When clients come to me to lose weight one of the first things that I ask them to do is to keep eating exactly as they have been for a week and to keep a detailed food journal.
A food journal helps me, and my client, identify patterns and learn why they are overeating and overweight. For years I just thought I overate because I was ‘greedy’ or had ‘no will power’. I had shame around not being able to control my eating, and when I felt that shame and thought I was incapable, I would seek comfort in food and eat more.
When I understood all the reasons why humans have evolved to overeat, when I learned about food and eating with regards to our physiology, neurobiology, psychology and evolution it helped me to overcome that shame and frustration. This in turn enabled me to work with my body and brain, and not against them as I had done for years.
So here are the five things that I ask clients to observe and record when we start working together.
List all foods and drinks that they put in their mouth. This will tell me whether they’re getting all the nutrients they need. When I look at what my clients are eating I am checking to see how much protein, fat and carbohydrate they are getting at each meal, and each time they eat. I am checking to see if they have a balanced diet. I am also looking to see if they are eating foods that will help them feel satiated or foods that will leave them hungry for more. I want to know if they are eating healthy fats to get the right balance of essential fatty acids. And I want to know if they have variety and plenty of fruit and vegetables to determine whether they are getting enough vitamins and minerals. In order to be able to start losing weight, we first need to ensure we are eating enough of what our body needs.
I will ask clients to notice and put a star next to every drink, meal and snack that contains refined sugar. This would include sugary drinks, ready meals with added sugar, sweet sauces and fruit juices, but not whole fruits or whole milk or other foods that contain sugar naturally within them.
Then I would ask them to put a start next to every meal or snack that contains refined carbohydrates like flour such as bread, pasta, biscuits and sauces.
This information will tell me how frequently a person is eating something that triggers an intense insulin response. It will help me to determine how balanced their hormones are and how efficient their body is at using their own fat reserves for energy.
I will ask them to note their hunger scale before and after eating. I will share more about the hunger scale in a future blog post. Essentially knowing how hungry they are before they eat will give me an indication of how well fat adapted, they are, and knowing their hunger level after they eat will give me an indication as to whether they are eating too much quantity, even if they are eating the right foods for weight loss.
I ask clients to write down the time of everything they eat or drink. This will show me how frequently they are eating, and when coupled with the hunger scale information gives an indication of how balanced their hormones are and whether their body is using its own energy resources efficiently.
Most of don’t only eat when we are physically hungry. Most of us also eat when we get the urge to have something because we desire it, or because we want to numb an emotion, such as frustration or boredom, or because we want to create feelings of celebration or connection. Having the client ‘tune into’ how they are feeling at the point where they decide to eat helps them and I understand why they are eating and how often they are eating to satisfy emotional hunger or satisfy food desire.
This may seem like quite a lot of information to track but it’s worth doing for a week to really get a good understanding of what is happening on a very individual level. I suggest my clients write down foods as they eat them, it’s so much harder to accurately remember at the end of the day.
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