Why I Write Down Everything I Eat

I’m proud to say I reached this milestone recently. It’s a streak of 500 consecutive days, of practicing German with Duolingo. It runs from the first day I used the app, there were no broken streaks before it. I wish I could say the same thing about doing my stretches. Or about sleeping, for that matter.


While I’m proud of my results, I can’t brag about my self discipline. A short lived Rammstein crush gave me a kick start, but no lasting motivation. When I dumped them for a healthier relationship with Youtube videos, I realized I was serious, but real learning still languished on the “someday” list. Finally, there was a member of one of my Toastmasters clubs, a non-native English speaker and part of a power couple whose ability to do anything and everything had me green with envy. (His wife, a former Toastmasters District Director, knows Krav Maga.) When he spoke German during one of his speeches, suddenly my self image was on the line. I walked out of the meeting and stuck the CD I had made in the car player. But tying practice to driving still didn’t stabilize my routine–and taking my attention off the road wasn’t exactly safe. It wasn’t until I installed Duolingo that I finally started making steady progress.

It still wasn’t consistent progress. While I had plenty of solid stretches, there were days when I did the bare minimum, and days when I crunched to make it up. Nevertheless, I at least engaged with it every single day, and as the habit gelled, I paid more attention to those Youtube videos. It became a keystone habit. I’m now far enough along to have a conversation with (extremely patient and supportive) real Germans.

What does Duolingo do that interest, social status, and libido combined couldn’t? It tracks my participation. It displays my consecutive day count with a fire icon at the top of the screen. It maintains a list of the words I supposedly know. It also awards virtual coins called “lingots,” and although you can’t “buy” much with them, they serve as a good combined metric of overall progress. Around day 45 or so, I went on a quest to see how many lingots I could get. As of this writing, I’m getting close to 2300.

My Duolingo success is why I’m keeping a food diary. I’m just using a small spiral pad to write down everything I eat and the approximate time I eat it, amounts and details optional. I’ve been doing it for a little over two weeks, and it’s doing exactly what Duolingo does–it lets me visualize my engagement patterns, so they become real to me.

Before, I just ate when I had the urge, or if it was a good day, when I thought I should. I was making appropriate food choices, eliminating grains and sweets and washing kale. Still, my eating was chaotic. I thought I needed to fix it with a spreadsheet, but I felt so overwhelmed and patronized by the idea I just wanted to give it all the finger and gorge on ice cream just for spite.

Yes, that was definitely the wrong approach. I’d have been fighting my own natural rhythms. This simple logging practice, however, has made my natural patterns visible, so that I can work with them. With no forced discipline on my part, my eating times have normalized, and along with them, my sleeping, supplement taking, and the ebb and flow of my energy. (I also make more mistakes than I realized, such as mixing cacao with dairy.)

I now know, for instance, that I don’t get hungry for a full meal until around 1pm. Before that, I’m better off with small meals and snacks. 10am is about the time my nervous system turns into a plasma ball, and there’s no sense in trying to force myself to focus. If it manifests as a goofy creative state, I’ll write the ideas down, but otherwise I’ll just ride it out with my munchies and a webinar replay and get some rest. I’ll settle down at around 1, at which point I’ll eat and then slip into a productive flow state until 4 or so.

I’ve also been forced to acknowledge that I eat a lot of chocolate. A hell of a lot. Especially when I’m physically uncomfortable. When I had osteoarthritis, I learned to tune out musculoskeletal pain, including pain from sitting too long. So when that chocolate is gone in a flash, it’s time to change my position and get out the massage tools.

Have you ever kept a food diary? What did you learn? What changes did it help you make? Please tell us your story in the comments!

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