Last year, my boyfriend Josh and I decided that we needed to make some changes to our diets. We’re generally very good eaters – anyone who knows me knows that I love to cook and I do it often – but it was the middle of winter, energy and morale were getting low, food was generally of the comfort variety, and we realized that we could make some incremental changes that would help us start getting in the right mindset for spring. For me, that meant cutting the wheat and gluten out of my diet, eating more nutritious, less filling meals, while Josh was beginning to realize that his soda and sweets intake seriously needed to be curbed (or maybe he was just getting sick of me nagging him).

But a few weeks just left to nothing but our word didn’t really mean that we were sticking to our diets. It was too easy to slip here and there, and then look back on the previous week thinking that we had done better than we actually had. I decided that we needed to hold ourselves, and each other, more accountable, and that the only way to do that was to keep a record of our offenses.

So I put together this chart and put it up on the refrigerator. For every offense – that is, each time we ate something we weren’t supposed to – we had to write it down on the chart. At the end of the week we tallied up the offenses and whoever had the most offenses “lost”. We got pretty competitive, even realizing after a couple of weeks that whenever one of us exercised and the other one didn’t that we were actually holding that over each other’s heads. So naturally, the next step (although it didn’t make its way into the design of the chart) was to mark an “amnesty point” each time that we exercised and deduct those from our weekly totals, which essentially allowed us to make up for a food slip-up by working out a bit, or to pull out ahead of the other person at the last minute and break a tie.

A lot has changed in the past couple years for me in the world of food and how I approach it. While my big picture food philosophy is probably best saved for another post, suffice it to say that these days I’m thinking more about what I should eat than what I shouldn’t. (I am a huge stickler for 3-5 fruits and veggies a day, for example, at least one of those veggies being a leafy green.) So what really spurred me to start to re-think this chart and this exercise again (aside from winter coming to a close) is the “Live and Let Diet” episode of Good Eats I caught while I was on a plane to Austin this week. While this chart served me well last year and definitely set me down a better path to making myself accountable for the “bad” foods that I ate, I’m wondering how a system that rewards eating healthy stuff could differ from one that punishes unhealthy stuff, and how the idea of Alton Brown’s “Four Lists” could be used in a similarly competitive diary setting to promote accountability and enable change. I hate to call it a “diet” exactly, but more of a way to keep track of all of the good things you eat without relying on your memory, which to me is the most difficult way to try to make changes in something you do every day. I’ll be thinking about this a lot more as we head into Spring and a new season of eating! In the meantime, you can download the original Food Chart here and let me know if it helps you make any changes.

Update: I’ve finally got the food chart up after some web host wrangling. Download it here.