Lena Dunham’s Food Diary

Lena Dunham's Food Diary -the10principles

Lena Dunham’s food diary

  • Lena Dunham’s food diary highlights common weight-loss mistakes

  • Reflecting prevents you from repeating self-destructive behaviours

  • 3 things you can learn from Lena Dunham’s food diary

Are you always on a diet?
Lena Dunham’s food diary helps us understand how to lose weight long term.

The behaviours captured in Lena Dunham’s food diary
are a product of the weight-loss industry.

Lena Dunham’s food diary is important

Did you read Lena Dunham’s memoir Not That Kind of Girl? It’s a collection of personal essays that tell coming of age stories. I love documentaries, autobiographies and anything honest.

The creator, writer and star of the HBO series Girls (for which she’s won two Golden Globes) is known for letting it all hang out, in yet Lena still sparks controversy. But I agree with David Sedaris who said:

It’s not Lena Dunham’s candor that makes me gasp. Rather, it’s her writing—which is full of surprises where you least expect them…

Kelly ClarkI wanted to write this post because when I was struggling with my weight, I never reflected on what I ate (which would have spotlighted an obvious starve, binge and purge cycle.) I always thought over-eating was this isolated event; a moment I wasn’t able to summon willpower.

Now that I have an uncomplicated relationship with food and understand how to reach and maintain a healthy weight, I see that looking at Lena Dunham’s food diary is an important exercise for anybody trying to lose weight.

Lena Dunham isn’t shocking to me either. Once you know her shtick it’s hard to keep being alarmed. What I like is her attention to detail. Lena tells you small things that show you big things—even if they’re to highlight her own mistakes. Her observations come across as scenery; the backdrop to a bigger story. But the effect is that you feel like a fly on the wall, watching an intimate experience unfold. Take for example:

He called me terrible names when I broke up with him for a Puerto Rican named Joe with a tattoo that said MOM in Comic Sans.
Lena Dunham, writer

Lena Dunham's Not That Kind Of Girl - the10principlesLena’s book includes a record of what she ate over a nine day period. While many critics called this section of her book boring, she said it was “the most secret and humiliating” document on her computer. I love that she made being “real” a priority. Most people edit their image before it goes public.

Having recovered from a 10 year battle with bulimia, I recognize the importance of Lena Dunham’s food diary. When used as a tool for reflection, we can note common weight-loss mistakes and learn from them. Thank you Lena for putting it out there.

Reflecting prevents you from repeating mistakes

At the start of Lena Dunham’s food diary, she pays strict attention to detail (e.g. she’s careful to eat “gluten free toast”) and fixates on calories. Based on how she describes her eating habits at the beginning of this chapter, the choices she records while dieting are a big leap from her “normal”:

…I am thinking particularly of a shower I took where the lower half of my body was under the running water and the upper half was laid out on the bath mat, eating a loaf of bread. College was an orgy of soy ice cream, overstuffed burritos, and bad midwestern pizza inhaled at 3:00 a.m.
Lena Dunham, Not that Kind of Girl

First day in Lena Dunham’s food diary:

Lena Dunhams food diary day 1 - the10principles

The result of Lena’s strict diet? Hunger, preoccupation with food and overall unhappiness. Over-eating (predictably) follows. For example, early in the week she made note of eating “2 pecans”. By the end of the week she eats 1/4 jar of peanut butter (plus apple pie, lemon cake, more lemon cake, etc.)

last day in Lena Dunham’s food diary:

Lena Dunhams food diarylast day - the10principles
Slow metabolism binge purge cycle - the-10-principlesLena Dunham’s food diary demonstrates how restrictive eating (dieting) can lead to falling back into old habits, over-eating or binging. This negative pattern, otherwise know as yo-yo dieting, confuses your body, slows down your metabolism and primes your body for fat storage.

When you pair your actions with words, it helps you identify a negative pattern.

The more often you repeat this cycle the more ingrained and preoccupying it becomes. For me, it took over my life. This pattern escalated into a viscous cycle and my eating became completely disordered.

Once this cycle has been repeated, even just a few times, binging can become a habit. For example, instead of binging because you’re hungry, over-eating can be a self-destructive coping mechanism for stress.  

Reflecting on your past behaviour — even if it’s nowhere near as extreme as mine — allows you to see what sets you up to fail. When you learn which decisions lead to a negative pattern, you can break the cycle by making choices that set you up for success.

3 things we can learn from Lena Dunham’s food diary

#1 – Stop dieting

Solution: Adapt what you’re already doing

Anti Diet - the10principlesIn Lena Dunham’s food diary you see that each day is a struggle. But reaching and maintaining a healthy weight doesn’t happen when you shock your body with extremes (in other words: going on a diet). It’s about building sustainable habits.

