Want to Eat Better or Lose Weight? Write on!

Keeping a food record, independent of other factors, can lead to better weight loss across a wide range of people. Click on the link and check out figure No. 4 a little more than halfway down the page — the more food records kept, the more weight lost.

Why does food journaling work? Because it gives you a moment to pause and consider what you’ll be eating … and why you’re eating it. Journaling also provides you with a concrete record to review and learn from. Patterns and trends that you never considered become crystal clear when you look at them on paper:

  • Seven hours between meals leads to an afternoon crash and overeating at dinner.
  • Every time you go out with friends you end up eating and drinking a little more than you wanted to.
  • It’s too hard to say no to the brownies in the house after dinner.
  • A stressful day always leads to a comfort food. 

And so on.

The main objection I (and probably many other dietitians) get from people in response to keeping a food record is that they “don’t have the time” to keep a detailed record and “don’t want to measure” everything they eat. My response? Don’t worry, do your best.

Of course, the more detail I can get the better, but keeping a food journal, especially in the beginning of my relationship with a client, is not to analyze their exact daily caloric intake. Instead, it’s to give me an idea of the types of foods they eat, when they eat, where they eat and of course, why they eat. It gives me a lens into their life, via their food. Because in the end, changing a person’s eating habits impacts a lot more than just what they eat.

More importantly, though, this exercise provides my client with an opportunity to become aware of, and reflect upon, their own eating habits. By the time I see them for their first session, they’ve usually already got their own ideas on how to make changes. I’m there to be a sounding board, correct any misconceptions and help make the proposed eating improvements the “path of least resistance.”

Can you devote three to five minutes a day to your health? And you don’t have to touch a measuring spoon (unless you want to). Just focus on three things:

  1. What you ate
  2. When you ate
  3. Why you ate (Were you really hungry? Or just bored? Or stressed?)

Extra credit responses include where you ate and rough estimates of how much you ate — just use your hand (a fistful, a palmful, a fingertip, etc.). Then, at the end of the week, spend a few minutes reviewing the record and seeing where you could, and are willing, to improve. 

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Jason Machowsky
Originally an overweight engineer, Jason Machowsky, MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS, lost more than 30 pounds and changed careers to pursue his passion. Through his book and blog Death of the Diet, he empowers people to live the life they want by integrating healthy eating and physical activity habits into their daily routines. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter.