You know how when you track your finances, you become more aware of frivolous spending and therefore tend to spend less? The same is true with food. By tracking what we eat, we become more aware of our food choices. The result—we make better food choices and may even lose weight.
This isn’t wishful thinking. There is sound data to back it up. Researchers have found that individuals who write down everything they eat and drink lose almost twice as much weight as those who do not. If this sounds tedious, don’t fret—a food journal doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming to be effective. It simply has to be a consistent practice that works for you.
Why Food Diaries Work
Food diaries work for two reasons: awareness and accountability. By keeping track of your meals and snacks, you build awareness about your calorie consumption and eating habits. You may believe that you consume about 2,000 calories a day, but once you start recording every meal, snack, and drink you might discover that you’re actually consuming 2,500 calories a day. This provides valuable information and insight—and an opportunity to make choices about where you can cut calories. That 500-calorie mocha suddenly becomes a lot less appealing when you realize that it adds up to one extra pound per week.
Furthermore, food journals provide accountability—whether you show it to anyone or not. The simple act of recording the data creates a system of personal accountability that can help change behavior.
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How to Keep a Food Diary
Remember, a food diary need not be complicated to be effective. Develop a system you can follow. Some people choose to use a notebook, others find an excel spreadsheet to be helpful, and still others use the online tracking journals provided by services like Weight Watchers. Some tips for success:
- Track as you go. Don’t wait until the end of the day to try to recall everything you ate. Every time you consume something, record it immediately.
- Be specific. Include portion sizes and calories. Did you have a handful of chips or the entire bag?
- Be honest. You’re doing this for yourself and no one else. If you ate half a cheesecake, record it. This will help you build awareness. Plus, you’ll experience success when you see how your habits change over time.
- Be consistent. It’s tempting to skip the food journal on indulgent days or vacation. Food journals work best when they are used as a consistent practice.
- Be gentle. This is not an opportunity to berate yourself, but a chance to create lasting change. Look at your food journal as a gift you’re giving yourself because it will help you see your diet as it really is rather than how you wish it was.
Hollis JF, Gullion CM, Stevens VJ, et al. Weight loss during the intensive intervention phase of the weight loss maintenance trial. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2008; 35(2) 118-126.