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Two weeks ago, I posted on how you can figure out the right amount of food to eat. Simply speaking, it was about determining the correct amount of calories for you to reach your health and weight goals. That post was a follow-up to an earlier post on the importance of keeping a food diary. I hope you were able to experiment with your caloric intake, using your food diary, and that you were able to determine the right amount of food for you on a daily basis.

Different foodsThe next building block on your path to healthy eating and reaching your health and weight goals is this: determining the right kind of food. By this, I mean figuring out how carbohydrates, protein, fats, sugars, etc. make you feel.

Consider these examples:

One day, I made food choices that worked for me. For breakfast I had egg and cheese on an english muffin. I know that I need protein at every meal, or I am hungry about an hour later, so the egg and cheese sandwich fit the bill, and for 280 calories with protein, the sandwich was the “right” choice for me. About three hours later, I had a mid-morning snack of six medium-size strawberries, which was an excellent choice because I was planning to eat an early lunch around 11:30 a.m. I ate a sensible lunch of fish with mustard greens and sweet potatoes, which was approximately 400 calories, but was rich in protein and good fats, so it sustained me until around 4:00 p.m., when I needed a mid-afternoon snack. Then I ate a sensible dinner. All told, I came in with 1850 calories that day, never felt tired or hungry, and ate balanced meals and snacks.

The very next day was not a successful food day. I did well with breakfast, having an egg sandwich on whole wheat bread and then strawberries again for a snack. But I got lunch all wrong. I had a whole wheat wrap with only eggplant, tomato, and olive oil, and some cole slaw. Sounds healthy, but it was protein-deficient yet high in calories because of the fat in the oil (good fat, but still high in calories) and cole slaw.  An hour later, I was starving and went for a snack. Because I was famished and lacking energy due to my protein-deficient lunch, I ended up with a small piece of pecan pie for a quick-fix sugar rush! This was not the “right” choice for several reasons: one, it was loaded with calories and offered no nutritional value; second, it wasn’t sustaining because it was mostly sugar.  Ultimately, the pie compounded my problem since I had eaten, once again, high calorie/low protein foods that don’t sustain me for more than an hour or so. By my evening commute, I was sitting on the train, writing this article, and feeling very hungry even though I had consumed 1500 calories – before dinner! My target calorie consumption for that day, where the only exercise I got was the sprint to the train, was 1850 calories, so I had only 350 calories left for dinner. And I knew that was going to be difficult, not to mention disappointing and unfulfilling, given the state of my stomach (growl)!

Use these next two weeks to keep your food diary and experiment with the kinds of food that you are eating. Here is a Sample Food Diary Page.

See how they make you feel, whether they sustain you or leave you feeling drained, how long it is before you want to eat again, and what you want to eat at that time. Experimenting like this for two weeks will enable you to start taking control over your food and energy, rather than feeling at the mercy of your hunger.

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Food Diary Challenge

When we have a goal, it is important to track our progress so we know how to succeed and when we succeed. If you have a food-related goal — for example, to eat more healthy foods, to significantly cut back on junk food and sugar, to lose weight — then keeping a food diary is a very important tool that I challenge you to use for the next 10 days.

The food diary is a powerful tool to bring awareness to our eating patterns. So often, we eat mindlessly. In order to reach any goal that is related to food, we must start eating mindfully. The food diary will make you aware of what you eat because you will be required to write it down. I encourage you to write it down when you eat it because if you wait til the end of the day, you will forget things. As you write down what you are eating, also write down how that food makes you feel: too full, satiated, bloated, headache, tired, distracted, alert, focused, hungry soon after, irritable, hyper, etc.

For some people, the idea of keeping a food diary makes them uneasy because sometimes we don’t really want to know what we are eating. We can keep denying any problems that we have with food or our diet if we don’t pay close attention to what we are eating. While writing things down may sound silly and unnecessary, it is not. In fact, you may be surprised at the feelings you attach to your food. You may even be surprised that food has an even bigger emotional charge for you than you realized.

So, keep a food diary for the next 10 days to get a handle on what you are eating. Once you do that, I’ll challenge you to evaluate what you learned and develop goals to make the changes you want.

Here is a Sample Food Diary Page; print numerous copies. You can also use the many online food diaries (just do a Google search). Or just use a small notebook that you keep in your purse or pocket.

This food diary process is designed to be fun, informative and free of negative judgments. If negative feelings arise, or you feel guilty for eating something “bad.” just remember that recording this information will help you later see the connection between what you eat and how you feel.

If you forget to write a meal or even several days down, just keep going. It’s all fine.

Sources: Institute for Integrative NutritionPotatoes Not Prozac by Kathleen DesMaisons, PhD, Simon & Schuster.

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