Here's what she had to eat. Take a look. Then write down your assessment and tell me what you think. You know, as if you were the nutritionist working on helping her improve her diet and her relationship with food.
Bread and jam, 2 slices
Freshly juiced red grape and berry juice, ~8 oz.
Coffee with whole milk
Vanilla yogurt with fresh peaches
Semolina cake with plum topping
1 fried egg
Bread and jam
Wine samples and bread sticks
½ a thick cheese and tomato sandwich, on white Italian bread
½ a thick pesto and roasted veggie sandwich, same bread
Wine tasting, approximately 6 oz, and a few bread sticks
Cheese samples, approximately 1-2 oz.
Bread, 2 slices
Large vegetable salad (enough for 2 or 3 people) with olive oil and vinegar
Wine, approximately 5 oz.
Gnocchi and sauce
A couple of cheese bites from around the world.
|Nectarine with hazelnut chocolate sauce--day two's breakfast!
So what did you think? And have you figured it out yet? The she is me, and you are seeing an entire day of my eating while vacationing in Italy, unadulterated.
I'm not in the habit of sharing my food intake in such detail, in part because what's fine for me is not necessarily right for you. And I don't have a ton of personal experience with recording—the last time I tracked my dietary intake was for a grad school project, a good 25 years ago. But I decided I needed to address the topic of recording because it can have great value.
For most clients, recording is the bane of their existence. I say for most, because I have seen that rare person who loves recording. It suits their need to do things perfectly, completely, meticulously, so they follow the recording recommendation to the "nth" degree, including every sip of water and every bite of food they eat.
Do you know how many times I heard "I left my food records in the car" this week? No, you are not alone. They’ve been eaten by dogs, whirled away by hurricanes, and inadvertently used for fireplace kindling. Yes, I have heard it all, the most creative excuses. It reminds me of a NY Times article on North Korean doping (July 17, 2011). Following evidence revealing their soccer team’s use of steroids,
“A North Korean delegation told FIFA (the world governing body of soccer) that the steroids had accidentally been taken with traditional Chinese medicines based on musk deer glands to treat players struck by lightening on June 8 during training.”
You can do better than that, I'm sure.
|The egg course--day 2!
More about record keeping in a bit. But first, I want to say a few words about this day's eating, a real day last month in Tuscany.
This is 100% honest. I neither overestimated nor underrepresented my food intake. It is a description of a day we spent in the town of Bra (no, not a typo), the home of the Slow Food Movement and the international, biennial cheese festival which we attended. I don't usually eat quite like this. And I certainly don't drink like this. But we were in one of the most amazing regions for red wines, home of Barolo, Barbaresco and Barbera, and so we did a good deal of tasting.
When you evaluate your intake, please ask yourself "is this typical?" Perhaps you need to view the day in the context of your usual intake, recognizing that there are always exceptions to the norm.
Here's my take on my day's eating:
|The evening before the breakfast at Villa La Favorita
The breakfast meal was crazy. Crazy good. And endless. We stayed at a bed and breakfast called Villa La Favorita where the breakfast was served in courses. Multiple courses. The broken lines show the breaks between items served.
Unfortunately, I did not have the benefit of knowing what was coming next, nor how much was coming my way. And the food was wonderful. By the second of our two days there, I knew enough to leave the bread and await the more exciting baked item, to skip the items I cared less for, and to pace myself.
Not knowing what awaits you is most difficult. If you struggle in such situations, obtain as much information about what will be served as you can, so you can prepare yourself. But let's say you didn't, as occurred on day one at the B and B, and you, too, ate more than you needed. What's the worst thing that will happen?
|Have you seen enough gelato yet in these posts?
In my case, I didn't get hungry until later than usual. But by 12:30 I needed to eat something. Imagine my pleasure at finding a gelato shop en route to the car! And so I had my second gelato of the trip (see post gelato diet). And it was good. I thought about ordering the small, but had the medium instead. My husband got the small (he is so well trained), but then I shared mine when he was done. So, I think that counts as a smedium?
After a wine tasting in a lovely castle!
Dinner reservations were secured for 8 PM, so we decided to start our cheese tasting before the meal. As for dinner? There was nothing I yearned for more than vegetables! After the preceding week in Switzerland where I ate much less of them than I am accustomed to, I was thrilled to find a large salad as a starter to the meal. It was truly the best part of this meal for me. Then I ate a portion of the gnocchi— although I found them a bit too rich—but had enough room for some more varieties of cheese bites, as we strolled around the lovely town of Bra late night. And did I mention these cheese samples were not low fat?
|Bra during the cheese festival
By the way, my activity for the day was largely eating and wine tasting. There was minimal walking around some quaint medieval towns, but this was not a high output day, by any means. No biking and drinking for me.
What can you take from this?
Get as much information as you need to feel comfortable, and where appropriate, ask for foods to be prepared how you need them. But when the situation prevents that, trust it will be okay—because it will be. And work on being flexible. In the situation above, perhaps I could have asked about the breakfast menu. But it honestly didn't cross my mind. And so in spite of the breakfast being excessive for me, I had what I wanted, and left part of the foods that I was indifferent to, like the egg. It likely was more than enough; I could have had less, perhaps, and felt just satisfied. But I didn't.
