If you’re motivated to lose weight but are having difficulty getting the scale to move, you may want to consider keeping a food diary. Consumption tracking has been shown to be an effective tool for weight loss.
Over a six-month period, researchers followed nearly 1,700 overweight participants enrolled in a weight-loss program. They discovered that people who kept food diaries lost twice as much weight as those who did not.
Another study followed individuals who lost weight after participating in a six-week weight-management program. Keeping a food diary was one of the strategies that helped participants stay accountable for up to two years after the weight-management program ended, with 70% of participants maintaining food diaries post-group.
“Keeping a food diary enables people to make more informed eating decisions,” says study author Lisa Matero, PhD, a senior staff psychologist at Henry Ford Health System and clinical assistant professor at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit. “If someone wants to lose weight, the first thing I recommend is that they keep a food diary.”
HOW CORRECT A FOOD DIARY IS FOR WEIGHT LOSS
It imposes accountability on you. Unless you write it down, you may forget you had a bite of your daughter’s mac and cheese or a few chips mid-afternoon while feeding her lunch. “The majority of us eat mindlessly throughout the day, and keeping a journal helps bring this unhealthy habit to light,” says Shena Jaramillo, RD. “This is true regardless of whether the individual chooses to include calories in their journaling or not.”
Additionally, some people make healthier choices when they are aware that they will be recording everything they eat. “When you’re tracking your intake, you may reconsider having that extra snack, even more so if you’re going to report it,” says Linda Nikolakopoulos, RD.
It aids in the identification of trends. If you take bites of your children’s food to encourage them to finish their meals or snack on whatever is available in the kitchen while preparing dinner, you may be unaware that you’ve consumed those calories, as they’re consumed outside the realm of breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack time. Maintaining a food diary can assist you in determining where hidden calories may be creeping into your diet.
“The insignificant bites here and there that seemed insignificant prior to keeping a food journal are now viewed as significant,” Nikolakopoulos explains. Additionally, tracking your food intake with an app like MyFitnessPal enables you to monitor trends in added sugar and sodium, which can sabotage weight loss if consumed in excess. “Noting each bite of food reveals patterns and habits you were unaware of.”
It can assist you in breaking through weight-loss plateaus. When you encounter a stumbling block on your weight-loss journey, a food diary can assist you in determining what to do next. “If someone consumes a certain number of calories and does not notice any changes on the scale, this may be a good indication to slightly reduce their daily energy intake,” Jaramillo says.
HOW TO MANAGE YOUR FOOD DIARY
For an accurate food diary, track everything you eat and drink throughout the day with a pen and paper or a health app. The following tips will help you get the most out of your food diary:
1. IMMEDIATELY LOG IN
Do not wait until the end of the day to track your food intake — you are more likely to underestimate your portions and forget about an occasional snack. Rather than that, keep track of your intake as you go or even before. Planning your snacks and meals in advance can assist you in meeting your calorie goal.
2. INCLUDE THE ADDITIONALS
To keep an accurate food journal, it’s critical to include all of the extras you might overlook, such as cream in your coffee, butter on your toast, or salad dressing. Seeing these extras may inspire you to make healthier diet adjustments, such as drinking your coffee black or making your own low-calorie salad dressing at home.
3. CAPTURE YOUR EMOTIONS
Keep track of your mood and emotions as you eat. “Are you truly hungry or are you simply bored? Perhaps you are not hungry but tired or stressed, “Amanda Izquierdo, RD, explains. “Many people turn to food as a means of resolving other issues, and keeping a food diary can help people better understand their hunger cues by reviewing how they felt during each eating occasion.” With time, this additional information may help you recognize that you gravitate toward certain foods when you’re in a particular mood.
4. THINK ABOUT SHARING
While it is not necessary to share your food diary with anyone else, some people may benefit from sharing their records on a regular basis with an accountability buddy (such as a loved one) or a registered dietitian.
THE FINAL VERDICT
While tracking everything you eat and drink may seem daunting at first, Matero notes that “once people get into the habit of doing so, it becomes much easier and faster.” Indeed, it should only take about 15 minutes of your day. Armed with additional information about your dietary habits, you can adopt healthier habits such as mindful eating, meal preparation, and stress management without food to aid in weight loss and maintenance.