One of the easiest ways to monitor what works for you from a nutrition perspective is by writing a food and mood diary. Very simply, you log the foods you eat and document their impact on how you feel.
To be most effective, don't make it complicated or overly time consuming - or most of us are likely to lose interest long before we can see any value in the data being collected.
Keep it simple and focused on those areas that are of primary concern for you - the ones that you want to monitor.
A food and mood diary, needs to have enough space to write down what you’ve eaten, where you ate it, at what times of the day, and to record how you feel afterwards. There is real merit in also capturing how you felt maybe an hour after you've eaten. By this time, your digestive system will be working and you'll know whether you had enough to eat, or if you might have over-indulged. You'll also have a good idea whether the food actually agreed with you (any acid reflux, gastric gurgling, bloating etc).
Adding a general comment that captures the entire day giving a sense of whether you were hungry going to bed, lacked energy in the afternoon or perhaps had trouble getting to sleep, is also really worthwhile.
A quick online search will deliver a myriad of pen-and-paper versions and there are plenty of apps on the market. It's hard, though, to beat an A5 book with a page dedicated to each day.
What's the Benefit?
Research shows that keeping a journal can be a very effective tool to help change behaviour. In one weight loss study of nearly 1,700 participants, those who kept daily food records lost twice as much weight as those who didn't keep any records.
If you use your journal regularly, you will quickly start to identify patterns in how the foods that you eat are impact on your physical well-being as outlined earlier (bloating, constipation, satiety levels etc) and your mental health including:
your energy levels - are you lethargic, sluggish or buzzing and full of beans?
your mood - how emotional are you, how irritable, are you happy?
your attitude - how positive or optimistic do you feel?
For those keen to improve their mental health, and how they physically feel after eating, the review of a food and mood journal will provide the information to decide on which foods should be included on a regular basis, which should be eaten only in moderation, and those that should potentially be avoided completely. It's an extremely useful tool for anyone that suspects they may have a food intolerance and can provide a GP or dietitian with sufficient information to give a diagnosis.
For those working to manage their weight, BMI, fat ratio or measurements including regular updates on these statistics can help to provide further context for the food and mood diary entries and detail about any training activities or exercise undertaken will add yet further colour.
What information should I include?
Quantity: List the amount of the food or drink item. Keep measurements as consistent as possible - in volume (1/2 cup, 100mls), weight (50g), or a physical representation (1/2 palm size).
Content: Write down the type of food or drink. Be as specific as you can and include how it was cooked (fried, baked, dry roasted, steamed, boiled, in oil/without ) include sauces, toppings and spices.
When: Keep track of the time of day you eat.
Where: Make note of where you eat eg. kitchen table, on the sofa. If you are out, write down the name of the restaurant, or if you are in the car.
Who with: If you eat by yourself, write “alone.” If you are with friends or family members, list them.
Activity: Note what else you were doing when you eat eg. watching TV, working.
Mood: Note how you feel at the time of eating - hungry, happy, sad, or bored? Your mood can relate to your eating habits and help you change them.
How you feel 1 hour later: Did the food satisfy your hunger, did you eat too much, were you bloated etc.
For best results, fill in your journal as soon as possible after eating and, for it to be effective, be as accurate and honest as you can.
Include absolutely EVERYTHING
Whether it's a single chocolate, a spoonful of mayo, or a full dinner, the nutritional value and the calories all add up.