If a piece of chocolate is consumed at your coworker’s desk, do you factor it into your daily caloric intake?
If the answer is yes, good for you and your powers of perception. If it’s no, I ask, are you serious? I just saw you eat it less than a minute ago!
It’s so easy to forget about those subconscious nothings that we consume, but they do add up. And nothing is worse for those of us actively trying to lose weight than when we can’t even remember all of the foods we’re putting into our bodies. But there’s a solution: Pick up a pen and start a food journal.
Several studies show that keeping a food journal doubles weight loss and helps keep those pounds off. The American Heart Association recommends food journaling to control hunger and calorie consumption.
When you write down what you eat daily, it gives new insight into what you consume, how much of it and why you’re eating, as well as areas where you can make improvements. The bigger picture is that the weight loss comes along with the accountability and awareness of what you eat.
Like a regular diary or journal, writing about food and your emotional state that day could better show you when and why you overeat or take comfort in certain bad habits. Journaling helps identify those emotional states and empowers us to break those bad habits.
The Cleveland Clinic recommends an organized approach to food journaling. Take time each day after you eat to catalogue all meals, snacks, beverages consumed; the date, time and place where food is consumed; all feelings and levels of hunger; quantity of food; physical activity; and any thoughts, revelations or analyses from your journaling. Above all else, be honest with yourself when you journal.
Pen and paper works if you’re a fan of free writing and want to focus on the emotions behind your food choices. There also are great websites and phone applications — such as My Fitness Pal, Calorie Counter, Fit Day, My Food Diary and Weight Watchers Online — that make it easy to view nutritional facts and daily limitations.
I started keeping a food journal in August and kept track daily of what I consumed for a month through My Fitness Pal. I like this site because I look at overall health as diet and exercise together. I am not a huge fan of rigid calorie counting in a food journal, but that’s because I got really obsessive about it when I was 15 years old. For me, weight loss is more about developing a sustainable and healthy lifestyle than watching the numbers rapidly decrease on the scale (slow and steady wins the race, right?).
I prefer writing down the food I consume to: A) make sure I don’t have more than one cheat day per week; B) am eating a wide variety of foods from different food groups; and C) Am not consuming too much sodium or sugar. That last part is particularly important to me because heart disease and diabetes run in my family.
It wasn’t until I started keeping track of my food — and I mean even condiments — that I realized how many empty calories I throw away on things like mayonnaise, or how quickly sugar adds up. Keeping a food journal helped me substitute potato chips and dip with broccoli and red pepper hummus. Yes, sometimes I do still eat chips, but I know now that when I do, I should buy single-serving bags instead of party-sized ones.