your day to day eating habits and more importantly an accurate bassline. Keeping a diary does take getting used to but stick with it and remember it is for only seven days so look to be as detailed and precise as possible, I think you will be surprised at what you find out!
STEP THREE: CREATING POSITIVE CHANGE
Now that you have a baseline it is important to understand the success of your results will be based on the sustainability and compliance of your new plan. As addressed in step two, if your changes are too drastic the likelihood of falling back into old habits is greatly increased. To avoid this the change(s) you make regardless of your goals (to lose or gain weight) should be marginal. Reducing or increasing your calories by a small amount, around 200-300 calories a day, is often more than sufficient to cause a change in weight and would require no real alterations in food selection in the initial stages.
STEP FOUR: LITTLE CHANGES THAT MAKE A MASSIVE DIFFRENCE
Often a misconception when looking to lose or gain weight is that it will be necessary to stop eating the foods you enjoy or to drastically change the amount that you eat and to limit your food choices down to just chicken, rice and salads and this is simply not the case. Having a short term view of your goals will often lead to short term results. Think about it, you see it all the time and have likely done it yourself. When looking to make improvements be realistic, look to change one or two things at a time. Again, making small changes will drastically improve your chances of compliance and long-term success. So, start off with a food diary, become aware, create a small change, and start moving to the new and improved you!
YOUR TASK: REMEMBER STEP TWO DON'T CHANGE ANYTHING YET!
Your task is to record a seven-day food diary but remember a food diary is there to establish and highlight current eating habits and where potential improvements can be made. Making changes in food choices, portion size and eating frequency from what you would normally have may affect results or drastic change your regular food habits, food type and portion sizes often result in going back to old habits due to poor compliance and low sustainability later on. So, when you record your food diary eat what you would normally eat. Remember it is for only seven days so look to be as detailed and precise as possible, I think you will be surprised at what you find out!