Ask Eliza: I Hate Tracking My Food. Do I Have to Keep a Food Journal?

Q: I really hate tracking my food intake. Do I have to keep a food journal to lose weight?

A: Hi Andrew. Thanks for your question. The answer is yes, and also no! I know, I hate that answer, too. 

You’ve probably heard the saying “you can’t manage what you don’t monitor”, and I believe this to be true. But here’s the truth, if you HATE doing something, the likelihood of you doing it consistently and doing it well is very slim. If you truly hate journaling it’s not going to work for you. 

However, before you ditch it altogether, ask yourself:

  • What do you hate about it — Is it the tracking? Is it the time it takes? Is it tedious? 
  • Do you forget to do it? 
  • Does it make you feel negative feelings? 

Get really clear here. See if there are things you can address, once you break it down, that get to the heart of what is bothering you about it. There are many ways of tracking that might make it less burdensome for you. 

Tracking doesn’t have to be a strict adherence to a calorie counter or macronutrient goal. There are ways to track your progress that don’t entail writing down every morsel of food that goes into your body. 

Strict tracking does work for some people, believe it or not. They tell me they like the accountability and structure, but for others this sounds nightmarish. For some others, they find it useful to track their hunger and fullness around meals along with some of the emotions that come up for them. This feels less tedious, but still positive because it encourages them to slow down and be mindful before eating.

The key here is to really understand what it is you are looking to accomplish with tracking… Is it to notice when you overeat or binge? Is it to understand your patterns of when you eat and why? 

There can be different forms of tracking for the different goals you are looking to accomplish. For most, I don’t recommend food tracking as a long-term solution, but I do always ask people to track in the beginning for two important reasons. 

  1. We need to have a starting baseline. I need to know what typical food intake looks like NOW, to be able to understand how to best help you moving forward. 
  2. Food tracking in the beginning is just like gathering data for a research project. We can better understand food patterns and behaviors if we have certain data points to plot and evaluate. 

In summary, food tracking can and should be viewed simply as a helpful tool in your tool belt that gets you from “Point A” to “Point B”. If it becomes burdensome or you can’t get away from viewing it as a hindrance, it’s best you choose a different tool.