Healthy Byte: Food Journaling without Counting Calories

I am a total MFP fangirl because it worked & continues to work for me. But I also understand that tracking calories may not work for everyone. So I came across this little gem which will give an alternative to food jounaling which maybe less intense for some. Hope you’ll find it useful.

Illustrations by Elliot Salazar

There’s not a lot I miss about dieting, but one thing I secretly, whine-ily pine for on a regular basis are the tricks. For most of my life, I snatched them up everywhere, like a hungry pickpocket: Drink a big glass of water before a meal to trick your body into feeling full! (I read that classic in numerous diet books.) A friend-of-a-friend of a famous actress once told me she would eat half her meal, and then dump salt all over the rest to stop herself from finishing. Or this lunacy I picked up in an old O feature: If you’re still hungry after dinner, just chew on an orange peel!

I’m glad I’m no longer sitting around chewing on orange peels. But I miss the simple promise of diet tips, even if none of them actually delivered. With intuitive eating, there are no magic tricks or shortcuts. But there are some great tools. And one, in particular, has been more effective at changing my relationship to food than any orange peel: my food journal.

Food journals, of course, are also a staple of many diets. But, with this journaling method, I’m not tracking calories, points, or carbs. Instead, I’m tracking things like hunger, fullness, cravings, satisfaction, emotions, and any judgments I find my mind making about my meal. Yes, as ever, it’s a lot more complex than a diet food journal. But though it’s not a “trick,” this method works like magic. This is how I learned to be curious — not critical — about the way I eat. And that’s when my eating habits really began to change.

I began this practice back at the start of The Anti-Diet Project, at the urging of my eating coach, Theresa Kinsella. Each week, we’d go over my eating record together and note any patterns that emerged or any reactions that needed addressing. If I found myself flinching over a piece of pizza or boasting about my spinach salad, we talked about it. We talked about it until I was able to admit that maybe I had some lingering stress over eating pizza — and also that I found spinach brag-worthy.

Eventually, these conversations became more of an internal habit, and I no longer needed the journal. And that was the end of all my problems with food, forever! End of story — see you next week!

Just kidding (but can you imagine?).

As I wrote a few weeks back, I’m in the midst of my own “fresh start.” Having spent the past year and a half occupied with writing my book, a lot of those healthy, new, internal habits got shaken loose by the stress (and time-suckage) of maintaining two full-time jobs at once (plus, like, my life). So, when I finally got back some bandwidth to devote to my fitness and eating practices, the food journal was one of the first things I reached for.

This time around, I decided to simplify things even further and download an app that would suit my purposes. I wound up using the Rise Up + Recover app (not because anyone pitched or paid me to do so, FYI; it was simply the first app I found that suited my needs). The app is full of tools and resources, but all I use is the Log Meal feature, which has designated fields where I enter what I eat, when/where I eat it, and whom I’m eating with. It also has a seemingly endless list of feelings I can check off to gauge my emotional state — and a big, blank “notes” section where I can detail all those key observations about the meal. Here’s an example of a meal I journaled during my first week with the app:

Time: 7:40 p.m.
Where: Restaurant
With: Friends
Meal: Grilled salmon with mashed potatoes. Side salad.
Feelings: Tired, happy, stressed.
Notes: Worried over the mashed potatoes a little bit, thinking I should maybe ask for a different side that wasn’t a starch. I ordered the side salad because I was worried about not getting enough greens in today, and also because it made me feel better about the potatoes. I reminded myself I have permission to eat potatoes, but I still didn’t want to finish them. Then, I finished the potatoes really fast. Am I still weird about potatoes?

The answer was, uh, yes, I’m obviously still a little weird about potatoes. Consciously, I may recognize that they’re a totally acceptable, normal food to eat, but somewhere in my mind, there’s a diet-addled maniac who sees potatoes as the bad guy. Good to know.

This entire entire entry took about three minutes to thumb-type out on the subway ride home from dinner. Thanks to the journal, I now had super-helpful intel on my relationship to food, and I could use that the next time I encountered potatoes. It gave me the opportunity to remind myself of important intuitive eating axioms, like Permission To Eat. Furthermore, it gave me the boost of knowing I was actively reinforcing the healthy mentality I wanted to cultivate.

