On the first day of my weight loss journey, I had pie for breakfast, cookies for lunch, and potatoes for dinner.
To say I had no clue what healthy eating was would be an understatement. But I knew something had to change because I didn’t become 300 pounds by consistently making good food choices for the first 26 years of my life. So, I started recording everything I chowed down on, and my knowledge grew from there.
Now, as a nutritionist, weight loss coach, and someone who has maintained a 125-pound weight loss for the last eight years, I’m finally looking back at the food journal I kept. It’s both shocking and humbling to see the honesty in my food choices and how it all lead to where I am today.
After analyzing eleven months of meals, here are 6 lessons I learned from food journaling on my weight loss journey:
Calorie counting does work—for the most part.
When you aren’t willing to learn about food quality and macronutrients before you get started, you tend to count calories. Before I read ingredient labels and understood the ins and outs of macronutrients and micronutrients, I did the easiest thing I could do—try to stay within a calorie allowance each day. If I ate below a certain caloric threshold, I felt like I succeeded. What they don’t tell you about calorie counting: having a caloric deficient (the sum of calories you burned all day minus what you ate) doesn’t show up on the scale the next day. Sometimes, it takes a week or two. Calorie counting is not instant gratification, but it does eventually pay off. There are some tricks to calorie counting, but with a little research and trial, it’s easy. And it’s far less overwhelming to wrap your mind around when you’re just starting out.
Pro Tip: Try cycling through your daily calorie budget and use a different allowance every day. Your body gets used to eating 1400 calories every day after awhile. So, one day try 1800 and the next 1000. Never eat fewer than 800 calories. Less isn’t more effective. Your body’s hormones will start storing fat for dear life.
Diet foods were an unfortunate part of my meals.
Yes, I ate processed diet foods. But I also ate a lot of celery, baby carrots, grapefruit, cabbage, oatmeal, egg whites, and skinless chicken breasts. For many of us, these foods are also associated with low-calorie and dieting. I wish I had been more creative when preparing these foods in my meals so that it would not have lead to negative feelings about them. To this day, I refuse to snack on a baggie of baby carrots and celery sticks (with or without peanut butter).
Pro Tip: If you attach the meaning of “dieting” to certain whole foods, try preparing and eating those foods in different ways. Try different methods of cooking, use spices, create interesting flavor combinations by pairing with another food, etc.
I learned to love foods I thought I hated.
One of the greatest benefits of going on my weight loss journey was learning that I like asparagus, avocados, eggplant, yams, mushrooms, and fish. Trying to eat healthily opened my eyes to foods I was always squeamish about but never really gave a fair shot. As I tried new recipes every few weeks, these ingredients slowly replaced the traditional foods I thought were essential for good health and weight loss.
Pro Tip: One of the biggest weight loss lessons you will have to face is CHANGE and DISCOMFORT. Being open-minded is essential to this journey, so you may as well start with food! Have comfort challenges with yourself every week or two– pick out a recipe for a food you know nothing about… or something that still has eyes (or scales attached). One bite.
Junk food was a regular part of my life.
Sure, some days my meals looked like perfect dieter’s food—but several days a week, I was generous with what I chose to eat. In summer, sometimes I had burgers and ice cream. In October, I had Halloween candy. In November, I had leftover Halloween candy and baked goods. In December, well, let’s just say there were a lot of holiday cookies. The point is: I didn’t have to 100% give up all my favorite junk foods to lose weight. I ate them in moderation while eating healthier foods, too. Deprivation of comfort foods can be a big no-no when it comes to learning to eat healthier for the rest of your life.
Pro Tip: Stop reading articles that warn you against making deadly food choices… seriously. One minute media tells us coconut oil is a miracle fat that’s healthy, the next it’s demonized again. Same if true of sugar and meat. I’m not asking you to be uninformed, I’m asking you to save your sanity. If you are eating a wide variety of foods, you have nothing to worry about. It would be different if all you ate was sugar (or coconut oil).
Dinner was the largest meal of the day for me.
There are plenty of theories on which meal of the day is most important (or should be the biggest), but for me, dinner was the most calorie dense meal. That hasn’t changed for me over the years—I still love a big supper. I find that eating enough for my last meal of the day prevents me from feeling hungry before bed or waking up during the night feeling hungry. It also holds me over until late morning so that I can do fasted cardio and then eat a small protein-rich breakfast.
Pro Tip: Listen to your body and pay attention to your lifestyle. What meal of the day should be the biggest for you? Are you hungry after a workout? Do you wake up hungry? Are you so busy during the day that you forget to eat? Can’t sleep because your tummy is growling at night? All of these are indications you may need to bulk up a meal.
When life got hard, I ate my feelings.
No one’s life is perfect and predictable, and that shows when you look at what you feast on during times of high stress. My boyfriend dumped me and moved out half-way through my 150-pound weight loss journey. During that month, I devoured more Valentine’s day candies than I’ll ever admit to and had gin & tonics for dinner at least 2-3 nights out of the week. If I had not journaled my food, I might not have realized this was an issue and been able to fix it as quickly as I did. Tracking my food intake gave me self-awareness I wasn’t able to conjure up all on my own at that time in my life.
Pro Tip: Food tracking has many benefits (besides calorie counting or spotting food allergens). But it may be important to also track your moods, emotions, energy, and the details of your day as well. If your food tracking app allows for it, note these things and how your food choices may have been a byproduct of that. Self-awareness is the first step to helping yourself with destructive emotional eating patterns.
Was it the perfect diet for weight loss? Heck no. Sometimes, it wasn’t even healthy.
For someone who was trying to lose weight but didn’t know where to start, it was practical and realistic. It wasn’t overwhelming with trivial details and rules to follow. It was just me trying to eat healthier than I did the day before, because I knew this was for LIFE, not a diet.
Did you lose weight through tracking your meals? What important lessons did it teach you?
Want to know EXACTLY what I ate to lose 150 pounds in 11 months? Your membership into Inspire Transformation Academy includes a downloadable 360-page full-color guide of screenshots from my food journal. You’ll get to see exactly what I ate, what I weighed each month, how many calories I ate (and burned through exercise) every day. You can get that guide instantly (along with 48+ other weight loss trainings) in the Academy member’s only portal.
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