We Write What We Eat: How to Start a Food Journal
"Food journals." "Food trackers." "Food diaries." The names are different, the styles are different, and so are the reasons why people keep them. But most everyone who's ever kept a food diary will tell you the same thing: they learned a lot from it.
In fact, most people who keep food diaries are surprised at how little they notice what they really eat. Especially those who want to lose weight. When they see how much they take in each day, they're shocked.
Food Journals Can Double Weight Loss, NIH Study Says
But the good news is, once you do know what you eat, you can start to make healthier choices. In fact, a 2008 National Institutes of Health (NIH) study shows that keeping a food diary can double a person's weight loss.
From the article: "The more food records people kept, the more weight they lost," said lead author Jack Hollis, Ph.D., a researcher at Kaiser Permanente's Center for Health Research in Portland, Ore. "Those who kept daily food records lost twice as much weight as those who kept no records. It seems that the simple act of writing down what you eat encourages people to consume fewer calories."
Now, that's big news!
So, What is a Food Journal?
A food journal is just a place where you write down everything you eat and drink each day. Are you getting as many vegetables as you think? Or are you eating more fat than you should be? And it's always interesting to see how many calories you consume. All in all, it's a great way to see patterns in your eating.
The website livestrong.com has a good article on food journals.
Weight Loss Isn't the Only Reason to Keep a Food Journal
Here are a few other important reasons why people keep food journals:
- For health. Keeping track of what you eat can be very important if you have diabetes, cholesterol problems, vitamin deficiencies (lack of one or more of the vitamins our bodies need to be healthy), or food allergies.
- For weight gain. For people who are underweight or who have nutritional deficiencies, food journals can help their doctors see where changes are needed.
- For insight. In other words, for a better picture of how, why, and when you eat - or overeat.
In fact, the main reason people keep food journals is for knowledge. And when it comes to your health, knowledge really is power. The more you know about how you eat, the more you can change. You also gain control over health problems. And maybe best of all? When you do less guessing, you often lose worry, stress, or guilt in addition to unneeded calories and weight.
How Much Time Should a Food Journal Cover?
Brigham Young University experts say most food journals range between three and seven days in a row. To make long-term changes, plan on keeping a journal for at least several months. In fact, some people find it's a good lifelong health tool.
But even one day of writing down what you eat can help you spot unhealthy habits.
How Do You Set Up a Food Journal?
There are all kinds of ways to set up your diary. It can be like a calendar (some people just use printed calendars and write in each day's box). It can be a computer spreadsheet. It can be a list.
There's even "an app for that." In other words, there's a host of software applications that let you keep a food journal on your smartphone at websites like MyFoodDiary.com and Apple's iTunes. Apple also offers Kilo, a food-tracking web app.
Whatever you do, says livestrong.com, make your journal fairly simple to keep. The faster and more easily you can make entries, the more likely you are to do it!
Here are some ideas for what to include in your food journal. Many people just set them up in columns or as a table:
- Kind of food
- Amount of food
- The time the food was eaten
- Estimated number of calories of food
- Mental and physical effects of the food (how you felt after eating the food - tired, energetic, sick to your stomach, wheezy, etc.)
- How you felt before consuming the food (if you're trying to track emotional eating)
The American Heart Association offers a blank Food Journal page for download.
Another option is the website sparkpeople.com. This free online health and fitness resource offers its members an excellent online "nutrition tracker." You must register to access the tracker, but the service is free. You may find the sparkpeople.com journal is easier because many foods and serving sizes are already in its database. So some of the work has already been done for you!
What's the Most Important Thing in Your Diary?
All the experts agree that the best thing you can put in your food journal is honesty. Record everything you eat and drink. Don't fib. If you do, the only person you hold back is yourself. Whether you're tracking your intake to lose weight or because you and your doctor are trying to find a food allergy, a food journal can make a big difference in your health. But only if you use it right.
Other Nifty Tools:
WebMD's "Online Food Calorie Calculator". This calculator includes calorie counts from popular restaurant chains as well as the foods we eat at home.
WebMD's "Food & Fitness Planner". This planner helps you create your "road map" and then gives you a range of tools to make it work for you.
"My Food Diary" is an easy online tracker with a database that lists more than 75,000 foods. (This diary requires membership and a subscription fee.)
We could spend all day telling you all the good things about food diaries. But the best way is to try one of your own. With so many free calculators to make keeping track easy, there's really no reason why you shouldn't take advantage of them.
And besides. If you're like most people who've ever kept a food diary, you'll be amazed at what you can learn from it - and how much it can help your health!
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