By The FIRM nutrition consultant Sara Ryba
Whether you’re trying to lose weight or eat more fruits and vegetables, a food journal can be one of the most effective weight loss tools anywhere. Yet while it sounds like a simple task to write down what you eat, these five tips on how to start a food journal, what to write in it, and what to do with what you learn from it can greatly increase your likelihood of success with weight loss and healthier eating.
1. Choose a format for your food journal
Before you start the food journal, decide on the best format for you. Some people prefer to make a food entry form on the computer, while others like to make handwritten notes in a pretty journal. You can even use a little note pad, as long as you have a central location to keep your food journal entries.
2. Set a daily time to write in your food journal
For many people, it is easier to enter one full day at a time; try writing in your food journal after dinner or first thing in the morning. If you find it hard to remember everything you eat for a full day, make your entries after each meal. The important thing is not to let more than one day go by without recording your entries.
3. At first, just write down everything you eat
The most important key to success with food journaling is to list all foods you consume each day. Yes, that includes munching in front of the fridge, nibbling while cooking, or finishing bites left on your child’s plate. Even beverages should be included.
For each item you eat, include this info:
- Type of food
- Time of day you ate it
- Portion size (to make this less laborious, you can be subjective, i.e. large bowl of pasta, or small chocolate chip cookie)
For the first week, make your goal to simply write down all of the food that you consume. You need not make any great efforts to “eat better,” or adjust your eating habits just yet. The first and most important step in the process is to collect information on your current eating habits. You may find that after three days you are already learning a lot about your strengths and weaknesses and subconscious eating patterns.
Whenever you can, try to make note of these details as well for each meal or snack:
- Who you were with or what you were doing
- How you felt after eating the meal or snack
4. Start looking for patterns, then set your goals
Review your first seven days and make some conclusions about your eating patterns. Use this insight to create your goals. Try to make them concrete and easy to evaluate. Here are a few ideas for small, manageable adjustments that may make sense for you:
To lose weight
- Reduce your intake of empty calories. These empty calories are often consumed during the mid-afternoon or at night in front of the TV.
- Control portion sizes. If most of your entries include ‘large’ portions, try to focus on downsizing these meals and snacks.
To have more energy
- Do not skip meals. Look for skipped meals and long spans of time when you don’t eat. Then make an effort to fill in the gaps with nutritious meals and snacks.
- Avoid foods that drag you down. Take note of how you feel after eating particular foods. You may notice a trend that after eating a particular lunch, you are exhausted all afternoon. This may occur because the meal was too high in fat or calories. Try these ways to reduce the fat and calorie content of favorite meals, and this advice on how to eat to boost energy.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables. Count your fruit and vegetable servings for the day. Ideally you will be eating 5 to 7 servings daily from both fruits AND vegetables. They should be diverse — the more variety in your diet, the better the array of vitamins and minerals you will consume.
- Eat fewer fried and cream-based foods. You are most likely consuming a lot more fat than you realize. Words to look for when trying to reduce high-fat foods include crispy or creamy.
5. Get some support
It can make a big difference when you know that you are accountable to someone else! You and your partner can review your food journals together, in person or via email or a social networking site. Or get support with achieving your fitness, health and weight loss goals in an online community like The FIRM Believers Club. Sharing the experience makes it more fun and motivating! And studies have shown that people who get support lose significantly more weight than people trying to go it alone.
Here’s to your success with food journaling and lasting, healthy changes in your lifestyle!