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What You Learn When You Keep A Food Journal For A Week

It can be a very eye-opening experience

By Chai SteevesPublished about a year ago 4 min read
What You Learn When You Keep A Food Journal For A Week
Photo by Eiliv-Sonas Aceron on Unsplash

My daughter is taking a health and nutrition course this summer, as part of her high school curriculum. What a great course. We’re all learning a ton about how to eat better, the role of nutritional supplements and other lifestyle tips that can keep us healthier.

One of the assignments was to keep an online food journal for a week to see how you are eating. We used MyFitnessPal, which provides a very comprehensive and relatively easy-to-use food and exercise journaling program. The assignment was to eat and exercise as you normally would for a week, record everything, and then share any observations you have about your eating, nutrition, and exercise.

My daughter has had some food issues in the past, including a struggle with an eating disorder, so we decided that I would keep the food and exercise journal and she would do the assignment based on my eating and exercise for the week. What an eye-opening exercise.

As background, I had always considered myself to be a very healthy eater and an intense exerciser. I had been a little overweight as a kid, but got in really good shape in college. As an adult, I’ve always worked hard to not slide back. I’ve also always worried about my genetic predispositions. My father’s family is very overweight and they all have a raft of health issues and tend to die early. So, all that to say, I’m pretty careful about what I eat and I exercise religiously.

For one week I kept a very detailed accounting of everything I ate and drank and all the exercise I did. I tried very hard to make it a ‘normal’ week, doing all of these things as I normally would. It was difficult not to modify my eating a bit, knowing it was being recorded, but I tried not to.

There were a few things I noticed, some of them surprised me and others were predictable. I detail them here because I suspect there are others who are similar to me — thinking they are good eaters — who may have some of the same issues.

Firstly, if not for alcohol, I don’t get nearly enough calories. I tend to eat pretty much what my wife eats. Especially since working from home began, we have all meals together and we tend to eat pretty much the same things, and the same portions. Yet, I weigh about 40% more than my wife, and when we’ve looked into the calorie intake we need to maintain our current weight, I need a lot more than her. According to the food journalling, I was 400–700 calories short pretty much every day. Yet, I have been at pretty much the exact same weight for the past 25 years. This brings up my second observation…

I drink too much alcohol. A friend — a doctor — has said to me many times that most people, himself included, drink more alcohol than they think. He said that for any of us who drink — and he, I, and our whole little group of friends drink — we would find that we likely drink 25–50% more than we think. The glass of wine we have is actually larger than a 5 oz serving. We top up our drinks and don’t really count that. We sometimes have a drink with lunch and forget to consider that when we think about how much we drink.

Well, my doctor friend is certainly right. I always said I drink at the mid-range of the healthy range for men — about 10 drinks a week. I realized I was fooling myself. Granted it’s summer, and we’re socializing more since coming out of the pandemic lockdowns, but I’m much closer to the upper end of healthy — 15 drinks a week — and when I think of it honestly I am probably above than on some weeks. Definitely, something to consider.

Salt. I really didn’t think I ate much salt. This is deliberate — I have a wicked family history of high blood pressure so we rarely eat prepared or canned foods and we don’t add salt when cooking. I thought I was a salt-saint. But when I looked at my results for the week I was pushing up against the upper limit. Salted air popcorn in the evening, ketchup on a turkey burger, certain types of cheese. It adds up. And given how worried I am about high blood pressure, I’m going to have to manage that a bit.

Iron. I should have known I would be low there. We don’t eat much red meat, but I thought our spinach and kale and fish would make up for it. Not even close. I was at about half my iron requirement. I think I’m going to start cooking a steak at the start of each week and just having a little piece every day with lunch.

I also found the effect of exercise to be interesting. I’ve been hearing more and more lately that the amount of exercise you do is of far less importance than eating well. I believe this of course, but I was also impressed by what an impact regular, intense exercise has on my results. One of the main reasons I was 700 or 800 calories short on many days was because of a workout that burned 400 calories. That creates a huge buffer.

This was a very useful exercise. I’ve never been one to count calories, and probably will not do that on an ongoing basis. But doing it for a week or two, just to gather some insights — well worth it.


About the Creator

Chai Steeves

I'm an eclectic guy - I like writing about sex, relationships, parenting, politics, celebrity trivia - the works. I'm happily married and a father of 2.

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