Keeping a journal can help you sort out feelings, monitor how much money you spend and document your life. Keeping a journal can also help you keep track of and take charge of your health—which is particularly helpful when you have diabetes. Seeing your health-related habits on paper can help you understand connections between diet, exercise, taking your medications and your blood sugar. Plus, when you can see how particular foods or habits affect your body, you may be more motivated to create habits that make you feel good.
A key rule of keeping a health journal: Be honest. Remember that when keeping a journal, you’re doing it for you—not to please your dietitian or doctor. So if you ate a cheeseburger, jot it down. No one’s judging. And here’s what else to include:
When you eat. List what times you have snacks and meals. This will show if you tend to skip meals, eat too little or eat too much at certain times. Examine these times. Do you eat every three to four hours? Do you save up all your calories for one meal, maybe skipping breakfast and lunch and then having a big dinner? For people with diabetes, regular meals containing enough but not too many calories can help smooth out blood glucose levels and tame hunger pangs.
What you eat. Make sure you list amounts and detailed descriptions of the foods you eat, such as 1/2 cup mixed fruit or 3 ounces of chicken. Not sure how much you’re eating? Get out the measuring cups and consider investing in a good scale. Are you eating a lot of foods high in carbohydrate? Are your portions larger than you thought? Take the time to research restaurants online and read food labels to better understand the nutrients you’re getting and consider noting nutrition information beyond calories and carbs. Fat and sodium are good to list, particularly if you have heart disease.
Your blood glucose. Note your fasting glucose level (before breakfast). If you don’t already, consider checking before and two hours after your biggest meal of the day to see how meals affect your blood glucose levels. How different are your blood glucose readings before eating? Do you notice any change on a morning after a big dinner? What happens if you skip lunch and have a bag of chips in the afternoon? Understanding changes in your blood sugar and how foods affect it is one of the biggest benefits of keeping a food journal.
Your medications. Note when you take medications that lower blood glucose and how much you take to see how they interact with your eating habits.
Your physical activity. Write down the type and minutes of formal exercise, such as walking or biking, as well as any informal exercise, such as gardening or housework. Daily exercise is important for managing your weight and jotting it down can help you make sure you get moving for a total of 30 to 60 minutes on most days.
How you feel. Jot down how you feel physically (tired, weak, energetic) and emotionally (angry, stressed, bored). Recording your feelings and comparing it against what you ate can help you see how foods affect your body physically and how emotions affect what you eat. This is a step toward learning to tell true hunger pangs from emotional hunger or cravings, which is important, as emotional eating often causes weight problems.
Your goals. After keeping a journal for at least three days, look it over and see if you notice any areas for improvement. You may also be surprised to see how your daily choices affect your blood sugar—and maybe you’ll be inspired to make changes and set new goals.