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Why can keeping a food journal help with weight loss?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

A food diary can help you stay on track. Keeping a food diary will let you know exactly where you stand nutritionally. You may think you are eating a healthful diet, watching your portions, then after calculating your calories at the end of the day, you find that you have eating twice as many as you thought.

Interestingly, some studies have shown that when obese people who say they maintain a low fat, low calorie diet are asked to record their daily food intake, the results are surprising. The same people who said they ate no more than 1100 calories per day, topped off at an average of over 2,000 calories per day. This made a tremendous difference that resulted in weight gain instead of loss!

Until you get in the weight loss habit, keeping a food diary will help keep you organized and honest. Use it like you would a check book, writing down what you eat each day, the portion size, and calorie and fat counts. As you go through the day, calculate the calories in your diet. If you are over the suggested limits for weight loss, make adjustments the next day. The diary is a good indicator of what you really eat.

Two of the primary reasons keeping a food journal can help you lose weight are awareness and accountability. Logging your food intake will start to make you more mindful of your eating habits. We make numerous decisions surrounding food intake every day- many of which are subconscious. Because of this you might not be aware of how much food you are really eating. Using a food journal to keep track of what and how much you eat will make you more conscious of your decisions surrounding the foods you eat and therefore help you to make better choices that are more aligned with the goals you have set for yourself.

Also, by logging your food intake you're accountable to yourself every time you write or type things down, and if using a coach to help guide you to your goals, you're accountable to them every time they look at your journal as well.

You might be asking, "Does it really make that big of a difference?" Absolutely! In fact, a 2008 weight-loss study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that after six months participants who logged everything they ate or drank six days per week lost twice as much weight as those who logged their food only one day per week or less!

Marisa Moore
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

A food journal makes you accountable to yourself. When you keep a food journal, you're forced to think twice about what you eat. If you opt to eat a sleeve of crackers versus just five you have to write that down. And for many this is a major eye opener! 

In fact, keeping a food journal has been shown to as much as double weight loss when compared to those who don't keep a journal. You find out so much about yourself and can develop healthier eating habits as a result.

I recommend that you not only write down what you eat but also the time of day, how you felt at the time and if you were alone or with others. This will help you identify patterns and trends in your eating habits if you keep the journal for several days.

And remember, keeping a food journal doesn't have to be a tedious task. Do it for at least a week or two to score benefits. You can write down what you eat on a little notepad that you keep in your pocket or purse, type it in a document or track it with a simple or fancy app on your phone or tablet. Whatever works, just start tracking!

Bet you never knew that a pen could be your best weight loss tool. In one of the largest and longest weight loss maintenance trials ever conducted, the more food records that dieters kept, the more weight they lost.

Simply jotting down what you eat seems like an easy price to pay for fewer pounds. The people in the study also followed a diet, attended weekly group sessions, and exercised for at least 30 minutes a day. After six months, the people who had also kept daily food records lost twice as much weight as those who did not keep track -- probably because the food journals encouraged people to reflect on what -- and how much -- they'd eaten.

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Research has shown that people who keep a food journal, and monitor their daily caloric intake, are more successful when it comes to weight loss than those who do not. Keeping a daily food journal enables you to become aware of how much food you really consume on a daily basis, and can help identify any problematic or destructive food patterns that may be present. A food journal will also help keep you accountable to any weight loss and/or healthy eating goals you have set yourself.

Below are some tips for how I recommend my clients keep a food journal:

  • Write down everything you eat and drink and at what time of the day.
  • Write down the precise amount of all food and beverages consumed (do not forget to include salad dressings, and other condiments we generally add to foods).
  • Also make a note of how you were feeling before and after you ate. (These feeling can refer to emotions as well as hunger level).
  • Record any physical activity, including duration and intensity of the exercise.

Keeping a food journal helps you become more aware of how you really eat. Making a note of your feelings can also help you understand why you eat. For a food journal to really work, you must be brutally honest with yourself regarding what you eat on a daily basis. Many of us underestimate how much we eat on any given day, and many of us don't want to show our trainers a food journal full of poor eating choices. Some of us "accidentally forget" to log certain poor choices when we know someone will be looking over our journals. But, it's important to be honest. Making mistakes is how we learn, and we are all human, none of us are perfect all the time. However, keeping a regular and truthful food journal can be a huge eye opener, and a great tool to help you monitor and adhere to your weight loss plan.

Ms. Vandana  R. Sheth
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

A good food journal will include not only what you eat, but also other factors such as how much, where, why, hunger level, mood, stress, physical activity, etc.  This will provide an in-depth picture to your eating habits.  You will become more aware and start recognizing patterns that are positive to help you lose weight.  Research has also found that people who maintain food journals are more successful at losing weight and keeping it off.  There are many different "apps" available for smartphones as well as free online food journaling sites to help you with this process.  A food journal is also a valuable discussion tool for your healthcare team and you.

Jim White
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

Keeping a food journal will help you keep track of the foods that you are putting into your body throughout the day. A food journal gives you the opportunity to plan out your healthy meals and have a direct reference to the calories you are consuming. With a food journal you will have physical accountability which gives you a chance to recognize the aspects of your diet that need to be altered. 

Ruth Frechman
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

Keeping a food journal is a very effective tool for losing weight. Seeing what you eat in print may be eye-opening. All of those bites all day long can add up. A food journal also keeps you accountable. People like to start a diet in the morning. By lunch they forget. Writing down your meals will serve as a reminder to keep going. Be true to yourself. If you eat a whole bag of candy, forgive and move on. Start over the next day. 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.