Keto and Low Carb Success

Keeping a Food Journal

January 12, 2023 Miriam Hatoum Season 2 Episode 33
Keto and Low Carb Success
Keeping a Food Journal
Show Notes Transcript

Episode 33: Keeping a Food Journal

This episode shows you how a food diary can be a useful tool in the process of losing weight or even finding your way in a new eating lifestyle. A food journal – done the way I am going to teach you – can help you understand your eating habits and patterns, and help you identify the foods you eat on a regular basis. Research has shown that keeping a journal can be a very effective tool to help change behavior. It is going to be food journaling like you have probably never done before. We are NOT going to put in quantities of food or any measurements. Just the food folks, and a few other helpful markers.

1:13.        Personal Story
4:54.        Introduction to some tips
5:36.        The time to journal
10:23.     Awareness, Honesty and Reality
13:43.     Commitment
18:20.      Other things you can add to your journal
19:44.      Should you track quantities?
22:26.      Benefits of food journaling
24:29.      This week's ACTIONABLE COACHING ADVICE
26:23.      This week's Call to Action
28:32.       Next week's episode

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Episode #: 33.    Magic Point 1: Keeping a Food Journal 

You’re Listening to the Roadmap to Diet Success, Episode #: 33 Magic Point 1: Keeping a Food Journal 


 Did you know that you don't have to spend money on a diet program or weigh, measure and track your food? What if you could learn to have success by following an easy roadmap that takes you on adventures from learning how to change your mindset so that you can believe in yourself, to learning about what foods work best in your body and why? Join me, Miriam Hatoum, health coach, course creator and author of Breaking Free From Diet Prison, as I give you actionable coaching advice that is sure to empower you so that you will finally find peace with food and learn to trust your body’s signals. You’ve got this, girl! 

 Oh, and before we start, I want to let you know that the primary purpose of this podcast is to educate and does not constitute medical advice or services, and I’m keeping up with the science as fast as I can so I can share with you the latest breaking research in this area to help you achieve your dreams!

1:13.       Personal Story

After so many years of tracking my food for Weight Watchers, or then macros for Keto, I have encountered – in myself – a real resistance to any sort of food journaling. Once I decide to do it, I manage to track breakfast. I may or may not be journaling by the time I hit lunch. I certainly do not make it to a second day of journaling. If I could see through my podcast microphone to all of you who are listening, would I see heads nodding? 

If you have ever read any of Gretchen Rubin’s work, you have heard of the four tendencies which are Upholder, Questioner, Obliger and Rebel. I am predominantly the Rebel mixed in with Questioner. What this means for me is that I don’t do what anyone wants me to do – not even me. But, I know enough to question this and so my research took me on a path to find more about food journaling, and how it could help me, yet not control me.

In addition to my own experiences, I draw on many studies for this episode, and all of them are in the show notes and transcript. 

Katherine McManus, a contributor to Harvard Medical School’s Harvard Health Publishing, wrote that “a food diary can be a useful tool in this process. It can help you understand your eating habits and patterns, and help you identify the foods — good and not-so-good — you eat on a regular basis. Research shows that for people interested in losing weight, keeping a journal can be a very effective tool to help change behavior. In one weight loss study of nearly 1,700 participants, those who kept daily food records lost twice as much weight as those who kept no records.”

So now my interest is piqued. I found further evidence that this journaling is important because it brings awareness to the many facets of what you are consuming. For myself, I left out the weighing and measuring part because I didn’t want this to just be another diet attempt – which is what weighing and measuring my food feels like. The weighing and measuring is also the reason I very rarely journal beyond breakfast on the first day that I have decided to do it. Remember that rebel part of me. So what do I do, that still makes a big difference, and which I am eager to share with you here?

There is no right or wrong way to keep a food journal. I do want to say here, though, that there has been research that shows that keeping food journals can be triggering for people with eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia. I want to say this right at the beginning because if you identify with this, then keeping a food journal may not be for you. It may bring about anxiety even thinking about doing it, and guilt and shame if you don’t stick to it. I do talk in a later episode about this guilt and shame factor, but in the regular course of how we lifelong dieters usually feel about giving up when something doesn’t work out. In conjunction with eating disorders, that would be beyond what I can offer you, and I need to repeat what is in my introduction about this podcast not being medical advice.