I won’t say it was effortless — or as simple as drinking a glass of water before a meal. Doing this food journal meant creating a new habit, and that requires a modicum of energy. But it’s a modicum worth spending. I didn’t do it perfectly; sometimes I didn’t remember to track my meals until hours later, or even the next day. But this was a promise I made myself, and so I did my best to keep it up as consistently as possible. And lo and behold: It was worth it.

I’ll spare you the weeks of food-based navel-gazing entries that followed and instead cut to one revealing meal the following month:

Time: 2 p.m.
Where: Work
With: Alone
Meal: Roasted chicken thigh with vegetables. Side of roasted potatoes.
Feelings: Content, tired, stressed.
Notes: Felt good. Was satisfying. Didn’t quite finish, so put leftovers in fridge for later if hungry again. 

Not only is there zero Potato Panic in my notes, but there’s no panic, period. According to my “feelings” list, I was still tired and stressed (issues unto themselves, I realize, but honestly — who isn’t?). But when it comes to my food, I’m pretty much stress-free, at least in this moment. I didn’t even bother with full sentences, let alone the starch soliloquies I wrote during the first week.

Just food journaling alone won’t cure your food anxieties any more than just talking about your problems will make them go away. But if you want to solve a problem, you have to be able to see it. This kind of record gets your unconscious behavior out onto the page where you can see it — and understand it, and, if need be, get someone to help you figure it out.

It also takes your inner critic and turns it into an explorer. That’s not an easy change to make on your own. If you have the ability to say, “Oh, I’m just going to stop criticizing myself and, while I’m at it, have an entirely neutral relationship with food,” and actually do it, then great. (Can you email me? Are you a wizard?) But most of us need help to get there. Most of us don’t have magic, so we need our tools.

I now keep up with my food journal regularly (if not perfectly — I am “tired” and “stressed,” after all). It’s helped me reconnect with my healthy eating habits in a natural way. It’s kept me in touch with my physical response to food and has gently guided me back toward all those old, unhelpful issues I still have left over from my dieting days. Because they’re there. That diet-addled maniac shrieking over potatoes is still hanging out in my head, somewhere. Maybe she always will be, on some level. All I know for sure is that if I leave her to her own devices, she’ll run around like a crazy person, and I’ll never be comfortable with a plate of potatoes again. The only alternative is to sit down and face her — let her vent her worries as I tap them out into my phone. Then, I can see them for what they are: old nonsense I no longer need, as useful as chewing on an orange peel.

Then, I put away my phone and get on with my day.

Originally Posted HERE

HB Sig

Healthy Byte: Day 980

Day 980 2

Elmer Fudd and I are kindred spirits. Just like the stubby little game hunter with the absurdly large head is always on the hunt for a ‘twabbit,” I have this relentless propensity to always be on the hunt for ways to simplify every facet of my life. I habitually scour the internet whether it’s the latest Android app or new shortcut in MS Word, no matter what it is I weigh the practicability then yay or nay it. It is quite the persistent personal quirk which I feel compelled to entertain not because of some noble, earth shattering enlightenment, but mostly because essentially I am one lazy bitch!

I want to get the most out of everything doing the absolute bare minimum. By and large, I apply the same approach to my eating and exercise. I am constantly surveying for a more nutritiously rich vegetable or a new exercise which works multiple muscle groups  simultaneously because I want the most bang for my buck.

Part of this near obsessive pursuit is constantly volunteering myself to be a guinea pig in my own food experiments. Sometimes I come across a huge win. Like the discovery of big leafy rainbow chard leaves are great to make a bastardized burrito instead of using the standard flour tortilla. While others I suffer the consequences of my own ignorant assumptions which is usually in the form of weight gain. Like the time I thought I could eat all the whole wheat English muffin with PB&J that my little heart desired because ‘hey – it’s whole wheat, it was healthy, complex carbs are good for me, etc.’ Somehow my brain interpreted all the perceived goodness to free reign – what a silly brain!

