Do you keep track of what you eat and drink? A Kaiser Permanente study of more than 1,600 people found that those who kept a daily food journal lost twice as much weight over 6 months compared to those who did not journal.
Tracking what (as well as when and why) you eat can reveal important insights into your personal habits and nutrition. You may discover that you’re eating more than you realize, you reach for certain foods when stressed, you eat more when you’re around certain people, or other factors that can negatively affect your health and your weight-loss goals.
Food journals are widely recommended by nutritionists and doctors. But what’s so great about using a food journal? Why go through all this extra work to simply write down what you eat?
Food journals provide clarity about your habits
Perhaps the biggest reason a food journal can help you is that it gives you a complete, unquestionable picture of your diet. Most of us simply don’t realize what — and how much — we eat each day until we see it all on paper (or on a screen). A food journal will help you see what you’re eating, where you can improve, and what (or who) may be standing in the way of your health goals.
Even people who aren’t trying to lose weight can benefit from a food journal. If you record what you eat or drink immediately, you’ll have details that you simply can’t get from memory at the end of the day. It’s a great way for anyone to find ways to improve their health, even if weight loss isn’t a goal. After all, better health should be everyone’s ultimate goal!
Some of the things that a food journal can show you include:
- Exactly how much you’re eating of those “little bites” we all forget about
- Whether you eat less healthy foods during certain activities, such as when you’re at work or while you’re watching TV
- What times of day you tend to eat, and what you eat at those times
- Whether certain emotions are triggering you to eat, such as boredom or anxiety
- What you eat when you go out with friends or family
- Whether you eat more on the weekends
A food journal can keep you motivated
We can all use a little extra encouragement when we’re trying to change our eating habits. You may feel like you’ve made some healthy changes but you aren’t really seeing results. But, looking back at your food diary can be great encouragement. You can acknowledge victories such as cutting back on candy or desserts, eating more fruits and vegetables, or not eating during “trigger” times such as late at night or in front of the TV.
Anytime you make a healthier choice, it will be recorded in your food journal. Seeing these accomplishments written down will remind you just how much progress you’ve made. And, that’s a reason to celebrate success and keep going.
You learn to be accountable to yourself
Keeping a food diary can help you make healthier choices. If you know you’ll cringe when you see how many pieces of candy you ate at the office, you may be less likely to reach for one.
But, don’t be too hard on yourself as you begin your food journaling. This could lead to frustration and negative self-talk, which could harm your healthy eating efforts. Instead, look at your eating habits like an objective bystander, and make specific notes about when and how you want to improve. Forget about past mistakes, and instead, focus on how you plan to improve your health through measurable and realistic changes.
Food journaling: How to do it right
Having a strategy for food journaling will help you find success with it. Here’s how you can get the maximum benefit out of this simple, low-cost strategy for healthy lifestyle change:
- Keep your goals in mind. Keeping a food journal will require some dedication and persistence. But focus on the reasons you want to want to journal your food intake. Is it to eat more vegetables or less sugar? Are you trying to manage a condition like diabetes? You are solely responsible for your own food diary, so make a commitment to stick with it.
- Use what works for you. There are countless ways to record your daily food and drink intake. You can use an app designed for this purpose, a notes function on your phone, or a notebook or journal that you keep in your bag. Whatever it is, make sure it’s something you can take with you everywhere and that you enjoy using. The American Academy of Family Physicians provides a PDF template you can use.
- Be honest. Sometimes it’s hard to fess up to our bad habits — even to ourselves. But fudging your food journal entries will not help you. If you’re not totally honest about every bite you eat each day, your food journal won’t give you the information you need. Don’t be embarrassed about what you did or didn’t eat. Only you need to see it.
Finally, your food journal entries should include a few key details:
- What you ate or drank. This seems obvious, but be specific. A yogurt parfait at a restaurant, for instance, could be loaded with sugar. But, adding fruit to plain Greek yogurt at home is completely different. A hamburger you make yourself from organic, lean beef without a bun is quite different from a fast-food hamburger.
- The portion size. Write a description of the size or weight, if possible. Simply saying “a piece of cake” is vague. Give a measurement of its size or, at a minimum, describe it.
- The time of day. Many people find that a mid-afternoon energy slump or late-night eating in front of the TV are times when they are likely to reach for unhealthy foods.
- Who you were with. You don’t have to drop a friend who encourages you to eat unhealthy foods. But, being aware of this connection can help you avoid the trap and make better choices when you’re with that person in the future.
- Where you were when you ate. Places like your dinner table, a specific restaurant, your car, your desk, or your couch may be linked to certain eating habits, for better or worse.
- How you were feeling when you ate. Studies show a strong connection between our emotions and our eating habits. Knowing these triggers empowers you to overcome them.
- How much sleep you got the previous night. Numerous studies have found that sleep deprivation makes you hungrier.
- How much you exercised. If you tend to overeat after a run, for instance, you may need to find ways to satisfy your hunger with healthier, lower-calorie options if you’re trying to slim down.
- Water intake. Hydration is an important part of overall health and should be included in any food journal for this reason.
Want to know more about how you can achieve your healthy eating goals? Talk with Garcia Weight Loss about our personalized weight-loss programs that help you look and feel your best. Contact us today for your no-cost consultation!