With that being said, here are some tips for keeping a food journal. I am leaving out the part where you weigh and measure your food because with everything I have read, and with what I have learned from many other health coaches and podcasters, doing that is not necessary if you approach food journaling the way I am going to suggest to you here. I did it myself for many months before bringing it to you here, because I wanted to see for myself if the journaling experience without the weighing and measuring of the food, really does make a difference in the comfort and success levels of following an eating style. 

5:36.       The Time to Journal 

There are five ways to time writing in your journal, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. The first three ways put a plan in place. The last two are journaling but not necessarily with planning.

1.      The first way is to write a food journal daily, the night before. The advantage of this is that you are probably not hungry, which sways a lot of what you want to eat, and it done so that you start your day in the morning without giving it a second thought. The disadvantage – at least for me – was that at night I am not hungry and I’m tired. Often in the morning I would look over my plan for the day and not want about half of what was on it.  Some people swear by doing journaling this way, but it didn’t work for me.

2.     The second way is to plan as much as a week or more in advance, much like meal planning. This worked well for me when I was working full time, was running around with the kids, and had to do meal planning so that I only had to go to the grocery store once a week and do batch cooking on the weekend. Once I retired it seems as though I lost all my bandwidth for doing this, even though I tried several times to look ahead to the entire week. Doing your planning and food journaling for more than one day at a time might fit very well into your routine, or you might find that you can’t wrap your head around it.

3.     A third way is to plan out your food day and journal first thing in the morning. I found that this worked better for me because I was able to look at my day with a fresh perspective about what I was going to be doing and what I might feeling like having. I took a moment to survey the fridge to see leftovers and things I might have bought but forgot all about. It was an easy activity with my first coffee of the day. The disadvantage is that you might have a lot to do in the morning and find that this takes up valuable time in the real estate of your available time. It also never would have worked for me while I was working because if I didn’t have something in the house that I needed (fruits and vegetables that pack well, for instance) I couldn’t shop before work and often I was left hungry at lunch or didn’t eat wisely at night because I was too tired to cook, didn’t shop on the way home, and well, the heck with it. 

I want to say something here that I will mention again later in the episode. When you plan ahead, you are very aware of when you want to eat, and it has nothing to do with hunger. When you have an argument with someone or are anxious or bored, you just must sit with the empty space that food is not going to fill. 

When you journal the next two ways, it is easy to have those cookies when you say to yourself, “At least I am writing it down.” Of course, you can have some resolve and you don’t have to eat in reaction to anything, but it’s easier to eat in a reactionary way because at least you are recording it, than when you are sticking to something you have pre-planned.

4.    A fourth way to do this is to write down foods, meal by meal, before you eat, as you go along with your day. I liked doing this because it takes into account what I want in the moment, rather than having decided it the night before or the week before. It also doesn’t take the time you might not have in the mornings. The disadvantage of doing it this way, is that if you are trying to lose weight, it might not be as focused as a full day of planning, and when reviewing your journal, you might find that you do a lot of catch-as-catch-can eating, and that you haven’t been putting together the most well-rounded, nutrient rich meals because you grab what there is and don’t make the best choices. When you plan for the day, you have a better sense of needing to include various things like fruits, vegetables, quality protein, good fats, etc.

5.     A fifth way is to just eat and write it all down after you have finished your meal. However, make sure you don’t sit down at 4PM and try to remember what you had for breakfast. This rarely works unless you have the same one or two things every day, day in and day out. 

The point of any of this timing is that at least you do it. Write down everything, and I mean everything. Did you grab some nuts that weren’t on your day-before plan? Put it down. The point of this journaling is to bring awareness to what you are eating in a day.

10:23.        Awareness, Honesty and Reality 

As I said, the main point of journaling your food without the weighing and measuring) is to bring awareness to what you are eating.

Let’s say you write as you eat. Every day you have a Snickers bar at 3 in the afternoon or every night you have ice cream and some cookies. Okay. Write it down. Maybe you sort of had amnesia with these foods and habits. When you write it down right after you eat it (or even before you eat it), you now have awareness. That awareness is the habit, the food, the quantity and the frequency. Maybe after a few weeks of keeping a food journal you stop yourself because now you have brought mindfulness to it and realize that it doesn’t help you with your health goals. Maybe you will still have it, but less frequently or in small quantities. 

