Making the Most of Your Food Journal

12 01 2012

I thought it might be a good idea to follow-up on my last blog (“Making the Most of Health Behavior Counseling”) with some more strategies for how to maximize your participation in the WMP. Today I want to focus on keeping a food journal and how to use this tool to more effectively aid in weight loss progress.

Keeping a food journal is a good way to “self-monitor;” self-monitoring is just a fancy term for keeping tabs on your own behavior. In fact, self-monitoring is a very helpful skill that will assist you in not only losing weight, but also keeping it off long-term. While you may find it helpful knowing other people will be checking in on your progress, it’s difficult to rely on external accountability

Jessica Peacock

exclusively; others won’t always be there to make sure you stay on track! Therefore, developing the ability to consistently self-monitor your own behavior and progress is a crucial skill for success.

A food journal serves several purposes through self-monitoring. It helps you be more aware and mindful of your choices, and also helps hold you accountable to yourself – when you know you have to write it down you think twice about what goes in your mouth! When you keep a food journal you can identify patterns and habits that might not be helpful to your progress, and can then begin to work on changing them; this is why it is so helpful to keep the journal before your first meeting with the dietitian, so that he or she can help you figure out what kinds of improvements you can make to your existing eating plan. A food journal is also a helpful way to get through weight loss plateau, as it gives you an opportunity to figure out how to make further changes that can boost metabolism and better manage calories.

So while it can be time-consuming to keep a food journal, it is certainly worthwhile to do so and can help you reach your goals faster and more effectively. Here are some tips for getting the most out of keeping a food journal:

1. Do what works for you. Some people like to write everything down by hand, while others find this way too difficult. The most important thing is to choose a strategy that you can stick with consistently, whether it’s by carrying a small notebook with you or downloading an app for your smart phone.

– That being said, many people do find it easier and more convenient to keep a food journal using an online program or app. There are lots of good ones out there, including iLostIt, Fit Day, and My Fitness Pal. These programs have great features, and do much of the work for you – they can also give you a lot of detailed and rich information that will help educate you about your body and what it needs, including calorie intake as well as breakdown for carbs, protein, and fat. In many cases, these programs will also save your information, making it easier to continue to enter future meals and foods.

2. Be honest with yourself! One reason many people avoid keeping a food journal is because it can be difficult to face our unhealthy behaviors. Having to confront your bad habits can make you uncomfortable initially, and seeing the reality of extra calories on paper can feel discouraging. However, remind yourself that this is the first step in working to improve your habits, and so while it’s a little painful to look at now, you can be assured that as you change and progress you will see the difference in your journal and be proud of your accomplishments and success.

– You can really only know what to change and how to change it once you’ve acknowledged the “problem” areas, so don’t fool yourself or your journal! If you aren’t being honest and writing everything down (including liquids and condiments!), then the only person you are hurting is yourself. The discomfort with unhealthy behaviors will pass; every day will present a chance to make a healthier choice!

3. Be accurate. Most of us underestimate how much we eat; this is why so many of us struggle with our weight! When you begin keeping a food journal, it helps to ensure that you are accurate with what you are recording, so that you know exactly where you stand. This might mean putting in a lot of effort and work at the beginning by measuring out portion sizes. For example, if you have a bowl of breakfast cereal with milk in the morning, how do you know how much you had? This is where most people underestimate – they believe they have only consumed the serving size suggested on the box, but in reality likely had several servings. For at last a few days, take the time to measure things out. Pour your cereal into a measuring cup and then into the bowl so that you know exactly how much you are eating, and do the same for your milk. This way, when you record your breakfast in your journal, you can be sure it is accurate.

– Often, people report that they are keeping a food journal and staying within their target calorie range, but just can’t figure out why they aren’t losing weight. Inaccuracy is one of the likely culprits – unless you are 100% sure about your portion sizes then you may be underestimating how much you are consuming, which will limit your progress. Invest in some good measuring cups/spoons (they even make awesome serving dishes that correspond to common measuring sizes!) and spend some time familiarizing yourself with your portions!

4. Just do it. Not very many people are 100% consistent with their food journal. But just like with exercise and healthy eating, some is better than none! If you fall off, get right back into it as soon as you can. If you miss a day or two, begin again when you think about it or have time. No one is likely to keep their journal perfectly, and any amount of self-monitoring you do is going to be helpful.

– If you aren’t familiar with counting calories or only feel comfortable writing down what you eat (not necessarily how much or the calories fat grams, etc.), this will still be helpful. The simple act of recording what you ate will serve to keep you mindful of your choices and more likely to be successful. Every little bit helps! If you do want to learn more about how to count calories and track your eating habits more in-depth, talk with your dietitian about this at your next visit.

Like with weight loss in general, keeping a food journal requires some work. However, the benefits can be well-worth the time and effort. Those participants who have been the most successful in the WMP all have one thing in common – they self-monitor and keep a consistent food journal. Oh, and they also exercise very regularly. So can you!




2 responses

17 04 2013

When I initially commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get several emails with the same comment.

Is there any way you can remove people from that service?

Bless you!

18 04 2013

Hi There,
I’ve spent some time digging around on the wordpress help forum, and haven’t been able to find an answer to your conundrum. We will keep looking on our end to see if there’s an answer. If you post another comment, you may have the option to click/unclick that checkbox again, which might solve the problem.

Sorry to not have an answer,
-WMP Team

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