I was particularly motivated to constantly tweak my food repertoire because although I was eating tons of vegetables (broccoli, mushrooms, onions, cherry tomatoes, carrots), with lean proteins, and complex carbs, I never felt quite ‘right,’ something always seemed to be amiss, and I was plagued with severe constipation and bloatedness. It was really frustrating and defeating because my diet did not reflect how I was feeling. A few years ago, one of my best friends was diagnosed with having Celiac. [Side Note: Celiac is not a food allergy, rather it is an autoimmune disorder where essentially the body attacks itself every time a person consumes gluten.] Her comprehensive revamp of her diet to accommodate her medical needs sparked the idea that perhaps I had some sensitivity to gluten. With the current massive food trend of gluten free everything, it seemed like a logical place to start. SO, I conducted a little experiment and started to eat gluten free pizzas but with all the same toppings. After a few times the difference was miniscule at best. I was at a loss. I consumed very little dairy so I knew it wasn’t lactose intolerance. I tried to reduce my total carb consumption but that only led to extreme fatigue. I tried to change my lean protein from chicken to pork but it made no difference. I was thoroughly stumped. The frequent stomach irritation and always feeling like I had just single handedly feasted an entire 8 course Thanksgiving dinner haunted me and was about to derail my efforts when as a last resort I knocked on the door of my best research assistant, Mrs. Google to further investigate another possible cause.

I searched:

Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity

Search Results:

Irritable Bowl Syndrome (IBS)

FODMAP diet to help with IBS symptoms

My eyes immediately was drawn to “FODMAP” because my initial thought was, ‘what an ridiculous acronym.’  But upon further research, the symptoms the website was describing were almost exactly what I was experiencing. It was as if Dr. Google took my symptoms and magically computated an answer (queue the signing angels please). FODMAP stands for “Fermentable Oligosaccharides Disaccharides Monosaccharides And Polyols.” FODMAP are short-chain carbohydrates which are poorly absorbed in the small intestine and pass into the large intestine, where gut bacteria rapidly ferment them causing a retention of fluid that can manifest in the forms of bloating, abdominal pain, flatulence, nausea, and diarrhea in some while causing constipation in others. Approximately 10% of the population has FODMAP sensitivity or intolerance. WOW – only if I was this lucky in the lottery!

The prominent challenge of FODMAP foods is that it is not relegated to any one specific standard food group. ie. fruits, dairy, etc. FODMAP comprises many foods across all food groups based on its natural biochemical markers. ie. Frutans, Galacto-oligosaccharides, etc. (Galatac what? lol) Even within the same FODMAP food group, some people may be able to tolerate a certain limited quantity of something while others are unable to tolerate any. It is this level of individualized symptoms which can only truly be remedied through many, many, many trials & errors to identify and replace irritants in one’s diet. Perhaps the biggest shocker for me was how many ‘healthy’ foods fell under the reign of high FODMAP food group. I was simply stunned & bewildered that ⅔ of my vegetable intake was on one high FODMAP food list or the other!

I incrementally began to swap out high FODMAP foods with low FODMAP options. And miraculously I increasingly felt relief from my symptoms. Less bloated, no stomach pains, and regularity without the use of harsh laxatives every other day. This is what I had expected from committing to a healthy lifestyle and finally I am beginning to be able to bask in the rewards of my effort.

Remember that pizza experiment? I tried it again but this time on a regular crust replaced the cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, onions with spinach, pineapple, and black olives. And VALAH like Tony the Tiger, I felt GRRRREAT! The one personal pizza didn’t make me feel like that I had just devoured four. I wasn’t so bloated that I had to consign myself to elastic waistbands for the following 2-3 days until I was able to fit back into my jeans without feeling like being squeezed like a sausage. I simply felt AH-MAZING!

This is probably the primary reason why I continue to faithfully & mindlessly log every morsel of food which passes my lips – no matter how small the quantity. For me, it’s beyond just a calorie tracker. For me, it is a living record of my diet which is an invaluable tool for anyone with any sort of food sensitivity or allergies. There is years of data at the fingertips and whenever my body tells me that something is a bit wonky, I have a ready resource with me at all times. So yea, I will more than likely be that person … the life food logger.

