It was the reason you couldn’t stick with Weight Watchers.

It was a constant source of frustration for you and your leader. You couldn’t seem to get past it or communicate to her exactly what the problem was. You just couldn’t make yourself keep a food journal.

You tried to convince her that you were counting points in your head. Both of you knew it was never a very accurate count. The results made neither of you happy.

She never understood the anxiety you faced having to “balance the checkbook”. You would feel proud of choosing almonds over potato chips one minute and feel like a failure the next when you went over your points for the day. How can one number hold such power? Fear would creep in as you realized how close you were to going over the line for the week. The pressure of it all would make you say “what the hell” by Saturday night and cozy up with a points busting pint of Ben & Jerry’s.

The truth is food accountability and keeping a food journal can be extremely helpful on a fitness journey. However, that doesn’t mean you have to count calories, points or macros. It’s all a of matter of learning how to create and keep a no judgment food journal.

For a no judgment food journal you need to approach the data like a scientist. A good scientist starts with a question to explore, does the experiment and records the information about what happens without blame or shame. Your plan should be the same. First, start each journaling session with a question to explore.

How can I eat to meet my goals today?

What foods make my body feel strong and energized?

How hungry am I when I start to eat?

Am I getting some protein and veggies at each meal?

Then choose a method to gather the data. If counting calories is the source of your food log anxiety I recommend staying away from popular apps like MyFitness Pal or LoseIt. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a way to use your phone and an app to log your food. Here are techniques I recommend to clients when we experiment with keeping a food journal.

  • Use a photo based food app like dietSnaps. This app doesn’t use calories or make you search an endless and confusing food database. Instead, you snap a photo of your meal while notating the date, time and any additional information you want to capture. You can keep an eye to portions without feeling overwhelmed with data.
  • Create your own food photo gallery. To do a photo food log you don’t necessarily need a special app. Just set up an album on your phone for your meals. While you may not be able to capture as much data you can still have a clear recall of what you ate and when with your phone’s date stamp.
  • Try a standard journaling app. Both Day One and Evernote make excellent journals for your food experiments. You can record what you eat, where or how you feel. Photos can be added if you find them helpful.

You can also go old school with paper. Who doesn’t love a reason to buy a new notebook? Plus you may have more room to make details about your mood, the overall feeling for the day, sleep, exercise and anything else that might effect your food choices. This tool might be a little less convenient but it could open up more space to explore other obstacles and challenges on your journey.

Once you’ve gathered the data make time to review it. When you’re no longer focusing on calories, you can look at things that will help you write your personal Owner’s Manual. Look at your data and try to answer your question. Notice things like,

Is my plate balanced with lean protein, veggies, smart carbs and healthy fats?

Am I getting a variety of foods throughout the day?

Do they portion sizes match my needs?

How many times a week am I eating out?

Are there certain foods that make me feel unusual or with unpleasant side effects?

Am I eating because I am hungry or because of other cues?

How long does it take me to eat each meal?

Take the data and then put the journal away for a while. Work on replicating the wins you noticed or doing one percent better on a specific area you want to improve. Give yourself permission both to try and to fail. It’s just data, not a measurement of your worth.

Remember, this isn’t a process of judgment. A good scientist looks at what works and what doesn’t. She takes what works and tries to do more of that, to build on it for the next experiment. She lets go of what isn’t working and moves on.

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