Food logs. Could anything be more boring? Probably. Despite that, I'm going to argue that food logs can help you defeat sugar addiction.
Let's acknowledge that self-report can (and always will) have its subjective side - and that's an obvious drawback. Yet it's still a lot more accurate than a verbal list of foods.
Study after research study has shown that self-monitoring through record keeping (your food, your workouts, and more) is an extremely helpful tool. This holds true whether you work with a nutritionist or just keep the log for your own use.
And you don't have to do it forever! Even one or two weeks of logging will help you make changes that can help you defeat sugar addiction.
Why not just eat and hope for the best? In my experience, food logs can help you develop an awareness of food and eating behaviors that can't be matched in any other way.
"I Always Thought I Ate More Vegetables"
My clients may think they know exactly what they eat, but they can be wrong. What they say they eat is often quite different from what their food logs reveal when they keep them and show them to me.
Clients who tell me verbally what they eat might be describing tendencies only, what they tend to have as a rule. Those general descriptions don't (and can't) include deviations from the basic plan - extra snacks, unexpected treats, lunches out, dinner invitations, beverage consumption, and so on.
Food logs will often be more accurate. They provide a record of all foods eaten, including the ones you might want to forget, or small tastes and samples that are easy to forget.
Food logs can reveal food groups that might be missing, such as vegetables or enough protein.
Important food facts include more than just which foods you eat. They include when you eat, portion sizes, and length of time between meals.
An accurate log will also show portion sizes. Taken together, all of this information can help you improve your nutritional balance, which in turn can help you control your sugar intake.
Logging Shows Patterns That Make You Stumble
Food logs can show patterns. I don't suggest that you try to analyze your eating habits and patterns while you're keeping the log, but I do suggest that you make it easy.
One client kept his log on his phone. Each page had only one meal at a time. To compare, say, his breakfast from day to day, I had to flip through three meals on each day - and of course memorize each of his breakfasts because there was no way to compare the meals side by side.
At least use a log that shows an entire day's food intake on one page. Seeing your own patterns increases your awareness and your ability to change certain eating habits that may be getting in your way.
Nighttime binges, a common problem, might be due to skipping breakfast. The body will tend to "correct" the deficit by making up for it later.
A similar calorie correction can occur when you consume too little food throughout the day. If you know you'll be gone all day and feeling hungry, try to plan convenient meals or snacks that don't take much time to eat. Bring those foods with you, if necessary, so you avoid the starve-now-binge-later trap.
A client of mine used to avoid food all day because she always binged on sugar late in the day. She thought it would help her cut down on her calories overall. Of course, her daily "fast" was one of the reasons she binged later. Another reason was what she ate during the day.
Nighttime binges can also be caused by brain chemistry. The nighttime increase of endorphins (beta-endorphin) increases appetite. That may coincide with end-of-day stress relief.
If you have a habit of using food - especially sugar - for stress relief, it's likely a result of both stress hormones and brain chemistry, not your lack of willpower. When stress ends as your workday does, that can trigger sugar binges (or over-consumption in general) in the evening. It might continue for several hours.
Patterns like these aren't necessarily something clients can perceive themselves, which is another reason that a food log can help.
Logging Reveals What You May Be Hiding
Food logs can also reveal smokescreens - whether they're intentional or not. This is best illustrated with some actual examples.
One client, a sugar addict, submitted a food log that was detailed in almost every respect. She included precise info on every food in every meal she ate, along with her exact portion sizes.
When it came to vegetables, though, the log would simply say "vegetables." She never specified which ones - or how much of them she'd eaten.
It looked like a clear case of hiding how few vegetables she was eating. If she tasted one tiny morsel of broccoli, was she listing that as "vegetables"? Was she hoping I wouldn't notice the vagueness because of all the other details?
I pointed out the discrepancy between the precision everywhere else in her log and the lack of precision with respect to her vegetable intake. She seemed confused. As I recall, she muttered something about needing to be more accurate.
Did she really not know what she was doing? Obviously, I couldn't read her mind, but I half expected her to say instead, "Oops, busted!"
Another client reported that she had begun to eat vegetables - something she wasn't doing when we started working together.
This client used to bring her food logs but never show them to me. One day, I asked if I could see the log for that week. She looked worried but let me look at it. The only vegetables she had eaten were corn and carrots - not the ones I'd been hoping she'd start eating. I always push green.
A third client told me that, on her birthday, she had eaten a slice of the cake a friend made for her. Her food log showed that she had eaten cake every day for 5 days.
Logging Can Stop a Binge In Progress
Logging your food can change what and how you eat. Most clients tell me that logging has made them more conscious of what they eat. Even better, they say it has stopped them from eating junk - just because they didn't want to write it in their logs.
It's almost instinctive to stop writing in a food log when a sugar attack hits. I'd suggest that you continue to keep your log - even if you don't like it. Maybe especially if you don't like it. It can stop the sugar attack cold.
One client kept having sugar cravings, but I never understood why. Based on the food logs he showed me, it didn't seem possible that he'd still experience cravings. I never saw a single day with any sugar intake, yet he'd always tell me how difficult he found it to resist his sugar cravings.
I said they'd go away in time, but he seemed surprised. (That should have been a red flag for me.) Finally, he admitted that he stopped logging whenever he ate sugar.
It's difficult to keep logging when you're eating foods you know will sabotage you, but it can change your behavior very effectively. The following example shows the change.
One client ate sugar regularly and would then find herself bingeing. That pattern happened frequently. She would also stop logging as soon as the binge started.
We agreed that she would keep logging. She didn't have to show me the logs, but she'd write down everything she ate during the binge.
When she did that, her binges got smaller. And the binge episodes became shorter than they were when she just abandoned her food log.
Logging Helps You Track Your Sugar Attack
A food log can help you track triggers for a sugar attack. Did you eat sugar early in the day? That can lead to changes in both appetite and food preferences, either that day or even the next day or so.
A client once asked if she could "take weekends off from logging" her food. Obviously, I couldn't stop her from doing it, but I didn't approve it.
It was certain to encourage her sugar addiction. I pictured her stopping the log on Friday - not even at the end of the day - then eating with wild abandon for several days and re-starting her log sometime on Monday. Or even Tuesday.
We would have no record of her food during those off-log days. I knew not keeping a record would encourage her to give in to her sugar addiction and cravings. With no log, there would be no responsibility and (in her mind) no consequences.
Of course, she wouldn't lose the weight she wanted to lose, and I wouldn't be able to coach her with any success because we'd have no record. She'd then probably quit the program and tell others it didn't work.
Well, she did take those days off from "logging" for a while. She made no improvements during that time. When she finally decided to keep her log day in and day out, she lost the weight she wanted to lose. She also got such a great medical report that her doctor sent me a thank-you note.
Then there was the woman who had been to 8 different nutritionists and had kept a food log for every one of them. She told me I was the only nutritionist who actually read the logs. Yikes.
I can't explain why the other practitioners did what they did - or how they could make helpful recommendations without knowing what their clients were eating.
What I know is this: A food log is a solid accountability tool, whether you show it to anyone or not.
About the Author:
For more information on conquering sugar addiction, I invite you to read "Stronger Than Sugar: 7 Simple Steps To Defeat Sugar Addiction, Lift Your Mood and Transform Your Health." You can get your copy here: https://www.amazon.com/author/drjoankentbooks