Below is a very small sample of everyday items in FODMAP food categories which may surprise you:

FERMENTABLE OLIGOSACCHARIDES (eg. Fructans and Galacto-oligosaccharides)


  • Vegetables: asparagus, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cherry tomato, garlic, onion, pea
  • Cereals: rye & wheat cereals when eaten in large amounts (e.g. couscous, pasta)
  • Legumes: bean, chickpea, lentil
  • Fruits: custard apple, persimmon, rambutan, watermelon, white peach


  • Vegetables: bok choy, carrot, celery, chives, corn, cucumber, eggplant, green beans, green pepper, leafy greens, lettuce, parsnips, spring onion (green part only)
  • Onion/garlic substitutes: garlic-infused oil
  • Cereals: gluten-free and spelt bread/cereal products
  • Fruit: tomato



  • Milk: regular and low-fat cow, goat, and sheep milk; ice cream
  • Yogurts: regular and low-fat yogurts
  • Cheeses: soft and fresh cheeses


  • Milk: lactose-free milk, rice milk
  • Ice cream substitutes: gelato, sorbet
  • Yogurts: lactose-free yogurts Cheeses: hard cheeses

MONOSACCHARIDES (eg. excess Fructose)


  • Fruits:  apple, peach, mango, pear, sugar snap pea, tinned fruit in natural juice, watermelon
  • Honey sweeteners: fructose, high-fructose corn syrup
  • Large total fructose dose: concentrated fruit sources, large servings of fruit, dried fruit, fruit juice


  • Fruits: banana, blueberry, cantaloupe, grape, grapefruit, honeydew melon, kiwi, lemon, lime, mandarin, orange, passion fruit, pineapple, raspberry, strawberry Honey substitutes: golden syrup, maple syrup
  • Sweeteners: any sweeteners except polyols


POLYOLS (eg. Sorbitol, Mannitol, Maltitol, Xylitol and Isomalt)


  • Fruits: apple, apricot, avocado, cherry, lychee, nectarine, peach, pear, plum, prune, watermelon
  • Vegetables: cauliflower, mushrooms, snow peas
  • Sweeteners: isomalt, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, and other sweeteners ending in “-ol”


  • Fruits: bananas, blueberry, cantaloupe, grape, grapefruit, honeydew melon, kiwi, lemon, lime, orange, passion fruit, raspberry
  • Sweeteners: glucose, sugar (sucrose), other artificial sweeteners not ending in “-ol”


FODMAP Food Lists:

**PLEASE NOTE: Due to a variation of everyone’s tolerance of high FODMAP foods, there maybe some discrepancies between FODMAP food lists. So please use the list as a general guide not gospel.**

Common FODMAP Sensitivity / Intolerance Symptoms

  1. Food equals bloating
  2. Healthy food seems to aggravate the problem
  3. You are lactose intolerant but…
  4. You can’t identify the culprit(s)
  5. Doctors don’t help
  6. You have a love/hate relationship with the toilet
  7. You feel better after going to the toilet
  8. Your digestive system rules your life

Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (Intolerance)

Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity

FODMAP Abstract:

There is emerging evidence for the role of food intolerance in the management of IBS symptoms. This does not present a cure, rather suggested dietary modifications to improve symptoms and quality of life. The greatest body of evidence is for the low-FODMAP diet, which improves symptoms in at least 74% of patients with IBS. There is potential for a low food chemical diet to improve IBS symptoms by impacting on the level of hypersensitivity to luminal distension, but further work is needed.


This week’s tip is based on a general observation at the gym. Day in & day out it’s easy to dial it in – I know I have. But there are certain things we can do to ensure a more robust effort even when we would rather be home in our jammies. Day 980 TipAs a huge advocate of compound exercises to get the most bang out of my workout buck, I try to target multiple muscle groups or body systems with one movement or exercise. When I am on the elliptical I always use some sort of program and incrementally vamp up the resistance. Higher resistance serves two purposes:

  1. Higher resistance naturally makes me exert more effort with every step rather I really want to or not
  2. In general, resistance training is a great way to build lean muscles.

Therefore in 30 minutes time, I not only get in a nice dose of cardio, I also am building muscles via resistance training. BOOM – two birds with one stone so-to speak (no actual bird was harm in that paraphrase). So go on, leave the book or magazine at home, crank up the tunes & the resistance, and get more out of your exercise!

HB Sig