People tend to be self-conscious. Whether you put too much sugar into your shake, took a few too many portions or stole too many cookies from the cookie jar, you’re sure to get disapproving looks. Now, stop. Healthy eating, just like healthy working, exercising and living in general is about you and you only.
What’s most important is that you start out with a goal. Are you looking to lose some weight or build some muscle? Maybe you just like feeling comfortable in your own skin? To reach that goal, you’ll need to set some milestones along the way and track your progress. This will give you the proper direction and motivation you need. One way to do that is with a food journal.
Understanding Healthy Eating
Your food journal will be used to track your progress and assess how well you’re doing. But before you do that. You need to first understand what you’re doing, how you’re doing it and why you’re doing it.
The Why: Feel Good in Your Own Skin
A low body image and self-esteem can have a negative impact on not only your mental but also physical health. For one, they result in higher levels of stress and anxiety throughout which can lead to higher rates of insomnia, eating disorders and a weaker immune system. Setting goals and working towards them will help you not only survive, but thrive.
The What: Don’t Eat Less, Eat Smart
Too many of us have heard of “miracle diets” that usually involve small portions or ones that recommend only eating “fresh greens”, thereby cutting out the rest of the food groups. In reality, a healthy diet involves knowing which calorie or fat-rich foods to eat.
The baked sea bass or tenderloin steak might have just as much fat as your local triple cheese burger, but with none of the drawbacks. Not all fat is bad, the omega-3 fatty acids in fish have been shown to decrease rates of depression, inflammation and even help protect against dementia and Alzheimer’s. In short, look at food programmatically, sometimes less isn't more.
The How: Writing It Down
When starting out a food journal, you might be stuck at the first page. Here is an example format you can use:
What am I eating? [Include the specific food/drink you are consuming alongside the cooking method (i.e. baked, fried, boiled) as well as any additional sauces or toppings].
How much am I eating? [Measure the amount you’re consuming in servings, cups, teaspoons or grams. If you can't measure, do your best to estimate.]
When am I eating? [The time spent eating has been shown to play a key role in health. For instance, late-night eating has been linked to higher rates of heart disease and obesity. Make sure to note the times at which you eat your meals, snacks included!]
Your eating habits may also be linked to other behaviours that may be affecting your health. For instance, if you’re someone who always eats out, you’re probably lacking time to make home-cooked food. If you tend to eat a lot after work, maybe it’s because you're feeling stressed.
Where am I eating? [Note whether you’re eating out, at a friend’s house or at home. This will be helpful in determining how you’ll need to change your habits.]
What am I doing while eating? [Are you watching TV or doing work while eating? Doing things such as watching TV or binge-watching your favorite show while eating may cause overeating since you pay less attention to your stomach and more to the TV screen.]
How do I feel when eating? [Do you often find yourself eating when you feel sad or depressed? Maybe you’re bored or lonely? Keep track of these feelings as they’re key to you uncovering your next steps to reach your health goals.]
Next Steps Going Forward
Once you've gone through and assessed your comprehensive food journal for at least a week or two, it’s time to draw some conclusions.
Don’t Eat Too Late: If you’ve found that you tend to eat within 2-3 hours of going to sleep, that’s a problem. Give your digestive system the time to process the food before going to bed. Otherwise, you might find yourself dealing with trouble sleeping and lower quality of sleep come morning.
Eat At Home: It’s never too late to get your own ingredients and be your own master. You can’t always be 100% sure what you get when you order your food. Control what you put into your body by eating at home more often or even while exercising with shaker bottles. Give yourself a treat by ordering takeout once a week, but not too many so that you don’t slip from your routine.
Keep Yourself Busy: If you’re eating when feeling bored or lonely, make a habit of being productive. Go out for a jog or invest in a compact eBike or treadmill in your home. There's no better time than now.
Exercise: Exercise has been proven to reduce metabolism as well as help with stress, anxiety and sleep. Whether it’s lifting some weights or starting up boxing and MMA, take control of your diet and your body.
Look Good, Feel Good
Your food journal is just the first step towards you setting the proper groundwork to achieve your goals. Make sure to stick to what you preach by learning from the results of your food journal and using that to improve your regiment.
Diet and exercise are the two major factors that you can control involving your health, both physical and mental. That’s why alongside keeping track of what, how much, how and when you consume your food and drink, you also need to adapt your fitness regime accordingly.
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With the ideal diet and exercise regime, you can go a long way. Although it may seem tough, no matter how things turn out, remember that “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”