How a Photo Food Journal Can Keep You Mindfully On Track

When I first learned that Carrie Underwood keeps a daily food journal, I got my hands on my own journal as quickly as possible – half because the idea sounded intriguing, and half because her legs are #goals. For months, I wrote down everything I consumed, not even omitting “a bite of someone else’s brownie.” My hope was that being more aware of what I ate each day would help me lean out and gain muscle just like Carrie. However, I didn’t have the same success. It seemed that simply writing down my daily food intake wasn’t enough for me.

Fast forward a few years, I now shamelessly admit that I am someone who loves to capture and post my daily beautiful, colorful meals … which gave me another idea. Instead of writing a list of everything I ate each day, what if I took a photo and created a photo food journal? I set a goal to log everything I consumed for five days with a photo, and the difference was drastic.

food journal

The biggest difference is that you’re taking a picture before eating versus writing a list of what you consumed after eating. This is what I took from that experience.

It made me take note of patterns

Nearly everything in my kitchen is clean, healthy and organic. As a result, I have always assumed that I have a healthy, balanced diet. However, taking pictures of my food made me realize that the first half of my day typically has no color and that most of my vegetable intake happens in the second half of the day. I also noticed that I really don’t snack very often, which may be why my portion sizes at breakfast, lunch and dinner tend to be larger.


It helped me hold myself accountable

Nothing makes me ask myself, “Do I really want this cookie?” quite like knowing that I’m going to take a picture of it should I decide to eat it. For people who are more visual like me, seeing a photo versus seeing the exact same things written as a list makes a huge difference. Adding “3 Fun Size Kit-Kat Bars” to a list at the end of a long day used to seem harmless, but seeing them lined up next to each other, ready for their photo, made me realize how notable that sort of afternoon treat actually was for me.

The act of pausing before eating – whether it’s a meal, snack or dessert – brought more mindfulness to the experience of eating – a topic we like to explore at aSweatLife. Sometimes, the desserts were exactly what I wanted, but I was able to pause and ask myself that question before going for it, instead of mindlessly snacking and enjoying it less anyway.


It helped me to keep my portion sizes in control

Instead of loading up my plate at dinner from rim to rim like I usually do, I really focused on keeping my portion sizes in control. Even if no one will see it, it is still difficult to take a picture of your plate when you know there is too much food on it. I began to focus on the old tried-and-true plate rule: fill up half the plate with veggies, a quarter of the plate with protein and a quarter of it with grains.


It brought me back to my tried-and-true meal planning journal

Two months ago, I completely fell off the meal planning bandwagon, and I have simply waved as it has driven past me ever since. I thought I was doing okay without it, but all of the above was a big wake-up call that I want to get back to it. Since I experimented with a photo food journal, I have added vegetables to my breakfasts, and I have made sure to carry fruit and vegetables with me all day to keep my hunger in check between meals.

It is my hope that returning to meal planning and continuing my photo food journal will help me finally make the progress I have been striving for.

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About Ashley McCullough

Ashley McCullough has been an active advocate of weight lifting, taco eating, city living and not running for as long as she can remember. A lifelong Notre Dame fan, she graduated from Saint Mary’s College in 2012 with a degree in Elementary Education. By day, you can find her organizing objects by color, singing, chanting, dancing around, and reading with her kindergarten class. After the school bell rings, well, not much changes. She continues to do all that. But she also thoroughly enjoys conversing and interacting with adults at group fitness classes and #Sweatworking events. Ashley was born and raised in the suburbs and moved to the city 4 years ago. She never plans to leave… unless she is able to find a beach house on a mountain in a major industrial city on a private island. Then she just might.