Keeping a food diary is one of the most powerful weight management tools we have. Yet so many people ‘don’t bother’ or say ‘I don’t need it’ – we often hear this from those individuals who feel that they are doing everything right, yet the scales is still not budging.
Read more to find out why keeping a food diary could be the single most important step to succeeding in your weight loss goals.
Why Do Food Diaries Work?
Many of us hope that some of the food we sneak in ‘doesn’t count’ because we’re on holidays, we’re eating from our children’s plates or finishing off the crumbs from a chocolate brownie…but, sadly, all calories do count, and we need to face up to that. The very act of writing it down – regardless of whether your Motivation Advisor reads it or not – is enough to make you more aware of what you’re doing.
It can also provide a great tool to help clients understand portion control. Very often we have discussions with clients where we highlight that they used to habitually consume about three or four times the recommended amount of cereal or porridge, for instance. They are shocked, but the good news is that they easily adjust down to smaller portions and, more often than not, they see their weight come down as a result.
Research Backs it Up
A recent study of 1,700 overweight men and women who joined a six-month weight loss programme found that those who kept daily food records lost – wait for this – twice as much weight as those who kept no records. Of those who kept a food diary seven days a week, the average weight loss was an impressive 18 pounds. This would substantially reduce an individual’s chance of developing diseases like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. We also now know that reducing weight can impact on our cancer risk so, in a way, keeping food journal could actually save your life (it sounds dramatic but it’s true!).
Dr Jack Hollis, who led the study, commented: “The more food records people kept, the more weight they lost. It seems that the simple act of writing down what you eat encourages people to consume fewer calories.”
10 Tips To Keeping A Food Diary
1. Do it straight away: don’t be tempted to rely on memory at the end of the day. Record as you go. If you find a food diary too cumbersome to carry around, you could write into the ‘notes’ section of your phone or use a food diary app.
2. Be specific: record the exact food and how it was cooked. Make sure you also include the extras, such as any sauce or dressing you may have had.
3. Be honest: you may feel guilty about eating that slice of pizza, but you still need to write it down – for yourself! Being totally honest about your eating allows you to notice trends so that you can take tangible steps to begin to change.
4. Record portions: try to write down the exact weight of your food, particularly when starting off. If this is too much for you, then describe the size that you can eyeball (for instance, we know that a 3oz steak looks like a deck of cards and a 1oz serving of cheese is like a matchbox or domino).
5. Write it all down: keep your food diary with you all day and write down everything you eat and drink, no matter how small it seems (even a ‘bite’ of your son’s croissant should be written down). Also try to record your sleep, water intake, exercise and protein supplements consumed. The more info, the better.
6. Keep going: while it may seem unrealistic to say that you’ll do it for life, when you do reach your goal weight, a food diary can be a very useful tool to bring back into play if you see your weight start to creep back up again. Some of our clients who come to us once a month for Maintenance will use it regularly, while others will simply reinstate it if they gain a few pounds.
7. Make it fun: obsessing about the fact that you ate a corner of birthday cake is not what keeping a food diary is about. It’s not about perfectionism or being overly harsh. Food is supposed to be fun and enjoyable. The aim of the food diary is to help you to become more mindful; it’s not about making you feel guilty. If you notice it is having that effect, please discuss with your Motivation Advisor.
8. Add in emotions: some clients find it useful to make note of their emotions at times when they overeat or eat the wrong thing. This is a real eye-opener to the effect that high emotions can have on the amount we eat, and how we use food as a ‘crutch’. It’s also a great route to learning about your emotional ‘triggers’. For instance, you may discover that your eating tends to be triggered by boredom, rather than hunger. That’s a signal to develop other, healthier ways of relieving boredom.
9. Beware of the barriers: are you ashamed or embarrassed about your eating? Do you feel that it’s just too inconvenient to write down what you eat, or are you just making excuses because you don’t see the point? These are obstacles some people discuss with us, but all can be overcome. Once we remind clients how useful food diaries are, they usually agree to try. We all have the understanding that it won’t be perfect, and that slips will happen; the key is to get back on track straight away, and to keep trying.
10. Review what you wrote: food diaries can be most helpful when you look back and review your day or week. You can do this on your own, or with your Motivation Advisor. The point is to look for common themes – what went well, and what didn’t go so well? Often someone who is off track can also look back at an old food diary – when things were going well – to look for patterns back then that they can replicate once more.
Keeping a food diary requires discipline and a little bit of time, but it’s worth it because it gets the results. Our clients who keep a regular food diary are, without a doubt, the most successful in changing their habits and in losing weight in the long run. So don’t hesitate any longer – start (or restart) your diary today!