Dear Diary…The Benefits of Keeping a Food Journal

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Food journals have shown to provide significant help for people who have trouble losing weight.
Image by Pw95/Flickr

In this age of social media and publishing every random thought that occurs, you’d think that keeping a food diary would be easy. But if that were true, then so many people wouldn’t still be fighting the battle to lose weight. Maybe you’ve heard the advice before—that keeping a journal to track your food intake can be beneficial, and maybe you rolled your eyes. Possibly you thought it was a good idea but just haven’t gotten around to doing it yet. Well, it’s time to take this weight loss secret seriously. A study published by Kaiser Permanente revealed that keeping a journal on food intake can double weight loss, and the more detailed the diary is, the more weight that will likely come off.

What’s more, listening to and understanding your body is so important in general, but especially when you’re trying to lose weight. Health says that keeping a food journal will shine a light on issues such as why you eat when you’re not hungry, how who you’re eating with may affect your meals, and can even identify foods you may be allergic to or that have negative effects on your health.  Armed with that kind of insight, you’ll be more in touch with your body and its relationship with food, and will be able to fine-tune your eating habits to reach your goals. So grab a notebook and a pen and start writing to lose weight.

The Magic Of Writing

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Unless you write down everything you consume, you may not have an accurate picture of how much you’re eating–or even whether you’re eating healthy.

One reason food journals can be so successful is that they track the amount of food you eat to give you an accurate picture of what you’re actually eating. Kristin Kirkpatrick, a Registered Dietician, says that clients routinely tell her that they hardly eat at all, yet still can’t seem to lose weight. One of the first things she does is have them start keeping a food diary, and they’re always surprised at how much they really do consume.

That’s because many people have gotten used to eating on the run, so they subconsciously dismiss any food not eaten at the dining room table. Another trick of the mind is that they don’t see the “little” calories adding up: a handful of chips here, half a sandwich there, several spoonfuls of Ben and Jerry’s illicitly scarfed down in the middle of the night (if you don’t eat it from a dish, it doesn’t count, right?). It all does add up, though, and writing it down makes you accountable, putting you face-to-face with the truth of how much you’re really eating.

How To Keep a Food Diary

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Yep, keep track of everything you drink, too.
Image by Fredrik Rubensson/Flickr

Keeping a food journal is about more than writing down what you eat. According to Organic Authority, in addition to writing down the time of day you’re eating and exactly how much of each item you’re eating, there are other important issues that need to be kept track of that relate to the food part of the log. Every time you eat, you should record your hunger level, the reason you’re eating (stress? it’s noon? I’m bored? everyone else is doing it?), how long it takes you to eat, and reactions, such as whether the food affects your mood or makes you feel contented, happy, hyper, nauseated, tired, or irritable.

Periodic summaries are essential, too. Do it daily, do it weekly, or do it monthly, but the summaries will centralize the data on the food you’re eating and give you the clearest picture of your diet. What’s more, summarizing reveals patterns in your health, moods, and eating habits, and identifying those can do more than help you lose weight. That information can end up being vital for improving your general health.

Get In the Habit and Don’t Stop

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After a few months of keeping a food diary, you might be surprised at how motivating it can be.

However you choose to record your experience with food, make a commitment to do it consistently for at least 90 days. By then, the habit should be ingrained enough that you won’t have trouble keeping it up if you want to or haven’t reached your goal yet and need to keep journaling. You’ll be surprised at the picture the diary will paint over those 3 months and may be even more surprised at the incentive you get from reviewing it.

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