You must be honest. How often did I get on the scale at a Weight Watcher’s meeting and be totally baffled by the lack of weight loss, or even weight gain. And that was when I was weighing and measuring my food. I didn’t set out to be dishonest, but I didn’t write down a cookie or the spoon of macaroni and cheese snatched from my kid’s plate before I put it in the dishwasher. Maybe I made my food plan, made sure it fit the points, but then had a piece of candy or a handful of chips. I’m not saying one candy, or one cookie makes a difference, but it adds up. Sometimes it really was amnesia, and sometimes I was just fooling myself. Remember the quip that if you eat a broken cookie, it doesn’t count because the calories fell out of the broken end? Remember the joke about how if you finish something off your kid’s plate it doesn’t count because it’s their calories not yours?  Writing down everything you eat and drink keeps you honest. It also makes amnesia almost impossible.

When you make your plans, especially those made the day, or days, before, be realistic. If you know that you always have that Snickers bar at 3PM or the ice cream and cookies at night, write it down. Not writing it down will not stop you from eating it. It will just make you guilty when you do eat them, and they are not on your plan. Believe me, making the plan realistic will not backfire. As a matter of fact, when it is all laid out in front of you, you are more likely to say to yourself (after days of eating whatever it is you would like to stop eating), “I don’t think I need this today,” or “I am going to take a smaller bowl of ice cream and only one cookie.” The more realistic you are with your planning, the better you will feel because there is no judgment and no guilt. You are just eating what you said you would eat.

13:43.        Commitment

And this brings me to the last element of planning, which is commitment. You don’t have to make some huge commitment to a diet or an eating style. If you are following a specific diet or eating lifestyle, make a commitment to keep to your plan, while also acknowledging that there might be things that are off plan. If that is the case, you can work towards staying with the diet or eating lifestyle. Believe me, more damage is done by off-plan eating because of emotions such as boredom or anxiety, than if you just eat the one or two things that are on your plan and that you would eventually like to eliminate. 

There are a few things to check if you are consistently having a hard time committing to your plan. 

1.      Are you planning enough food? Sometimes when we start out a plan, especially when it is a new eating style, we don’t put enough food, either in quantity or variety. This is one of the advantages to not putting down quantities – just the food itself and using your hunger scale to determine when you have had enough. The other thing is variety. Maybe your body is not going to be satisfied with chicken and salad. Maybe it needs fruit. Maybe it needs butter or a cooked vegetable too. Just make sure you are eating enough and that you don’t skimp on the variety of food you eat.

2.     Are you not accounting for the foods you are not ready to give up yet? Let’s say you want to eat low carb and for most of the day you have planned out foods that fit the bill. But dinner for this day takes place at a birthday party. You know you will want dessert. You know from past experience when you have been on strict diets, that not having the dessert will come out sideways, resulting in eating junk when you get home until it is time for bed. Yes, eventually you would like to work through that, but for now, put the cake down on your plan, please.

3.     Does your plan not take care of traveling? Some people who travel a lot have a home-base plan (which I will talk about in another episode) and a travel plan. Does your plan not take care of office lunches? Look at the reality of the way your day is laid out, what is available to you, and what occasions might throw you for a loop. Look at how you are feeling. Do you know that it is going to be the kind of day where comfort food will be welcome? What is your comfort food? Doesn’t have to be a huge bowl of mashed potatoes. Maybe instead, plan soup or something else warm like a bowl of chili. Maybe only a bowl of mashed potatoes will do. Put them on your plan. Have them. Enjoy them. Move on.

Does your plan take care of when the grandchildren are over? I have struggled with this a lot. For me, the trick was to ultimately not have to make plans for those days to include pancakes and French fries. I traveled that route, but I got to the point where I didn’t need to plan those foods anymore. Instead, I eventually was able to plan things that I enjoyed for myself so that I wouldn’t be looking to their plates. Just this morning I made them waffles and pancakes. Normally I would be killing myself not to eat those. Instead I had breakfast that I love and that filled me up, and I didn’t look twice at what I was feeding them. The trick was, until I figured out what would work for me, was to plan for anything I would be serving.  I would have it, let go of judgment and guilt, and move on. One day of the kids over didn’t lead to a week of bingeing because I was so mad at myself. I made the commitment to stick to my plan. I did. And it was all good. 

