THE BLOG
10/31/2014 11:59 am ET Updated Dec 31, 2014

The Way We Should Be Using a Food Journal

Rubberball/Nicole Hill via Getty Images

Oh, the dreaded "food journal."

That thing that got you hooked on calorie counting.

That thing that stares you in the face and makes you come to terms with how many Girl Scout cookies you actually ate.

That thing that makes you feel like an ass-kicking winner on days you stick to your "plan" and an utter failure on days you don't.

Most women that I work with have a very touchy relationship with the food journal. I can feel their heart skip a beat when I mention it. The food journal brings back emotional and harsh memories of dieting, struggle, promising hope followed by heartbreaking failure.

If you're anything like me, you've had several food journals. Started and then abandoned. Started again ("I'm committed, it's going to work this time!") -- and then abandoned. When I look back at those food journals today, although I see innocent numbers and names of different foods jotted down on the pages, I can feel the desperation and sadness that those pages hold.

Look, I get it. The recommendation of keeping a food journal is meant to keep people accountable, and self-reflective in their attempt to create healthier eating habits. But for many people it has led to obsessiveness; their lives begin to revolve around exactly what they eat, anxiety and guilt become familiar feelings around every food decision, and ultimately, when they stray from their "plan" and are too embarrassed to write down that they ate six slices of pizza, they feel like a failure and abandon the food journal.

As a coach who teaches women how to stop obsessing about food (it's imperative if you ever want to feel sane around food), you can imagine my resistance to ever recommending a food journal.

However, I still do recommend a food journal.

Just not that kind of food journal.

Not the kind where you measure your food and write down things like "8 grapes" or ".75 cups of Cheerios."

The kind of food journal that I support is one in which you focus on figuring yourself out. Just. You.

Turning inward and figuring our bodies out food-wise is the crucial step that all of us on the diet roller coaster are missing. If we never figure out what makes us thrive and what normal eating looks like specifically to us, then we're never going to be able to exist without someone else telling us what to eat, essentially we will never be able to stop dieting.

Have you ever white knuckled it to lose weight and then once you get to your goal weight you have no clue how to eat to maintain your weight loss? So, you gain all of the weight back, plus more.

We think, "Once I lose the weight, I'll know how to eat like a normal person. Food will be so easy." But, here's what we're overlooking: After years of dieting, you won't just know how to eat like a normal person. You need to relearn it because you've shut that intuition down through so many years of listening to someone else tell you what, when and how much to eat.

In comes my version of the food journal -- a tool to capture the process of rediscovery and connecting to your body.

So here is what to focus on when keeping a food journal:

Focus on what foods make your body feel energized and what foods make your body feel lethargic.

Experiment with your typical salad -- what kinds of salads satisfy you and which ones make you reach for a chocolate bar immediately after.

Note down when you have headaches, stomachaches, yeast infections, or constipation.

Understand your specific body's way of telling you she's hungry and what signals she gives you that she's had enough.

Learn how much sugar your body can handle and how she tells you she feels overloaded.

I tell my clients, "You are not allowed to write down any measurements, calories, or track every food detail. I want this to be about the friendship, the relationship, the getting to know phase between you and your body." That is all I care about.

Astonishing things happen as we stop "thinking our way thin," and instead drop into our bodies to gain invaluable information.

We lose weight. We find it easier to stop when we're full out of respect for our bodies. We cure our own yeast infections and eliminate IBS symptoms. We instinctively know when our bodies need a cheeseburger and when they need a salad, so our minds don't need to debate the decision for 20 minutes. We know how to feel satisfied so we don't find ourselves binge eating. We're easily able to eat just one cookie.

As we go from ignoring our bodies to opening up a dialogue with them, we naturally start to make decisions out of love for our bodies. Food decisions are no longer made from a place of white knuckling willpower, but instead from a place of respect, clarity and being on the same team as our bodies.

I'd like to invite you to journal like this for at least three weeks. Act like you're an anthropologist, doing a deep dive analysis on your own body. I guarantee you'll be blown away by what you discover.

For more information on ditching the diets and learning how to listen to your body, visit Jamie's website here.