Whether you’re aiming to eat more healthfully to:

  • lose weight
  • lower your blood pressure
  • prevent diabetes

… or any other reason, it’s important to slowly adjust what you’re presently doing so you get used to the change. Then your food choices become second nature and you can maintain your goals long term. And more importantly, you can get on with the rest of your life because you’re mind is free to focus on everything else.

Build healthy life habits gradually.

Just before Lena shares her food diary, she states:

A friend once told me that when you’ve been in AA, drinking is never fun again. And that’s how I feel about having seen a nutritionist—I will never again approach food in an unbridled, guilt-free way.

When I was struggling to lose weight, I would have agreed wholeheartedly with Lena. Dieting creates a complicated relationship with food. You end up guessing what you need to do and cutting out foods you can actually eat! But when I stopped dieting and began focusing on building healthy habits (by making small changes to my usual choices) I stopped feeling like I was denying myself. And there was nothing to feel guilty about. Take time to transition from old habits to new habits.

#2 – Stop counting calories

Solution: Eat balanced meals made of whole foods

Lena Dunham’s food diary lists the calorie count of every food she eats. Rather than getting caught up in numbers, consider focusing on food groups.

Lena Dunham's food diary - Jasper Johns -the10principles

Jasper Johns (1960)

I reached and maintained a healthy weight when I stopped counting calories (after 10 years of obsessing over them) and began eating balanced meals made mostly of whole foods. This approach allows you to meet your body’s basic needs without over-eating. Whole foods help you know when you’ve eaten enough. Processed foods (including those that are low-fat and sugar-free) confuse your body and keep you wanting more.
#3 – Stop fixating on the details

Solution: Go back to the basics

Lena Dunham’s food diary includes many specialized foods and food brands. And she consumes them at random times throughout the day and night. But eating doesn’t need to be expensive or complicated. Before you start thinking about whether or not your food is gluten free, choosing flax seed oil over another type of oil or eating whole wheat bread instead of white, get yourself into a healthy eating pattern.

Lena Dunham's Food Diary Routine-the10principles

My morning starts with these two waiting to go outside. We do it every day. It’s part of our routine.

Living things thrive when they have a predictable pattern—whether it’s your plant, pet or your own sleep cycles. Be kind to yourself! Get into a routine.

Stop getting lost in the details and focus on the basics. Eat three balanced meals made mostly of whole foods each day. Add in a balanced snack if you’re hungry.

When you start eating breakfast, lunch and dinner regularly, you’ll find you can eat complete meals like everyone else who has a healthy relationship with food and is a healthy weight.

Once you’ve normalized your relationship with food and eating has been a non-issue for a while, then start considering healthier alternatives to the staples you’re already eating.

I lost weight and have maintained it for more than sixteen years, by eating white rice, milk chocolate and roasted nuts, for example, when building a healthy meal or snack. Only recently did I start choosing healthier alternatives like brown rice, dark chocolate and raw nuts. Not because I have to. I just want to.

The more I understand how the body works, the more I want to work with it. But before you start worrying about the small things, it’s important to make breaking the cycle of yo yo dieting a priority. Get the basics right. Focus on getting your body into a routine. Then slowly adapt your routine.

Lena Dunhams food diary reflecting - the10principlesLena Dunham shouldn’t be ashamed

All the behaviours outlined in Lena Dunham’s food diary are a product of the weight-loss industry. It focuses on details, calorie counting and dieting. It pushes rules, tips and tricks. The diet industry makes eating so d*mn complicated! No wonder so many people have an unhealthy relationship with food.

People who want to lose weight end up putting their well-meaning and commendable efforts behind the wrong information (that’s widely available). Kids start dieting before they understand that everything you read isn’t true.

Get your body into the basic routine of eating three balanced meals a day made of whole foods. Don’t shock your body by going to extremes. Just adapt what you’re already doing.

Simplify your life and reach your goals.

Why the critics are wrong about Lena Dunham’s food diary

Many critics slam Lena Dunham’s food diary because her food lists are “too long”, “unremarkable” and because they “look like everybody else’s.” But that’s exactly why they’re important.

If Lena, who often shares e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g is shy to talk about her eating habits, imagine how many other people are too.

Lena Dunhams food diary patterns - the10principles

Other people can often identify patterns in our lives that we, ourselves, don’t notice.

Thanks to Lena for putting her eating behaviours out there, she’s provided us with a resource to acknowledge common mistakes and learn from them; ones that can only be evident in a food diary that’s long enough to capture a cycle (that sets so many people up to fail).

