What I have learned this month is that, in general, individuals are not aware of what, how much, and how often they consume specific foods. Working with overweight adults with mobility limitations, I often find myself asking participants what foods they eat (i.e., fast foods, condiments, etc.) and at what frequencies. Whether you are morbidly obese, overweight, or within your ideal weight range, knowing what you eat (type of foods) can help to determine caloric intake, vitamin sources, and other information critical to achieving weight loss or maintaining a healthy weight.
Yet, it can be challenging to teach clients to actually record what they consume on a daily basis to write it down, rather than to rely on memory. It takes practice to note the specific foods, portions, times of day, and any physical symptoms and emotions. Details should not be omitted. For example, for a salad, the overall size of the salad and all ingredients, such as the type of lettuce or greens, bacon bits and other meat toppings, cheese, vegetables, noodles, and the type of dressing (non-fat, low-fat, low-sugar) should be included.
A food diary can be started in the following way: for one week, use a notebook or piece of paper to record all food and beverage intake. Include all snacks, such as those eaten at the office, while leaving the house, during a meeting, before dinner, and during recreational events (i.e., watching a movie). Be sure to count all glasses of water, juice, soda, and alcohol.
Encourage participants to share their food diaries with a physician, registered dietician, diabetes educator, or even a wellness coach. This information can be critical to assist someone with weight loss, body image concerns, health concerns such as food allergies, and health conditions such as diabetes control. For example, with such information, nutrient density and caloric expenditures (i.e., total caloric intake and calories from specific foods) can be calculated, and guidance can be provided on altering choices of food groups, foods, beverages, etc., that may allow a person to live healthier and feel better.
Learning to properly use a food diary to assist with actual caloric intake requires effort, but being aware of the foods one typically eats, or even what is typically on a grocery list, can be a starting point to increase one’s awareness of eating habits, and begin a healthier lifestyle.
Please send your comments and feedback to Valerie Lawson at firstname.lastname@example.org.