Secret Weapon in Weight Loss and Nutrition: A Food Diary

In this age of the blogosphere, instant facts via handheld devices and apps for everything imaginable, many health conscious consumers are turning to an old fashioned way of keeping their weight in check: the food diary. Several major studies have shown that people who carefully log all the food and drink that they consume each day have much less trouble losing weight when and if they need to.

One thing a food diary (experts call it a dietary journal) will immediately demonstrate to even the most skeptical user is the amount of unintended, sometimes even unconscious consumption that takes place in the average person’s life.

Midnight snacks revealed, tastes and nibbles exposed

The diary serves a dual purpose. First, it serves to open a person’s eyes to the kinds and amounts of food and drink consumed. Second, and maybe more important, one can view the diary after a few days and instantly spot unhealthy eating habits.

People who are trying to shed a few, or many, pounds benefit the most from use of a food diary. Kaiser Permanente commissioned a large study that showed diary users lost twice as much weight as non-loggers during a given time period.

Here’s what you’ll need to do if you want to keep a food diary for weight loss purposes or just for the fun of it.

  • Resolve to write down every single bite and sip of anything that you consume for at least a week. Use your phone, a note card, or any electronic device of your choice to enter the data.
  • Don’t look at the data until the entire week is up.
  • Try to note the time as well as the food and portion size. A small kitchen food scale comes in very handy for weighing things like cheese slices, meat portions and pasta.
  • For the first week, do NOT make any effort to change your eating habits. Your goal with the food diary is to learn what you eat in your “natural habitat,” not in “healthy eating mode.” That can come later. Right now, just resolve to eat what you usually eat and write it all down.

Most people who do this task find it utterly revealing. It is not uncommon to view the diary after a week’s time and stare in disbelief at all the junk you’ve consumed for the past seven days. Typical insights gained from keeping a food diary:

  • We are almost invariably surprised at how much food we eat.
  • People who drink alcohol usually discover that they drink more than they thought they did.
  • Junk food levels are higher than perceived. People who think they eat “a candy bar now and then,” often learn that they eat a dozen or more in an average week.

The ancient adage, “Know thyself,” is on full display here. The mere act of writing down our daily consumption can have a profound effect on us. If, after the week is up, you want to make some changes, be careful to continue with the diary for a couple more weeks. That way, you’ll be able to see whether you are able to stick with your new-found health consciousness.

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