If you’re trying to lose weight, it’s time to start a food journal. Studies show the more often you write down what you eat, the more weight you’ll lose.
A 20-week study by Kaiser Permanente’s Center for Health Research showed the more days a week participants kept a food journal, the more weight they lost. Participants (1,685 overweight and obese adults) who tracked their food six or more days a week lost twice as much weight than those who didn’t track their food.
A year-long study at the Institute for Health Research and Policy showed that participants who kept more food journals throughout the year lost more weight. Participants were 123 overweight and obese postmenopausal women.
Keeping a food journal is a common recommendation for weight loss, whether you’re following a commercial weight loss program, working with a dietician, or reading a self-help weight loss book. Read below to learn about two rules for your journal and three additional benefits.
Two Rules for your Food Journal
Follow two easy rules when keeping a food journal: 1) keep it convenient, and 2) write down everything.
Rule 1. Choose a convenient method of tracking
Start tracking your food in a way that is convenient for you. The more convenient it is, the more likely you are to do it. And as cited above, the more likely you are to do it, the more weight you can lose.
Track your food using something you can keep on or near you at all times. For example, you might keep a small notebook and pen in your purse or backpack, use the notepad on your phone, or use an app or website you can conveniently access at any time on your smart phone.
Keeping your journal with you will:
- Serve as a constant reminder to make healthy food choices to lose weight.
- Allow you to record what you eat in real time. If you wait until the end of the day to record your food, you’re bound to forget something, and most likely multiple things.
Rule 2. Write down everything
Write down anything and everything you eat and drink, and include as many details as possible. For example, instead of writing down ‘cookies’, write down '2 white chocolate macadamia nut cookies from Subway' – 440 calories (220 calories each). It might also be helpful to write down the time of day you ate, how you were feeling at the time, and what else was going on. You can use this information down the road to identify eating patterns related to time, mood, and other events.
Don’t forget about the small stuff. It’s easy to forget certain things you eat and drink, especially if it’s something you grab on the go, eat while distracted, or if it’s such a habit, you don’t even realize you’re eating it.
‘Forgotten’ calories can add up quickly, and might include:
- An 8-oz. glass of juice you drink as you’re walking out the door (110 calories).
- A 20-oz. bottle of soda you drink during a meeting (250 calories).
- The five Hershey Kisses you grab from the office candy bowl (100 calories).
- The three creamers you add to your coffee (60 calories).
- The forkfuls of food you pick off your kid’s plate during dinner. (varies).
- A handful of roasted nuts a co-worker offers you (425 calories).
- The ½ cup of croutons you add to your salad (100 calories).
Three Benefits of a Food Journal
Keeping a food journal will help you be more mindful of what you eat, encourage you to make healthier choices, and allow you to identify eating patterns.
Keeping a food journal will help you be more mindful of what and how much you are eat. It’s easy to lose track when you’re multi-tasking in today’s fast-paced society. Paying attention to what you’re putting in your mouth instead of mindlessly eating while distracted by work, email, or the TV will help you eat less and pay closer attention to when you are full.
Make healthier choices
Sometimes the simple act of writing something down can help change your eating behavior. If you know you’ll have to record what you eat, you might decide against that second helping of cake or third handful of chips. You might think twice before grabbing a handful of candy from your co-worker’s desk, and simply walk past it.
Identify eating patterns
You can look back at your food journal and learn about your eating patterns compared with your mood, the time of day, or other events. For example, you might notice that every time you order white chocolate macadamia nut cookies, you’re feeling tired and stressed. Or you might notice that you eat most of your food between 1pm – 4pm. Now that you know these things, you can work to change them.
You can also observe trends between healthy eating and positive changes in your weight. This can serve as motivation to continue healthy eating and tracking your food.
Start your journal today!
Start tracking your food in a way that is convenient for you. Write down everything you eat and drink and experience the benefits. There will be days when you forget to write something down or just don’t feel like it, but focus on being consistent. Just remember, the more you track, the more weight you’ll lose.
Stephanie Averkamp is the owner of FitnessforWeightLoss.comSources: Hollis, Jack F., et al. Weight Loss During the Intensive Intervention Phase of the Weight-Loss Maintenance Trial. Am. J. Preventive Medicine. Aug 2008: vol. 35, no. 2, pp. 118 – 126.
Kong A, Beresford SA, Alfano CM, Foster-Schubert KE, Neuhouser ML, Johnson DB, et al. Self-Monitoring and Eating-Related Behaviors Are Associated with 12-Month Weight Loss in Postmenopausal Overweight-to-Obese Women. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2012 Sep;112(9):1428-35