Remember, the aftermath of hating yourself for going off your plan, is far worse than anything that could be on your plan.

18:20.       Other things that you can add to your food journal

Whether you are making an advance plan – in which case you can go back and note these things – or journaling as you go, these are other very useful things to pay attention to.

-       What are you feeling? Monitor your mood.

-       Who ate with you?

-       Were you hungry before eating?

-       Did you stop at enough?

-       Also, if you have the time, make a note of your hunger number a little while after you finish. You will be surprised how you might have been at a 6 at the end of a meal but at a 7 or 8, 20 minutes later!

-       I take a blood sugar reading before bed, which is usually 2-3 hours after dinner. I put that number on the bottom of my journal page for that day, and it is always so interesting to find the variance in my numbers based upon what I ate. It makes me think twice about having fruit at night for dessert, for instance.

-       How did you feel when you were finished, both emotionally and physically?

-       If you doing this journaling in conjunction with finding out food sensitivities, how did a certain food affect you?

-       Did you use mindful eating tools? What were they? (Go back to Episode 29 to see the list of mindfulness tools that are important to use.)

19:44.       Should you track quantities?

I found that tracking quantities was a hard habit to break for myself. The way I did it though, had nothing to do with dieting. I was just so in the habit of putting down quantities for certain things such as:

-       ½ an avocado

-       2 coffees

-       1 apple

-       3 pieces of bacon

I did not do this because of tracking. These are just things that I take in an automatic number and don’t think twice about weight or size or calories, Points or macros. The only exception I would make to this is if you are trying to be very conscious of the amount of carbohydrates you eat. In that case I would track only grams of carbohydrates, but not anything else.

What I do not write down are quantities that in any way smack of dieting, such as things that would go on a food scale or measuring cup. Examples of this would be

-       4 ounces of hamburger

-       3 Tablespoons of cream cheese

-       1 teaspoon of butter

-       ¼ cup of cottage cheese

For example, my breakfast might be:

-       2 coffees (any which way I make them)

-       Scrambled eggs

-       Olives

-       ½ avocado

-       Sliced cucumber

In this example, I just say two coffees. I use a natural creamer called Nutpods and a few drops of sucralose. I don’t write that down. I just write “coffee.” I don’t say that the eggs are scrambled in butter, nor do I say how many eggs or how many olives on the side.

You can be as specific as you want to be, but please don’t calculate calories or macros in your head. You are just recording what food you ate. You can even keep a running list of food, although I tend to note whether it was breakfast, lunch or dinner. 

I want the point of your food journal just to be the awareness of what you eat. It is even better if you do add the few things that will bring even more mindfulness to your eating, such as your hunger-scale number, whether you used a slow-down tool to make your meal last longer, and whether you were calm and present while you were eating. You might be surprised to find that you never pay attention while you are eating, or eat too fast, or eat when you are agitated and upset about something. Awareness of these things, for the larger picture, will help you be in charge of your eating and weight loss efforts. 

22:26.       Benefits of food journaling

As I started out this episode, there is a lot of evidence that keeping a food journal results in larger and sustained weight loss. At the very least, even if weight loss is not your goal, it can help you see where your chosen eating style needs some work. Are you eating a Mediterranean style but see that you are not including enough fish? Are you eating Keto but see that, although you are not eating starchy vegetables, but you are not including enough leafy greens or good fats? Are you eating Paleo, but see you are including too many things with allowed sweeteners – perhaps going overboard on the Paleo banana bread?

Here are some benefits that I found true for myself:

-       It was easier to identify unhealthy habits.

-       It was easier to identify food sensitivities.

-       It kept me from mindlessly grazing.

-       It made me aware of empty foods I was eating and, on the other hand, made me more aware of nutritious foods that I might need more of.

-       Even on days I didn’t include any elements other than the food, like moods or water intake, it helped me become aware of habits.

