Consider Keeping A Food Journal
Gulp a cup of coffee in the car, stuff a donut in your mouth, or, if you’re feeling slightly healthier, inhale a piece of toast with butter in a mad dash commute to work.
Maybe weekends allow you to eat more for breakfast: eggs, bacon, orange juice, 3 cups of coffee… can you relate?
Most people have to be somewhere early morning Monday-Friday, be it a corporate job or dropping off the kids to school. Five hours go by and you’ve been running around like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off. You realize you’re starving so you scarf down a turkey sandwich at the local deli or office cafeteria. Perhaps you think that your sandwich is healthy: you opt for wheat bread with some veggies added to turkey. But your white bread is mostly all sugar. The iceberg lettuce has very little nutrition and the tomatoes have possibly been sprayed with pesticides.
Within an hour of inhaling the turkey sandwich, you feel an intense desire to go curl in a ball and take a nap.
Your energy level has crashed.
But somehow, you power through the rest of the day—thanks to an energy drink or perhaps multiple cups of coffee—and although you still feel somewhat off kilter, you manage to get home, clean the house, pick up the kids, cook dinner and finish all the myriad menial tasks it takes to keep the engines running (even though on the inside, your own engine is running on fumes).
To prevent this from happening, consider keeping a food journal.
Though you might think you do not have time to keep one, maintaining a food journal is actually easy, especially with high-tech versions (apps) available on smartphones. A food journal will help you see patterns in your diet, providing clues as to why you’re experiencing energy crashes.
If you like the idea of having rock-steady energy and unfluctuating, mentally-stable moods throughout the day, a food journal is the best way to achieve these desired superior traits of well-being.
In other words, if you’re prone to mood-swings and feel crazy sometimes, it could be because of your food habits.
The most important rule of keeping a food journal: Record everything that goes down your throat.
Achieving steady energy requires more than simply recording what foods you eat. Many people who keep a food journal often forget to record the little ingredients that can possibly lead to depleted energy.
Here’s an example: instead of jotting down ‘green salad,’ also include what type of dressing.
If the dressing was something other than a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, and instead was a huge helping of Caesar’s dressing loaded with processed ingredients and sugar, the dressing could be the culprit for a later energy crash.
Another example: you think you’re eating a healthy hamburger because the beef is organic/pasture-raised/grass-fed/kosher. Or maybe you don’t care. The bun could even be gluten-free and topped with a slice of organic tomato and avocado.
But the food journal forgets to include a popular brand of ketchup that contains high-fructose corn syrup, which interferes with the appetite hormone, ghrelin. Ghrelin normally signals the brain that you’ve had enough to eat. Your appetite, despite the healthy beef, is insatiable because of the high-fructose corn syrup in the ketchup that interferes with ghrelin’s ability to communicate with the brain.
When you eat foods with high-fructose corn syrup, the stomach defeats the brain.
You don’t have to record all the ingredients in every food item, but do make sure to include every condiment such as ketchup, mustard and hot sauce. Even though you might be able to down a bottle of habanero peppers with no problem, this brave dietary feat might be interfering with digestion, thereby possibly zapping your energy.
So make sure you record every little seemingly innocuous ingredient; it might not be as harmless as you think. If you have questions about a particular food or ingredient, research on the Internet or consult a nutrition specialist.
Just recording your main foods, though, should have a very positive effect on your energy levels within only a couple weeks of keeping a food journal. After this two week period, you should begin recognizing unbeneficial dietary patterns and be able to adjust accordingly.
For example, if on one day, you didn’t eat anything until 11:00 a.m., even though you thought you were eating healthy foods at brunch like salad, try eating the same foods the next day earlier in the morning.
Food journals have feelings, too.
Fine-tune your diet
To fine-tune your diet and thereby achieve steady energy, include the following parameters in your food journal:
- energy level before meal
- mood before meal
- hunger level before meal (1-5 with 5 being starving)
- these same 3 parameters after the meal
Taking it a step further, record your energy, mood and hunger levels 30 minutes, 1 hour and 2 hours after a meal. If you think that’s asking too much, you can simplify by recording ‘general well-being’ after meal.
Perhaps within 20 minutes after a meal, you feel satiated and in a good mood, but 30 minutes or so later, you have a craving for something salty and sweet. You’ve also noticed that your mood has swung to the irritable side. If this is the case, you probably didn’t eat enough vegetables, or protein or natural fat. (Sorry, it’s going to take some detective work on your part—mostly by trial and error and your intuition, if you have a strong one.)
Macronutrient portion sizes are critical
For lunch, you’ve just eaten what you thought was a healthy meal: Miracle Noodle with stir-fry veggies. Within the hour, though, it feels like you didn’t even eat lunch. The problem is that you did not add enough protein to the meal.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner should include protein sources and natural fat to regulate blood sugar levels.
A proper balance of carbohydrates (mostly vegetables and a little bit of low-glycemic grains like quinoa), protein and natural fat acts as the proper fuel for your fine-tuned engine of a body.
Again, figuring out the correct proportion of macronutrients at each meal will take some fine tuning and trial and error. And that’s the purpose of keeping the food journal. You are discovering what is the best fuel blend for you. Everybody is different.
Some people might thrive on larger portions of protein while others require more natural fat and/or carbohydrates for optimal energy….
Does life seem like one stressed-fill episode after another? Are you too busy to pay attention to how you feel after a meal?
If you want to go through life with less stress and better energy, get motivated to keep a detailed food journal. This will help you over time, get in touch with how powerful food is in affecting your moods and energy levels. Time is of the essence for a food journal.
Other things you might want to record in your food journal is how you slept the previous night and at what times you began eating at every meal to learn what patterns give you the best energy.
Also record how much water you consumed throughout the day. Remember, in addition to noting every condiment, also record everything you drink.
Maybe the bottle of wine you shared at dinner last night is the reason why you’re running on empty today, even though you thought you ate healthy.
You don’t have to keep a food journal for the rest of your life. But you may learn to like it.
Maybe all it will take is a week or two out of your life to learn how to live every day with rock-steady energy for the rest of your life. It’s worth a shot, right?