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.
Søren Kierkegaard, philosopher

Ask for Help

Don’t wait until you have a big problem to ask for help. The goal is to prevent a problem from escalating. Remember, anyone who truly cares about you will be happy you opened up about what’s going on.

Speaking to someone you trust opens a world of possibility. Other people can often identify patterns we don’t notice; when you’re at the center of your storm it’s hard to see beyond the next step. They can also assist you in getting the help you need.

If you feel like you’re in the habit of binging, speak to a professional. Expert advice can help you transition destructive behaviours into healthy habits. Asking for help builds in accountability. Keeping track of how many times you binge each week (or month) does too.

Trouble Shooting:

Set yourself up for success by aiming to stop binging one less time a week or one less time a month rather than cold turkey. I always aimed to make big changes because I wanted to get better fast. I missed my old life and who I used to be. But that just made things worse. Trying to get better with the flip of a switch prolonged my illness over 10 years. I didn’t get healthy until I focused on little changes.

Lena Dunham's food diary - heart-the10principlesInstead of deciding if you loathe her or love her, focus on what can you learn from her. Lena Dunham’s food diary offers the chance to reflect on ourselves or the ones we love and find patterns that set us up to fail.

Work towards healthy eating, exercise and life goals.
A healthy weight will follow.

Next Steps:
Whether your experience is more or less extreme, focus on getting your body into a routine of eating a balanced breakfast, lunch and dinner made mostly of whole foods—rather than going on a diet, getting lost in the details and shocking your body with extremes.

If you’re asking yourself: “How do I get there from where I am now?” Sign up for my weekly blog post (below) and you’ll receive one of the best strategies I learned. It will help you build healthy eating and exercise habits—or reach any goal.

Eet by Regina Spector

“Eet” is the backspace key on a typewriter. It allows you to type over a mistake. We can’t do this with our lives. We have to keep moving forward. Instead of wishing you could erase the past, take time to look back on it and reflect so you can apply what you’ve learned moving forward.

Click here to read Lena Dunham’s food diary.

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Sharing what I learned makes those 10 years worth it

Do you fall into patterns similar to those in Lena Dunham’s food diary?

What is a positive pattern in your life?

Do you keep a food diary? Did it help you recognize a self-defeating pattern?

By | 2017-03-29T16:39:46+00:00 April 17th, 2016|Understand|6 Comments

About the Author:

Hi! I’m Kelly. I lost weight when I stopped dieting. And I got my life back. Here’s more about my turning point and why I’m passionate about sharing what I learned.


  1. doug macintosh April 17, 2016 at 10:29 pm - Reply

    Great review of Lena Dunham’s food diary which, as you notice, is so authentic and intimate.
    What courage you both have! And how that speaks to others!

    • Kelly Clark April 17, 2016 at 11:42 pm - Reply

      Thanks Doug! I think the hardest part is opening up for the first time. Then a big weight of stress is lifted, which frees you to focus on a solution (rather than hiding the truth). There’s a great quote I heard recently, “Own your secrets or your secrets own you.”

  2. Lauren September 19, 2016 at 10:13 am - Reply

    I agree, I think the main thing that has helped me personally is to not count numbers but the types of food I’m eating. However as with lenas diary, I tend to consider fruits and vegetables as ‘zero’ calorie foods, when I know very well they’re not.

    • Kelly Clark September 19, 2016 at 11:24 am - Reply

      Thanks for your comment! I was fixated on numbers too – numbers on labels, numbers on the scale… When I focused, as you said, on the kinds of foods I eat rather than numbers, it helped me lose weight and not be preoccupied; it gave me space to focus on my life instead of weight loss.
      Re: Fruit – for me, as long as I’m eating whole foods and not processed, e.g. an apple instead of apple sauce from a can, I don’t worry about eating fruit – the sugars are natural and tied up with fibre and tons of important nutrients our bodies need. I eat a lot of fruit – especially during peach season 🙂 I never feel badly about eating whole foods. This is why: https://www.the10principles.com/whole-foods-how-they-help-you-lose-weight/

  3. jenny July 25, 2017 at 10:47 am - Reply

    oooh I’m going to look at that article now! I agree Kelly I was obsessed with numbers too, when its so daft. It should be about how you feel, and the physical changes you feel and see in your body as you adopt a healthier lifestyle.

    • Kelly Clark July 25, 2017 at 1:06 pm - Reply

      YES – as you said Jenny: “adopt a healthier lifestyle” is key. Get your body into a healthy routine with balanced meals made of whole foods and do moderate exercise, then you’ll naturally reach a healthy weight. I was so lost in diet rules, tips and tricks, counting calories, weighing myself and aiming for a random dress/jean size. But when I finally went back to the basics I lost weight. Thanks for your comment Jenny! 🙂

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