Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Write it Down Rationale

I am by no means a journal keeper. I've never understood why people write down all their thoughts for posterity - not till I started blogging, anyway :-) But I am a list maker - you know, the kind of woman who uses the task feature in Outlook - religiously. They've been known, in certain circles, to call me the Sticky Note Queen. I write down what I've got to do, whom I've got to see, what I want to buy.

And if I forget that back-of-an-envelope list on the kitchen counter when I leave the house, well I spend my entire walk reconstructing it in my mind. (In between thoughts of sex with Clive Owen in the emergency-button-stopped elevator of a fancy hotel in Stockholm while wearing a sexy merry widow from Agent Provocateur, avec easy access stockings and garter bien sur.)

What? It's my fantasy. Can't a girl be stream of consciousness once in a while?

Anyway, if that got your heart pumping, this'll cool you off. Let's talk food diaries, shall we?

You know that recent, big ass, serious post about my parenting struggles? Somehow, exceedingly strangely, it was the prologue to this one. See, mothering was the thing that destabilized me (arguably, I was a biochemical pile of sugar, sitting on a picnic table, waiting for a rainstorm) and abuse of food was a prime mood-altering mechanism.

What happens when you are stressed out of your mind constantly and you can't sleep because every time you do you are awoken, mid-REM, by piercing screams for attention and nourishment and you're doubting your every instinct - one of which is to run away to Tahiti - and you can't stop the stroller for 5 minutes lest the theretofore slumbering, gorgeous baby wakes and demands - you got it, food or attention - and those stolen moments with a magazine and a coffee are simply a dim memory, as is stringing together an articulate sentence and the laundry is piling up as are the dishes because you don't have 5 minutes to do anything between managing the feeding and attending to the baby. But you have to clean because cleaning is how you normalize. Cleaning is how you gain control. And now you can't even clean with a clear head. The baby needs good food, attention and a clean house goddammit.

Suddenly a cookie looks really good.

The thing about processed sugar and salt is that they make you want more. The thing about anxiety and sleep deprivation is that they fuck with your adrenal glands and your insulin levels which makes you want - you guessed it - more sugar and salt. The thing about not having any time to think straight is that you lose the ability to consider how eating thousands of calories of processed sugar and salt daily, in lieu of things that take time and mental energy to prepare, is really going to take its toll on your ability to think straight.

It's a bad scene and I'm harping on it because I don't want anyone who's there right now - for whatever reason: new motherhood, demanding career, school pressures, caring for sick loved ones, all the above - to think that I don't get it.

I get it.

Now I'm not crazy enough to believe that, if you can't sleep or string together a sentence for stress and busy-ness, you're going to think "Hmmm, a food diary's just the thing," but really, it's a tool for raising awareness (which frankly can be the first baby step towards regaining some perspective and making changes). If you haven't got energy to reflect on your emotional intricacies, you may just have time to write down that bag of chips and pint of ice cream followed by the Starbucks fancy coffee. Once you have to look at that shit, staring back at you from the page, you start to think - maybe I'll have a tall Americano and a protein plate instead. Costs less and it actually gives you some nutrient ballast. Then, when it comes time to think about your next meal, you may just choose something else that can sustain your blood sugar somewhat. Over the course of time, I mean.

Let's say you're not mega-stressed. Let's say you don't eat uber-crappily out of desperation. Let's say you're a healthy person who's trying to understand why she can't lose that 5 pounds. I think you know where I'm going with this... A food diary can show you the trends from which you can detangle a probable solution. Of course, the more you know about nutrition, the easier it will be to see how your unique body chemistry is being affected by the food choices you make.

And then there's the person who unwittingly eats the same exact thing 3 times a day and doesn't know that her hair is lank and skin sallow because she never eats any protein, or the person who doesn't know why she's always hungry till she begins to realize (by writing it down) that she's only eating twice a day, at dangerously distant intervals.

Point is, you can learn about yourself by looking at what you eat. If nothing else, it's fun to write stuff down and look at it 3 years later. And if you do it while eating an apple and some raw cheese from the Charlevoix, so much the better.

PS Do tell. Are you a food diarist? Has it helped you? Do you find the whole idea boring and stupid? I wanna know.


  1. That's okay K-Line.. I am a bookmark queen! Same reason.. "wink"

    I don't eat a lot but I do snack, I'll have one pastry and a few pieces of choco a day, but drink green tea, water and two cups of coffee, rarely any sugar drinks, but the truth is I have to work out harder to lose and get to my goal "sigh" but you are right- I was following only eat when I am hungry rule which works but have been working out and keeping busy and in my mind I feel like I earned points to get the pastry, to eat a small single serving of ice-cream..

    I know I will slowly inch my way to my goal and if I want to get there faster I should eliminate the fat day once a week, kick the pastry I have once a day until I am at goal...

    "sigh", sipping coffee and eating a choco...

  2. I am a HUGE list maker and i know that they work. So why don't I keep a food journal? For that very reason. I know that consciousness will demand change and I don't want to. But, I want the results of change. Yikes! You are making me conscious of my commitment to food unconsciousness. How much do I owe you?

  3. Yes yes to everything. I can't function without my notebooks.

    I go through on and off stages with food diaries but I can definitely see the attraction.

