Many of my diets have been unsuccessful over the years. I’m not proud of that fact, but I do feel that many of my failed diets have taught me valuable lessons. It is extremely important to try to learn something from each diet that goes south. If you don’t learn anything, your mistakes will be repeated.
One of the best ways to learn from your mistakes is to start writing in a journal. A journal is a personal tool, and I wouldn’t normally tell you how to use one. But I feel I must share with you some of the ways I learned to use my journal.
For starters, write down everything that you eat, as you eat it. This may seem strange, but as I’ve mentioned before, many of us do actually forget some of the things we eat during the day, especially the small stuff. This is especially true if we are continually snacking. Do you remember how many handfuls of Sugar Frosted Flakes you munched on today? Was it two? Or was it more like nine? You must be precise in order to gain any benefit from this technique. Don’t write down that you ate “some” M&Ms. Write down that you ate “three handfuls” of M&Ms. At the end of the day, you can take out any calorie counting booklet and add up your total calories for the day. You can be the judge. How many calories did you consume? Was it a good day, or a bad day? If it was a bad day, which items made it so? Can we cut back on that tomorrow? Great!
Don’t cheat, and don’t fudge (no pun intended). If you try to pretend that you didn’t eat all that ice cream last week, and you tell your friend that you stuck to the diet but still gained weight, then you have more problems than just being overweight. Most of my friends can tell when I’m lying anyway.
If you can’t be honest with your friends, you have to at least be honest with yourself. If you aren’t honest with yourself, that’s called denial, and that will do nothing but continually frustrate you. When you weigh-in, you will find that the scale remembers everything you ate. A record of where you slipped up on your diet is priceless information. Don’t deny yourself that feedback.
A second type of journal entry could be your weekly problem log. You only need to fill out this log for weeks that you didn’t lose weight. You need only summarize what you feel are the reasons you did not lose weight this past week (stress, holidays, a sale on brownies, etc.). Here is a sample log:
WEEK 3: I ate an entire chocolate bunny, or two.
WEEK 7: I thought the chocolate sauce was nonfat.
WEEK 9: Chocolate. Never mind what, just chocolate.
WEEK 11: We had no trick-or-treaters, and I ate all the fun-size Snickers because they were bothering me as they lay there.
Trends often emerge within a problem log. In this case the trend is chocolate. The appropriate correction is to eat less chocolate, preferably no chocolate. Yes, life is unfair.
The challenge then is finding ways to lower your intake of chocolate. The best thing I could do to help myself is to stay away from 7-Eleven stores. We all have our secret little places that we go for our “fixes.” Resist the urge to go to them and pretend you need a vegetable fix, or a fruit fix instead. Take a big bite out of that carrot and say out loud, “Yes, oh I needed this so much.” Make sure no one is within earshot first.
Not everybody’s problem log will be filled with “chocolate” entries. Some people will drink too much alcohol (oops… multiple problems), while others will eat too much junk food. Others will drink a 12-pack of soda per day, while still others will eat as much meat in a week as some of us do in a year. The point is that by using a log in this way, you will be able to see which items or events most severely affect your weight-loss.
A journal can also be used for keeping track of your exercise sessions. Keep track of how many hours you exercise per week and what type of exercise you perform. It is also helpful to have a weekly exercise goal in mind as you journey through your diet. This can be expressed in calories or in hours, whichever suits you best. The goal is a constant reminder to include exercise in your weight-loss plan.
One of my favorite ways to use a journal is to regroup and reorganize after a terrible weigh-in. I tend to write down whatever I’m thinking at the moment just to get the pen rolling. Often the first few words reveal my mood, and I’m not often a happy camper. Here are some examples:
January 6 – Okay Johnny, what happened? Wait, let me guess, you shouldn’t have eaten at McDonald’s three times this week. When will you learn to stay away from those places? Are you on my side? Or are you just going through the motions?
January 27 – Let me just say one thing…WHAT’S WITH THE FOUR PIECES OF CAKE AT THE WEDDING? What could you possibly be thinking? Your plan was to stick with vegetables this week. Did you temporarily forget that cakes are not in the vegetable family? What can you do to keep away from that junk next week?
February 17 – Ok, this week is shot. Seems to me that we’re having a lot of blown weeks, aren’t we Johnny? And didn’t we have this same conversation a few weeks ago? Yes, I think we did? Wait! Maybe there are some other areas of your life that we could screw up too. Why should we limit it to dieting…
You might think I’m being a bit harsh on myself in these journal entries, but I get all of my frustrations out right then and there. I usually stop being upset with myself after a few paragraphs, and then I write some positive goals for the upcoming week.
Keeping a journal of your thoughts and reflections concerning your diet each day is also helpful. No topic that pertains to diets is off limits. Sample topics might include: Have you been drinking eight glasses of water each day? Did you blow it big time last night at dinner? Have you had a revelation or breakthrough in your diet strategy?
It is important to focus on what has been negatively and positively affecting your progress each week. It’s helpful to review the past week’s journal entries over the weekend or on whatever day you choose. This serves as input to your diet planning process. Throw out what doesn’t work, and welcome whatever does work for you. As you reread your journal, you may be surprised at what you have written. Was that really you who wrote that paragraph three weeks ago? Did you really eat all that in one day? Or “My God, I’m so paranoid.” You’ll be amazed at how many states of mind you find yourself in.
Within your own journal, you can do more than write. I like to draw pictures of the restaurants that are safe to visit, and I like to draw pictures of and make lists of the foods that I can and cannot eat, separated by a big thick impenetrable line that I drew and did not dare cross. I even tried to draw an apple fritter at one time, but it didn’t look appetizing. It looked more like a poorly groomed, ugly hairpiece, but that’s not the point. I knew it was an apple fritter and I knew I couldn’t eat it. That type of stuff works for me; you must find out what will work for you.
Remember, however, that the journal won’t do the hard work for you. The journal can help you see trends in your eating behavior, but you are going to have to reverse the bad trends on your own. So please learn these lessons well, and if you need to start your diet over, like I have done many times, start over with conviction.