-       Food journaling made me aware of any gaps such as fat and protein.

-       And again, even if when I didn’t include the other elements such as my hunger scale number of moods, the food journaling made me aware of eating for reasons other than hunger. I particularly noticed this when I planned my food the day before or in the morning, rather than writing it down as I went along. When I wanted to go in the kitchen at night to eat something, but my plan was finished, I was very aware that it had nothing to do with hunger and everything to do with urges and cravings. 


You guessed it! Keep a food journal this week. No weighing and measuring. No judgment or guilt. Pick one of the ways to do it:

 1.      Week in advance.

2.     Night before.

3.     Morning.

4.    As you are taking your food.

5.     After you are done eating.

Remember as you are doing this:  It is important to be honest and realistic. If you want to eat something or always eat something, write it down.

This week’s assignment is to get you used to journaling and to find what might work for you. Here are some other things you can note in your journal. Even though you might not do these things in the long run, try them out this week.

1.      Put down your hunger scale number at the start of the meal and at the end of the meal. If you are so inclined, put down your hunger number 20-30 minutes after the meal is finished.  

2.     Write down a mindfulness or slow-down practice that you used for the meal.

3.     Write down your mood or anything that has gone on around the meal (An argument? Being in a rush to finish? Zoning out with reading or TV?)

4.    Note whether a meal has held you to the next one or whether you are hungry for a snack.

5.     If you are doing this to investigate food sensitivities, make sure you note whether any of the foods make you feel unwell or cause an unusual sensation, or something like itchiness, sores in your mouth, etc. 

6.     Take particular note of whether the amount and types of foods you ate during the day kept you physically satisfied and emotionally content.

26:23.     This week’s Call to Action

I always call this segment your valuable offer. And it still is because I am giving you a bonus coupon to use, but today I am calling it “This week’s Call to Action” because I really am calling you to action! 

I have been working on a new course for you throughout Season 1, and I have something very special to offer you. It is, “7 Steps to Your Diet Success – Make Your Own Magic.” This is not a diet plan. Let me repeat: THIS IS NOT A DIET PLAN. It is the strategies you need to make any diet or eating style work for you. It has nothing to do with foods, but everything to do with your mindset and habits. This is your game plan to get to define your systems and achieve your goal. 

 I have taken the science behind the mental game of weight loss. I have picked the top 7 strategies and habits that will put you in charge of your identity of how you want to eat and be in this world as a person at whatever may be a healthy weight for you.

 In addition, what makes this course so helpful and valuable, is that there will be lots of worksheets. For example, with this topic on using a food journal, I will give you examples of how you can set up your food journal. Do you want to track moods and feelings? One of them has that. Do you want to track water intake? It’s there. Do you want to keep track of which mindfulness tools you are using? Pick that one!

 Find it at When you use the coupon code PODCAST you will receive a special savings. The direct link to find out more about this course and make the purchase is in the show notes and transcript.

28:32.     Next week’s episode

 Next week’s episode is about picking a plan, finding home base, and learning to course correct. This is another key step in my new course, “7 steps to your diet success – Make your own magic.” The episode will explain home base and why it is so important once you have decided on an eating style – or even diet. Learn to take care of yourself. Learn how to course correct and come back to where you have control in a safe food environment.

So go share the show with your friends, let them know that’s coming up in the next episode, and invite them to tune in with you and learn how to become free from diet prison with my Roadmap to Diet Success.

 And, if you like what you hear, please like and subscribe, and remember to leave a review wherever you listen to your podcast. It helps other people find the show. Also, don’t be a stranger. Come on over to my Facebook page, Breaking Free From Diet Prison, and let me know if there is anything you would like to hear on the show. Better yet, join my Facebook group page, Roadmap to Diet Success, that I founded especially for podcast listeners.  You can also email me directly …

Until then, go live free from diet worry — I’ll see you back here next time. 

Breaking Free From Diet Prison Book
Breaking Free From Diet Prison Course
This week's Call to Action: MAGIC
Breaking Free From Diet Prison Facebook page
Roadmap To Diet Success Instagram

Katherine D. McManus
Cheri A. Levinson et al.
Courtney C Simpson and Suzanne E Mazzeo