Why Keeping an Eating Journal Is Key for Permanent Weight Loss
Do you keep a record of what you eat? Why would anyone want to bother to keep an eating journal each day?
If you want to keep your weight down but still enjoy the foods you love and stay off the diet hamster wheel, there are several excellent reasons why you should keep an eating journal.
Studies have shown that people who keep a food diary are more likely to be successful at losing weight and keeping it off. Another study showed that people who kept daily food records lost twice as much weight as people who didn’t keep records. Great reasons, right?
I’m an anti-diet weight coach. As such, I can tell you that almost every student of mine who keeps an eating journal is successful. Yet some of my students rebel against the idea. They think keeping a journal feels diet-y to them. They ask how does it actually help? How do you do it?
Is Keeping a Food Journal a Good Idea?
Let’s start with why it’s a good idea to keep an eating journal. The main reason is because it forces you to be aware of what you’re consuming. If you make a practice of writing down or taking a photo of your plate, you can’t avoid being aware of what you’re eating.
Awareness is the first step in making the kind of permanent changes to your habits that will help you lose weight and keep it off.
So many people who struggle unsuccessfully to lose weight believe that they really don’t eat that much. In fact, studies show that most people who are trying to lose weight underestimate how much they eat by about one-third. That’s often the difference between losing weight and gaining!
I used to believe the same thing – that I didn’t eat more than my normal-weight friends. Keeping a journal was a real eye-opener. I learned that I was eating considerably more than I realized! Many of my students have had similar experiences.
Keeping a journal can also be useful for noticing how your body reacts to certain foods. Are you particularly sluggish in the afternoon after eating fish and chips for lunch? Do you get indigestion when you eat fruit with other foods? Are you gassy when you eat raw onions? Do you get hungry two hours after eating pasta?
If you want to know what isn’t agreeing with you, you’ve got a record of what you ate and can be more attuned to how those foods make you feel. You can also observe how certain foods affect your mood and your hunger levels.
Adopt Eating by Hunger Scale
Your food journal can be a great means toward changing your eating habits. I teach my students to eat using a hunger scale to decide when to start and stop eating. Start eating when you’re sufficiently hungry to be distracted by your hunger and stop when you feel lightly full.
Recording where you are on the Hunger Scale when you start and finish eating requires you to pay attention to your hunger levels and notice how much food you need to reach that lightly full level. That is the precise amount of food your body needs to be your healthy weight.
If you’re trying to eat healthier, journaling can help you learn how healthy or not your daily diet is. If you’re aiming to eat at least 5 fruits and vegetables a day, an eating journal will help you keep track of that.
Keeping a journal doesn’t have to be onerous either. You have several choices regarding what you record and how you record it.
Some people like keeping an old-fashioned written notebook where they jot things down, while others prefer using an app on their phone or a website. The important thing is to do it, so choose something that makes it most likely you’ll actually keep the journal. AND make sure you do it contemporaneously.
If you don’t write immediately after a meal, you’re more likely to forget things. So, if you always have your smartphone handy, you might want to use an app.
My favorite is Ate, which is free. It allows you the choice of either taking a photo of your plate or typing what you consumed. You can also program questions to ask yourself, like “Am I hungry” or “How do you feel?” which allows you to work with eliminating emotional eating. It also allows you to record water consumption and exercise.
I also like RiseUp. Although it’s designed for people with eating disorders, it is a great app and provides the opportunity to record your emotions. Or you can even use something like Evernote.
Stay Away From
On the other hand, I strongly discourage the use of My Fitness Pal, or any app that counts calories, carb grams, macros, or points.
Listening to your body is imperative in deciding when, what, and how much to eat if you want to have a peaceful relationship with food and eating, lose weight without dieting, and get out of the diet dungeon forever.
However, you can’t listen to your body while simultaneously tracking calories, carb grams, and the like. Counting calories will affect your choices, and you’ll end up feeling deprived, which will set you up for overeating.
If you listen to your body, it won’t lie to you. It will tell you what it needs. I promise that your body will not tell you to eat chocolate all day, because if you did that, you would feel sick, and your body doesn’t want to feel sick. It’s your brain that tells you to eat too many sweets, not your body.
What to Record in Your Journal?
Here are a few options for what to record in your journal:
The Food You’re Eating
This does not have to be detailed. It can look like this:
8:00 am – square of baked oatmeal with blueberries, coffee with milk
11:45 – farro and root vegetable salad with sunflower seeds
3:00 pm – homemade chai latte, piece of chocolate
6:00 pm – bowl of chili with cornbread, small salad
That’s it! You do not have to weigh your food or put measurements in. Just stop eating when you’re lightly full. Don’t forget to record beverages, including alcohol.
You can also keep track of how much water you drink if that’s an issue for you by using a tally. Otherwise, you don’t have to write down water or things like unsweetened iced tea. If you put sugar, milk, fruit juice, or things like that in your drinks, write it down.
The Hunger Scale
Record where you are on the Hunger Scale when you start and stop eating.
How You’re Eating and How You Feel at the Time
It might look like this:
Breakfast in kitchen. Trying not to rush or multitask, but I didn’t leave enough time. Will leave more time tomorrow. Or Lunch in the lunchroom. Feeling great. Nice break talking with coworkers, but paying attention to my yummy turkey sandwich, too.
When You Get the Urge to Eat
This can be in addition to any of the above options. You might write: really stressed out about work deadline and wanted to eat the cookies in the lunchroom. Caught myself about to grab one and realized I wasn’t hungry. Win!!
Record your wins, like when you feel like eating but aren’t hungry, and choose not to eat. Or, when you don’t clean your plate because you stopped eating when you were lightly full.
Reading your wins can be very motivating. It will help you feel good about your success which will make it more likely for you to make good choices in the future.
Record any combination of the above, depending on what you are most likely to do and what would be most useful to you in becoming aware of how and why you’re eating.
The most important thing is to choose a practice that is easy for you to do so you will actually do it!
So, start journaling and see what happens.
If eating to soothe yourself is one of your challenges, check out my free video masterclass, Kick the Emotional Eating Habit for Good.
Are you an emotional eater? Have you tried keeping a food journal? Do you think you can do it? What will you write down? Have you tried eating by a hunger scale? What results did you notice? Please share in the comments below!