Why keeping a food journal will help you lose weight

The secret to shedding pounds, and keeping them off, may be as simple as writing down what you eat and drink in a food journal

Why keeping a food journal will help you lose weight

Source: Best Health Magazine, January/February 2009

A recent study of 1,700 overweight men and women who participated in a six-month weight-loss program found that those who kept daily food records lost twice as much weight as those who kept no records. Participants also exercised, reduced caloric intake and ate low-fat dairy products plus an average of three servings of fruits and vegetables daily.

Keeping a food diary is one of the most powerful weight-management tools we have,’ says Jack Hollis of the Portland, Oregon-based Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research and lead author of the study, which was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Participants were subsequently followed for an additional 30 months, in one of the largest and longest-running weight-loss maintenance trials ever conducted.

Why do food journals work?

‘Many of us want food to ‘not count”because we’re on vacation, we’re in a rush, we’re just finishing off the broken cookies in the bag,’ says Colleen Cannon, a clinical psychologist in Calgary who specializes in helping people deal with the emotional side of eating. ‘The act of writing down what we eat helps to raise awareness about what we’re doing.’

It can also be a tool to get an understanding of portion size. ‘Writing down what and how much you eat and adding up the calories helps you to eat more mindfully and stay on track,’ says Hollis. ‘When starting out, people tend to underestimate, so it’s best to measure the portion sizes carefully at first.’ He adds that for many people, keeping a food journal is a lifelong tool, while others use it if they notice their weight creeps back up.

Make food journals work for you

Obsessing about how many almonds you ate is not the point, says Cannon. ‘Food is supposed to be fun, to be natural, to be practical. If you’re the type to get overly concerned about what you’re eating, use caution if you try this approach.’

And, to keep yourself accurate, write down what and how much you eat right away, rather than at the end of the day. Choose a method that fits into your life: Scribble it down on an index card, track it online, text or email yourself, or use an elegant notebook. The point is to keep it in a handy place. (Download our food journal template for a carry-with-you version you can fit in a binder.)

To make your food journal more effective, include details such as your emotions, location and whom you were with. ‘I think that noting thoughts and feelings is more important than noting the food,’ says Cannon. ‘It helps you see a pattern.’

Maybe you overeat at your weekly’and somewhat stressful’Sunday brunch with your mom, or munch on chips during a solo car trip. Becoming aware of negative thoughts or emotions that affect your eating can be uncomfortable, so if this is distressing you, make sure you talk to a loved one, family physician or counsellor, advises Cannon.

This article was originally titled "Write it off," in the January/February 2009 issue of Best Health. Subscribe today and never miss an issue!

Related content:

Secrets to Staying Healthy & Happy

farmers-market

6 tips to help you follow the 100-mile diet

The 100-mile diet can help you eat healthier and even lose weight. But it’s not always easy to eat locally. Try these six solutions and add more homegrown food to your diet

food-health

Remedies for all your foot ailments

With sandal season just around the corner, you want your feet looking their best. Here are some easy fixes to deal with everyday foot issues so you can put your best foot forward

vegetarian-quinoa-eggplant-268

Quinoa with Grilled Eggplant

Quinoa, a nutritious grain from South America, has a texture similar to split lentils when cooked. It contains more protein than any other grain and is also lower in carbohydrate content. Here it is combined with grilled zucchini, peppers, cherry tomatoes and onions, then baked with tangy goat cheese on top. Serve with a mixed leaf salad.