A food journal is one tool that has been proven to help weight loss. Yet many people are afraid to keep one. They worry that tracking their every bite will take the fun out of eating, turning them into joyless calorie counting machines. Others feel that a food journal is too difficult to maintain.
These fears are groundless. A good food journal should be easy to maintain and chosen to fit your lifestyle. Many food journals do not even keep track of calories. The only requirement of a food journal is that you be honest about what you eat in a day.
The first step in beginning a food journal is to decide what you want to record. The bare minimum is the type of food and how much of it you ate, but there are other things you may want to track. Some people like to note when they eat a meal or snack. Others want to track fiber, fat, or other nutrients they get from their foods. If a person is exercising regularly he might record that information. Still others write about their daily moods, how they feel about their weight loss efforts, or even stress that triggers excessive eating.
The more useful information you record, the better tool a food journal can be. If you find yourself overeating on Mondays, for example, a look at your food journal could tell you why. You might notice that Mondays are always a stressful day at work, or you have a very strenuous workout on Sunday evenings. Perhaps you feel discouraged after Monday morning’s weigh in because the foods you ate on Sunday caused water retention. Once you can identify a pattern in your eating weak spots, you can decide how, and if, you want to alter it. You may decide, after looking at your food journal, your issue isn’t a problem at all.
A calorie tally is often included in a food journal. This can be a helpful or detrimental tool for weight loss depending on how it is used. Before you begin to count calories, decide how many calories you need to eat in a day. Do this by calculating your basal metabolic rate (BMR) and factoring in daily components such as activity level. Do not go below 1200 calories if you are female or 1500 calories if you are male. You might lose weight quickly with such a low range, but in the long term it will slow your metabolism and encourage muscle loss.
Instead, you want a maintainable goal, an amount that will produce a pound a week weight loss. Based on this goal, choose a range of calories you will eat each day. Divide the amount of calories so they are evenly spaced out throughout the day, which will help prevent any binging. Try to stay within the range, eating too few calories will be as hindering to long-term weight loss as too many calories.
After you have a clear picture of how you plan to use your food journal and what you plan to record, decide what food journal to use. An online food journal might be helpful for some, but intimidating for others. Websites offer free online food journals, but you are restricted to what those sites allow you to track. An online food journal may offer space to record your mood and thoughts, or it may not. Often an online food journal is very useful for recording the calorie content of items that do not have labels, such a fruits and vegetables.
Unless you have Internet access on your phone, a paper food journal is the best option for people concerned about portability. You can also record as much or as little as you like into your food journal. Some people prefer this option because it feels more personal and can accommodate any type of format you desire. If you choose this option and count calories, you will still have to find a source that will tell you approximate calories for food without labels.
Regardless of what type of food journal you decide to use, decide how you will record your information. Will you wake up every morning and journal about the previous day’s mood, or will you write in the evening. You will need a system to record all you eat that prevents you from forgetting anything that day. Many people carry a small notebook or an index card where they can make notes on what and how much they ate at each meal. Then they transfer the information to their food journal once a day.
When you have bought or opened an account for your food journal, think about some goals you would like to accomplish on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. The goals that will motivate you for weight loss are things that you can control. For example, you cannot control whether you lose 1 pound or 3 pounds in the next week. You can, however, make the commitment to work out 3 times a week and eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables. Also try to make goals that will make healthy eating a pleasure. Commit to trying one new recipe a week, or a new class at your gym once a month. By making healthy goals weight loss is sure to follow.
The most important part to remember about a food journal is it is for you. Commit to keeping a food journal for three months before evaluating how it is working for you. Over time, you might find your food journal evolving to include information and exclude things you previously recorded. Remember the success of your food journal lies in the insights you receive from it.