What Is a Food Journal? Tips for Successfully Managing Your Blood Sugar.
In my practice, I work primarily with clients who are worried about their blood sugar. Many have been diagnosed with prediabetes. They don’t want to go down the road that leads to medication and the scary complications associated with out-of-control blood sugar. They’re ready to take charge and make the diet and lifestyle changes that make a real difference.
But getting your blood sugar under control can be overwhelming. There’s a lot to think about. My goal is always to make it as easy as I can for my clients to manage — and improve — their blood sugar, while still being able to live their lives. So I utilize a variety of tools that accomplish just that.
One of my favorite blood sugar management tools is the food journal.
What is a food journal?
A food journal is a tool that can give you and your practitioner great insight into how your food is affecting you — energy, mood, and blood sugar.
I love using food journals in my practice because:
✔ Food journaling helps you see the big picture of what’s going on with your health and nutrition. When you use a food journal, your practitioner can quickly spot patterns and deficiencies that might otherwise go unnoticed. A food journal is a great way to track both physical and emotional reactions to foods as well.
✔ Our reactions to food are complex. And when we eat, we don’t just eat one thing at a time. So it can be challenging to figure out which foods are causing problems. If you’re changing your diet to improve your blood sugar, you want to know which dietary changes are making a difference. Food journals help spot the powerful connection between dietary changes and your body’s reactions.
✔ If you’re prediabetic, it’s important to figure out how what you eat affects your blood glucose. A good online food journal can easily track all your nutrients — both macro and micro. You can quickly see whether you're meeting your daily requirements of vitamins, minerals, protein, fat, and carbs.
Not sure how to figure out what you need? Check out this article about protein, fats, and carbs. And you can read this article to learn how vitamins and minerals can help with blood sugar.
What should you track in your food journal?
The secret to keeping an effective food journal lies in tracking enough information to help you and your practitioner see what’s really going on without making it so complicated that you won’t be consistent.
Depending on your situation and your goals, you can include a variety of information in your journal:
✎ Your blood glucose level
If your doctor has asked you to start checking your blood sugar, including those numbers in your food journal is a great idea. When you can see your blood glucose levels alongside your eating habits, you and your practitioner can make powerful connections that will help inform what you can do to make improvements.
Your doctor probably doesn’t have time for this level of detail. So I recommend working with a certified nutritionist or dietitian. A practitioner who specializes in blood sugar management will be able to help you analyze your food journal effectively.
✎ What, when, and how much you’re eating
When you keep a food journal, it’s important to keep track of exactly what you’re eating — including that piece of candy you grabbed off your co-worker’s desk. Everything. Every bite you take has an effect on your blood sugar in one way or another, so it’s important to record it all.
Also make note of the portion sizes. I don’t recommend that you weigh and measure every bite you take. That can encourage food obsession. But including approximate amounts will help you recognize patterns.
Keeping track of when you eat is also a good idea. If you have a reaction to a food — whether it’s a sensitivity, mood change, or blood sugar spike — it’s important to be able to track how long it took before the reaction occurred.
Your practitioner may also want you to track your macronutrients — protein, carbs, and fats. When it comes to blood sugar management, tweaking the amount of these nutrients can make a big difference. You can read more about that here.
Your medications can impact both your blood sugar and mood. So it’s a good idea to write down any medications you have with your meal.
✎ Where you’re eating
I like my clients to take note of both where they are and what else they are doing when they eat.
These factors make a difference in how your body processes the foods you’re eating. If you’re eating in your car or while working on a stressful project at your desk, you are less likely to digest your food well. Eating under stress keeps your body from being able to release the digestive juices you need to break down your food and absorb the nutrients.
In your journal, you may start to notice a certain food that causes problems for you. But then if you realize you only eat it while you’re stressed-out in traffic, it’s worth figuring out if it’s the food or the stress that your body is reacting to.
✎ How you feel
I recommend that my clients track how they feel physically and emotionally in their food journals. Foods are essentially chemicals once they’re broken down. And chemicals can cause all sorts of different reactions in your body, both physical and emotional.
Take note of any physical sensations you experience either during the meal or within a few hours after eating. Do you have any bloating or stomach pain? Are you constipated or struggling with diarrhea? These can be signs that you are reacting negatively to a certain food.
Food can also affect our moods. So I like my clients to jot down how they are feeling as well. You can indicate your mood both during your meal and in the hours after. You might notice patterns in your mood and energy level that you never attributed to what you’re eating.
Food Journaling Tips
If you’re going to do the work of keeping a food journal, you want it to be effective. These are my best tips for consistent and efficient food journaling:
💡 Keep track in the moment
You think you’ll remember to add that protein bar when you record your dinner. But a lot may happen during the hours that pass between those two meals. If you don’t record what you eat right when you eat it, you’re likely to forget to include some of what you eat — at least sometimes.
And let’s face it. You have enough to keep track of. Trying to remember what you ate throughout the day takes up valuable brain space that could be better allocated.
💡 Make it short and simple
You don’t need to do the analysis while you write down your food. Just jot down what you and your practitioner have discussed. The analysis can come later.
If you find that your food journaling is taking a long time or feels difficult, you’re much less likely to keep up with it.
💡 Don’t forget your beverages
What you drink affects your blood sugar too. Many beverages convert to glucose quickly. So they can raise your blood sugar in a hurry. So make sure and add that afternoon coffee even if you drink it black — yes, caffeine can affect blood sugar. And don’t forget to include any alcoholic beverages!
💡 Find the best tool for you
The easier you make it, the more likely you’ll be to stay consistent with your food journaling. Some people like using a paper journal. And if that’s you, there are many ready-made journals available.
But I recommend using an app or online journal for anyone who’s comfortable with it. A good food journaling app does a lot of the work for you. It will have food lists that include macronutrients so you don’t have to do any calculating. And many of them have boxes you can check to record things like mood and symptoms.
💡 Go back and make observations
Keeping a food journal can help you become more mindful of what you eat even if you don’t look back at it. But the real magic is in the analysis.
If you’re working with a knowledgeable nutritionist, they’ll be able to analyze your food journal to help inform your care. It takes specialized training to see things like blood sugar connections and nutritional deficiencies, so make sure you’re sharing your journal with your practitioner.
💡 Be honest
Let’s be real for a minute here. Decades of diet culture have convinced most of us that what we eat correlates to how “good” we are being — or even whether or not we’re a “good person”.
But that’s a lie. Food does not have morality. You are not a better person if you skip dessert. You are not a worse person if you eat the whole bag of chips. What you eat impacts your body to be certain. But what you eat has absolutely nothing to do with your value as a human being.
For many of my clients, eating is tied to shame. And if this is you, it may be hard to be honest in your food journal. If you eat something you think you “shouldn’t”, you’ll be tempted to leave it out. If you eat “too much” of something, you’ll be tempted to reduce the portion you record.
You don’t have to do that. I can’t speak for other nutritionists, but in my practice I DON’T JUDGE. My concern is getting your blood sugar under control and helping you feel your best. I will never shame you for what you eat.
I’m here to help. And I help because I care. If you’ve gotten bad news from your doctor about your blood sugar, you don’t have to figure everything out on your own. I create a comprehensive, personalized program for each of my clients. Plus, all the clients in my practice get access to my favorite online food journal!
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