The fuller breakfast meal sustained me, removing the need for an AM snack. (If you are someone following a meal plan at this point, don’t get any ideas about skipping meals or snacks because you don’t “need” them. When your body and your mind are working to keep you healthy and safe, of course you can and will use these cues. But for now, stick with the program and use your meal plan.) Really the gelato met that need—just a bit later than I'd usually need a snack. The source of my calories at 12:30 was hardly relevant, as long as I had enough, and I ate what I wanted to eat. And I enjoyed every creamy bite.
|Gotta expect the unexpected! Sculpture from a wine
tasting town in Piedmont
If a struggling client had recorded this day, and was self assessing his intake, here's what they'd likely say, and what I would have countered with:
Client: Nutritionally, this day was way too high in saturated fat, as well as in alcohol calories.
Me: This is quite atypical for your eating. You rarely graze on cheese with such frequency, and you never drink in the afternoon, never mind multiple times in one day. Given the frequency of this type of eating, then, nothing to worry about.
Client: Breakfast is too big.
Me: It may have been more ideal to distribute your food better, spreading this enormous breakfast through the morning. But you couldn't. And so it was. Radical acceptance.
Client: I shouldn't have had the gelato; I should have chosen something healthier.
Me: No, you chose what you felt like eating, and that's appropriate. And you had as much as you needed. You started to share when you were feeling you had had enough. Perhaps the small gelato dish might have done the trick. Maybe next time you’ll try the small. (Wow, a next time? What a thought!) You never do know how much will be enough, until you explore the options and learn to titrate.
Client: I consumed a lot of calories from beverages, including alcohol.
Me: If you are working to increase your calories, the benefit of beverages (non-alcoholic, I mean) is that they move quickly through your gut, and the feeling of fullness passes fast. But if you’re looking to feel more satisfied from your intake, I'd vote for fruit over juices. Again, it really depends on your need. As for alcohol, it's important to identify the impact drinking has on your awareness and mindfulness of your eating. Some can manage modest amounts, others simply cannot.
Client: I should have limited my dessert to once a week, not twice a day!
Me: Once you set arbitrary limits on your "indulgences" you'll set yourself up for trouble. If cake can only be eaten on birthdays or special occasions, you will certainly find yourself eating more of it on the one and only day you allow yourself to have it. If you are only allowed to eat before 8 PM, you'll find yourself eating a lot more before the time is up. Ultimately, these rules fail you.
Client: I ate so much and should have exercised.
Me: The food doesn't turn to fat because you didn't exercise. While I absolutely do recommend exercise for health and disease prevention, it is essential that you consume enough food to support it. Your body is quite forgiving. A larger intake on some days doesn't result in weight increases that day or that meal. Of course over time, if you exceed your need for maintenance, whether you exercise or not, you will gain weight. And for many of you that really is a good thing! You know who you are.
Benefits of Recording
Recording gives you the opportunity to view things differently, to gain insight, while letting go of the self-criticism and self-loathing. Inevitably my view of my clients' eating is way more compassionate than their perspective. So writing things down and debriefing about it with a knowledgeable provider may truly help shift your opinion of yourself and your eating.
Rather than seeing this as a report card, or a confession, consider yourself a detective, with the goal of uncovering some answers, solving the puzzle of your eating struggle. This helps you break down the barriers to implementing dietary change. Including information such as your hunger rating and other eating triggers, along with the location food is eaten, is enormously useful.
Recording avoidance is common, for individuals dealing with all kinds of eating, regardless of their weight. Record keeping makes us more aware of our eating, which ultimately helps us make change. It's an in your face reality check. And that benefit may be the very reason you may flee from writing down what you eat. It is easier to not confront it. If you don't see it, you don't have to acknowledge it.
But if you don't acknowledge what you are doing, you don’t have to make peace with it. Hence, eating while on the computer, while watching TV, reading, driving, multi-tasking really do the trick to keep you stuck.
If you no longer record, but still consider what you eat, whether you are hungry, or simply satisfying a range of other needs, than putting it down on paper may not be necessary anymore. If that awareness starts to fade, you may want to resume recording.
What Should I Include When Recording?
Let’s start with what you shouldn’t be recording—calories, fat grams, fiber, and any specific nutrient content. Why? Because that leads to relying on external information, versus internal cues. Internal cues? Hunger and emotions, for instance. Here’s a list of what you ‘d benefit from including:
|Don't go by this clock, though!
· The time you ate
o This helps you see your eating pattern and understand why you ate as you did. Too long between eating? That will lead to trouble. Eating every hour? Is there something other than hunger driving your eating?
· Your hunger rating
o I’ve come to like the scale 1-7 best, with 1 meaning starving and 7 meaning stuffed. But use whatever works best for you, including word descriptions.
· Your thoughts and feelings
o This helps you see your obstacles to eating, and to then work with strategies such as CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) to change them. Food rules and misinformation may come to light, best addressed with your nutritionist.
· The location food was consumed
o Does the location support mindless eating? Are you eating in bed for comfort? Would you sleep on your kitchen table?
· Any other diversions while eating?
o Distracted eating is mindless eating. For those trying to get their needs met and not know it, this can be useful initially. But ultimately, we all want to be in control of our eating and our weight regulation. So try to separate eating from distractions.
So if you choose to stay stuck, skip the recording. If you want support, and a new perspective, record and share with your providers. Or, self assess as if it were your sister’s or your best friend’s recall; this will likely give you a more compassion perspective. If the only result of recording is more preoccupation with food and eating, and changing your perspective isn’t helping, than please do yourself a favor and don’t record your food. But even assessing these other components, minus the actual food items, can be quite useful. So give it a try.
And please let me know if it was helpful. As always, I welcome your thoughts, comments, reactions, and corrections to my assumptions!