The power of going public with your diet

Fitness expert James Fell shows us that even the healthiest people fall of the wagon sometimes.

James Fell's Community Food Journal page on Facebook

James Fell’s Community Food Journal page on Facebook

It’s been a rough few months for me on the eating side of things. Being that I work for a website that’s about six pack abs, I need to hold my eating regimen to a fairly high standard.

But a combination of an insane work schedule and a persistent cough have derailed things a bit, and I’ve gained a few pounds. I kept meaning to lose it, and I kept putting it off. Finally, I went in for some professional coaching to help me achieve my goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon, and the coach said if I lost five pounds I’d drop five minutes off my marathon time.

Finally, the motivation was there.

Dropping five pounds would take me from a hint of abdominal definition back to a pretty ripped midsection. I was sold. My coach said he wanted to know what I was eating, and asked me to keep a food journal for the next week.

Food journal? I said to myself. I don’t want to do that. That sounds like a major drag.

He was more interested in it from a “properly fuelled for running” perspective than anything else, but I also knew people in Weight Watchers used food journals, so I figured it would be worth a shot.

Within two days I knew I was onto something. Suddenly, healthy eating was WAY easier. I had to stop and think about every single thing I put in my mouth. I had to say, “Do I really want to have to put this on my food journal.” What’s more, I could look at the journal and say, “Hey, there aren’t that many vegetables on here. I should eat more of those.”

And so I wrote an article about food journaling for my blog. In it I explained the folly of trying to measure actual caloric deficits, and said the most important thing to do is just try and create a good list each day that shows healthy food choices over poor ones. Basically, if it’s processed to hell or has lots of sugar, fat and/or salt, you need to limit that stuff on your list. If you know it has a ton of calories try not to have it on your list except as an occasional treat. The things you want on your list are in their natural state and contain only one ingredient (the ingredients in one apple = one apple). You can look back over time and see how your daily list evolves, and just keep trying to make it better in small increments.

My friend Dr. Yoni Freedhoff recently wrote about about the ineffectiveness of self-reported food intake as a research tool, because people are terrible at counting calories, and it just reaffirmed to me the importance about not worrying about the calories so much.

Sure, caloric awareness of certain foods can be valuable, but meticulously measuring every calorie in, and comparing these to calories out, is not only usually wrong, but borders on obsessive behaviour that takes the pleasure out of healthy eating and exercise. I think the best way to do this is to keep things as simple as possible, and deep down most of us know that fresh vegetables are good (and hot fudge sundaes are bad). If you have a food journal full of cookies, cakes, chicken wings, wine and french fries, you know you’d be better off replacing most of those items with broccoli, salmon, water, carrot sticks and bananas right?

And then the idea of going public with my food journal struck me so I created a Facebook page called Community Food Journal, and encouraged people to join. I’ve been posting everything I eat (along with my exercise) every day since I started the page, and other people are joining and posting their food journals as well for all the world to see.

It’s the same type of extrinsic motivation people get from fitness classes. You show up to the regular boot camp or Spin class and you go hard because of positive peer pressure. And the people who have joined this community are telling me it’s helping. It’s creating motivation that gives them the push they need to make healthier food choices. Everyone is welcome to join — and the rules are pretty simple.

It’s just about posting what you eat – as often or infrequently as you desire – and receiving and giving support. It’s NOT about diet advice, but just a community of support for helping each other stick to the dietary regimens we’ve chosen for ourselves. There is no tolerance for meat eaters bashing vegans or vice versa. It’s been very respectful thus far.

So feel free to come and take a look and see what I, and others, have been eating each day. You can join the page and not post a thing, and perhaps one day you will be motivated to post your food journal, and that may help you towards healthier choices.

James S. Fell, MBA, is a certified strength and conditioning specialist with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. His syndicated column “In-Your-Face Fitness” for the Chicago Tribune runs in dozens of major newspapers across the U.S. and he also interviews celebrities about their fitness regimens for the Los Angeles TimesVisit his site for a weight loss report.