You might be surprised to learn that one of your biggest assets when it comes to weight loss or weight maintenance is as simple as having a pen and paper. When getting started on a weight loss routine or trying to get through a weight loss plateau keeping a record of everything you eat or drink over the course of the day can be a huge piece of your success. Studies have shown that people who keep food journals can lose twice as much weight as those who don’t (1). Food journals are also helpful to improve food choices and identify deficiencies, food triggers or potential allergens in your diet.
How to Start Food Journaling:
- Find What Works Best For You: There are numerous ways to track, but the key is finding something that works for you. If it’s not easy you won’t stick with it. Sometimes a pen and paper is the best way to jot things down as you go, plus its portable so you can keep on hand. There are also plenty of apps you can access too for easy tracking.
- Record Everything: No matter how big or small write-it down. It’s the little things that add up like beverages, condiments, eating leftovers when cleaning up from dinner or the candy on your co-workers desk.
- Track after Your Meal: Try and record everything you eat as close to meal time as possible. If you wait until the end of the day you’ll be likely to forget what you had or estimate incorrectly so write as you go.
- Be Accurate: Having a food scale or measuring cups and spoons may be helpful to ensure your portions sizes are accurate. We often over estimate our portions so this is a good place to start. This is especially helpful if you feel as though you've been doing everything right and the scale doesn't seem to budge. You don’t have to keep this up long just until you get comfortable that you are estimating correctly. If you aren’t home to weigh things out, use the nutrition facts panel as a guide or many restaurants have their calorie information posted online. Getting acquainted with these portions sizes can help too.
- Write How You Feel and Time of Day: When we are tired, irritable, emotional or stressed that is when we are more likely to throw the towel in on healthy eating. When tracking your intake make a note of how you feel. This can be a note about what made you eat (tired, boredom, stress) or how the meal itself made you feel (tired, fatigued, energetic). This gives you the insight to know what your triggers are and how to better navigate them moving forward.
- If You Cheat, Track It: If you’ve completely overindulged, it’s ok, just write-it down. There is no guilt here, just get back on track at your next meal. You gain the most insight when you log your cheat meals as it allows you to track how frequently the indulgences occur. Logging also increases the likelihood that your next meal will be healthier, rather than forming a new pattern of poor choices.
Keeping a food journal keeps you accountable for your food choices. If you have to write down a poor food choice, you’ll be less apt to put it in your mouth. Whether you’re just starting on your weight loss journey, trying to maintain your current weight or want to identify food cravings, journaling is great way to identify patterns, cravings and how your emotional triggers influence your food choices.
- Hollis JF, Gullion CM, Stevens VJ, Brantley PJ, Appel LJ, Ard JD, Champagne CM, Dalcin A, Erlinger TP, Funk K, Laferriere D, Lin PH, Loria CM, Samuel-Hodge C, Vollmer WM, Svetkey LP; Weight Loss Maintenance Trial Research Group. Weight loss during the intensive intervention phase of the weight-loss maintenance trial. Am J Prev Med. 2008 Aug;35(2):118-26. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2008.04.013.