Eating food isn’t as easy as it may seem. Sure, you’ve been doing it all your life, but how often are you really paying attention to what you eat? Do you have any idea how many calories you are consuming? Could you estimate your fiber intake? Or your sugar or caffeine intake? Maybe you are eating whatever your environment is serving up. Or are eating on the run, whatever you can grab at the time? When you’re eating without paying attention to what you’re eating or how you’re eating, you are essentially eating “in the dark.” To achieve better nutrition and to build a healthier lifestyle, it’s best to turn on the lights around food and your relationship with food.

When it comes to making behavioral change, whether it be reducing something (like substance use) or improving something (like eating healthier), clinical trials have repeatedly shown that keeping an accurate record of your behavior is a powerful starting point for making positive changes. If you are trying to change any behavioral pattern it can be helpful to “track” your progress. Whether you are using an app or just plain old pen and paper, tracking can help you identify obstacles or patterns as well as help you achieve your goals and reinforce progress you have made.

When it comes to changing eating habits this can involve a lot of detail because we tend to consume food throughout the day and in a variety of spontaneous as well as routine ways. But “turning the light on” to your food intake habits can be a step toward making significant changes in your diet and relationship to food. Here are some suggestions for things to “track” when it comes to food.

  • Record the food you eat for every snack and meal throughout the day. Make note of portion size. Include beverages (don’t forget water!)
  • Record what you were doing when you eat and how you feel after.
  • Make note of the situations (e.g., people you were with, places, emotional states) you were in when you consumed food or beverages. Also consider noting the pace of your eating.
  • Record any healthy symptoms you are interested in improving as there may be helpful patterns that you can share with your healthcare team.

The accuracy of this information will be very meaningful in examining your habits and improving your awareness of what you are putting in your body day to day and how you might be feeling physically and emotionally as a result. We recommend that you complete a week and then step back to review.

  • Are there aspects of your food consumption that sabotage your stated goals? (e.g., “I want to lose 10 pounds, but notice I tend to eat Swedish Fish every afternoon at 4).
  • What are the different variables (people, places, feelings, situations) in your life that contribute to any unhealthy food patterns? (e.g., eating when bored, forgetting to drink water during the day while at computer)
  • Examine the times that you eat. Do you consume your first significant food at lunch time or even later? Do you feel hungry and find yourself eating late at night?

Keeping a daily record of your behavior can seem time consuming and difficult. We also know, however, that doing so will provide you with the information you need to make positive changes. Sharing your information with a nutritionist, therapist, your doctor or even a friend…can start the process of more consistently eating with awareness and purpose or eating with the “lights on.”

Need an app to help you track your eating and help turn on the lights? Here’s the most popular food tracking app from Lifehacker.com: http://lifehacker.com/most-popular-food-and-nutrition-tracking-tools-myfitne-1121876804. Also check out this article from the New York Times on the benefits of eating within a certain time window:
http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/01/15/a-12-hour-window-for-a-healthy-weight/.