- A food journal is a built-in mindfulness tool to check in with yourself on how you feel before, during, and after you eat.
- A new study published in Obesity found that tracking what you eat takes less than 15 minutes a day when done regularly.
- Logging foods can help you lose weight by informing your choices for the future.
Let’s start with some honesty: Keeping a food journal seems like a drag. Scribbling on a notepad amidst friends — “Was that seven croutons or eight, Karen?” — can feel awkward after every meal or snack. But in reality, logging what you eat really can help you lose weight and take a lot less time than you may think, according to a new study published in Obesity.
In the first month of a weight-loss program, the 142 participants took an average of 23 minutes per day to log the foods they ate. By the sixth month, it only took 14.6 minutes. Plus, people who logged their food at least twice a day were more successful at losing weight than those who did it once — and the three time per day-ers lost the most.
Does keeping a food journal help you lose weight?
Yes. Tracking what you eat at each meal or snack can help you improve your health and lose weight for two major reasons.
First, you’re accountable to an observant yet nonjudgmental party (the trusty food log). Consistently logging your food helps you consider why and when you’re eating and how hungry or satisfied you feel. This record-keeping can help you have a more positive relationship with food in general. It draws your attention to food-related pitfalls that may have previously thrown you off-track and gives you the information you need to move forward from a place of honesty.
The second reason why it works is that provides you with a wealth of information about you. You’ll learn more about both the foods you enjoy (and don’t enjoy) plus the places and situations that you find yourself eating. It can help you notice any negative feelings related food, and identify why you might be eating for reasons that have nothing to do with how hungry you actually felt.
How do you write a food journal?
Just try to stay as consistent as possible and be patient with yourself while you adjust. If it feels challenging yet manageable, it’s likely to be beneficial. If you miss a day, don’t sweat it. Just pick it back up the next. And keep in mind that it’s not forever. Food logs can tell you a lot whether you do it daily for a year or daily for today.
Pen and paper is a tried and trusty way to do it, but it may not be realistic for you. Try writing in a note on your phone, taking pictures, or using an app. MyFitnessPal and LoseIt — both free — are two of the most popular ones. Fitbit also has a food tracker built into its app. To start:
Log foods as soon as you can. The key to nailing the whole food journaling thing is to actually record what you’re having at the exact moment you’re having it. But since that’s not always realistic, don’t fret. If you can take a quick pic of what you’re ordering or a meal before you eat it and fill in the details after-the-fact, that’s okay too.
Write down where you’re eating. Most of us don’t eat every meal and snack in a dining room on a table with a tablecloth. Keeping a physical or electronic record of where you eat will help you become aware of your current habits and the scenarios that impact them.
Thank about how you’re feeling or what you’re doing. Reviewing patterns is helpful for finding ways to make specific changes, like if you always reach for a snack when you’re stressed at work. Could you try a different form of stress-relief, like going for a 15-minute walk to clear your head?
Consider when ate “filler” over flavor. Let’s say you ordered a burrito at lunch. Did you need the wrap, rice, beans, guac, cheese, sour cream, all the salsas, and steak? Or, were you super full afterward, slugging through your afternoon in a half-asleep food coma? Next time you’re in the mood for Chipotle, ordering a burrito bowl instead could help move the needle toward your weight-loss goals by giving you flavor with less filler.
Note what you may have “missed” at any meal. Did you order a bunless burger at lunch today and ultimately down the contents of a cereal box while watching TV after dinner? Could you try adding in extra fiber to your lunch and see how you feel tomorrow? If you skip meals or skip satisfying components at a meal, you’re likely overeat later on.
Use your food log as a library. It’s a go-to list of your favorite items to order, the restaurants where you picked salad when what you really wanted was pizza, great recipes you enjoyed, and which options or modifications left you feeling satisfied, not deprived.
Be honest. If you’re using a food log but not being totally truthful in your entries, then it’s no longer working as a tool for you. The only person who has to see it is you. Start from a realistic place and make gradual changes. Habits are a result of the choices you make consistently.
Are food diaries effective?
A food journal holds you accountable and creates a personal reference guide that can inform your future choices and, ultimately, your habits. However, it’s not for everyone. If you know you’re susceptible to obsessive eating patterns or food phobias; have a history of an eating disorder; or if for any reason at all a food log makes you feel guilt, shame, or fear, then this isn’t for you. Keeping track of what you eat is supposed to help you stay mindful and accountable — not bad about yourself.
Whatever inspires you to show up for yourself and for others, do that, and do it consistently. If a food log helps you make positive lifestyle changes, then that’s 15 minutes of your day well-spent!