  4. Sigh. I don’t do food diaries for the same reason that I don’t keep track of how much I spend on clothes … but your arguments are good ones, and I’m beginning to think I should. Not that I eat crap constantly, but I know I’d eat less of it if I knew EXACTLY how much I was taking in.

  5. I could just write down "Cadbury" and have the whole day covered.

  6. I live by my lists and have lists for everything but have not particularly a journal keeper. A food journal makes sense and I know it helps as I have done it in the past.

    Even though I'm not a mother, I understand about being mega-stressed and tired and just living from one sugar high to another. As a caregiver 18 months I pretty much went from stress to stress to despair and back to stress and yes, carbs and sugars were what saw me through the tough times even though I know the effect is not good and only leaves me craving more carbs. When you are that stressed though, thinking rationally is somewhat impaired.

    Really I should go back to the food diary as stress is really building up again and I know what my failings are in that department (I just dread facing them).

  7. i don't write it down, but i should. some days what i eat is absolutely mortifying (but so delicious!). i am currently on a very healthy diet and would be proud to show what i have been eating. i am trying to keep it up and get more healthy, but, honestly, i have been through this a zillion times and it is NOT EASY. and it doesn't help when your mate dangles pizza and icecream in front of you. argh!

    oh. and i saw some guy on tv (i think he was the head of the food and drug association in the u.s.) and he was saying that eating sugar and salt just makes you crave more and more and more and you are never satisfied. i just stared at him in wonder. because it is true. and it is such a vicious cycle.

  8. Now I'm not, I just don't need it, but for a year I was a food diarist.
    Oh it helped me a lot, I also have done side comments about what I was feeling about what I was eating or not.
    And it was a very interesting experience, I reached a point that I had the need to write right away as I was eating. The diary was every time with me.
    And I compare the days and the food I was eating. I have them stored...
    So after this I think you guess that I think it's not boring or stupid, but can be very helpful


  9. I'm a big food diary keeper. It keeps me in check, and at the same weight. I eat pretty much what I want, but record it so I don't go overboard. I gain weight very easily! Keeping a food diary makes me feel more in control, and less worried. I've done it for years.

  10. Hmm. I love lists too. But I agree with Sal, I dont keep track of neither my clothing purchases, nor my daily meals, because it would become way too visually obvious that something's going wrong ^_^ I do not have too many problems with keeping my weight, though. Just problems with keeping my money >_< But in general I like the idea. But more than that I would prefer keeping a food plan, a plan as to what to eat when, with little, easy recipes. A cookbook with a couple of collected recipes if you so will.. But I am really bad with nutritional stuff, dont know whats in what and all that jazz......

  11. Wendyb: you have a long lost daughter in Bratty here. She once got a Nestle gift box from a Santa in School and threw it over her shoulder as she walked away.

    K: for the last 3 days I have had either early mornings or late and broken night's of sleep. Last night all I could think about was sticky toffee pudding with rolo icecream (rolos are caramel filled round chocolates) I had a 3 small glasses of Macon Villages instead. That tends to pass the hips by. The toffee pudding doesnt.


    *(ps. Food diarys are applied behavioural analysis)

  12. Hey Everyone: Thanks for all of your fabulous, well considered comments...

    GJ: I'm glad to know I'm not alone!

    Bel: Advice given free of charge - and with love! Seriously, I think it's so true that we often can't bring ourselves to consider things. And then change is impossible. I may owe you money!

    Lavender: I just feel like I've got a grip on things when I write it down. I still do what I want to do, but what I want to do is tempered by the act of writing...

    Sal: I'm sure you would eat less - if that's what you were trying to accomplish by writing a food diary. That's the genius of the system. And, I think it's fascinating that you relate the food diary to the ban. I have never made that connection, but they are both consciousness raising exercises. Genius. Thing is, you can't ban food :-)

    Wendy: That's where you NY sophisticates have the edge :-)

    Mardel: Thanks so much for sharing your story. I think caregiving - whether for infants/children or loved ones who are older or infirm, is just the most gruelling thing. And, with the caring for an aging loved one scenario - all the moreso. I'd love to know if, should you go back to the food diary now while things are stressful, it may help you to curtail the stress.

    droll: Love to hear that you are in a healthy phase - and I love that you express the temporality of eating habits - reminding us that many of us go from one way to another many times in the course of our lives. We aren't failures for eating "less well" during certain phases. We're human beings, negotiating a way in this world. So keep on!

    Seeker: You mention an interesting element of the food diary - writing down how you feel in relation to what you are eating. At times, I do this, at other times I don't. It's a very interesting exercise though.

    Tea Lady: It seems that you've integrated it in the same way I have. I really use it as a filter -it helps me to determine what I really want vs. what I'm eating mindlessly - and as a portion control mechanism. It makes me feel more secure about my food choices and the stability of my weight too.

    Kitten: Hilarious. And I love your idea of a food journal that includes recipes and thoughts about food in general. That may be a great, creative way for you to give it a go!

    Hammie: I am very familiar with the rolo - and your dessert choice sounds awesome (I ate a ton of Baskin Robbins gold medal ribbon ice cream last night, fyi - exceedingly caramelly calorific!). How lucky are you that the booze doesn't stick :-) And it gives such a nice buzz, no? You are 100% right about the food diary as applied behavioural analysis. I never would have thought of it if you hadn't said it though. Look at me going all therapy on my ass!

  13. K: I think I am so small I fall over before drinking can become fattening! And Macon is pretty lightweight!