Drop the Fork, Pick Up the Pen

When it comes to losing weight and keeping it off, you know what to do: eat a small, nutritious meal every 3-4 hours, exercise on a regular basis, get 7-8 hours of sleep each night and do everything your trainer tells you to do ;). Now, you can add writing down everything you eat to the list of what works. A study published in the August 2008 issue of the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found people who kept daily food diaries lost twice as much weight as those who didn’t tally their meals. Nearly 1,700 overweight or obese men and women participated in a program of weight loss, which included calorie restriction, 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise and keeping a food journal. The six-month study was led by Victor Stevens of Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research.

“Hands down, the most successful weight-loss method was keeping a record of what you eat,” said Stevens.

Keeping a food log was so successful that those who did so lost an average of 18 pounds compared with an average of 9 pounds lost by non-diary keepers. The method did not matter, log keepers were equally successful whether they used a pencil and paper or a digital record of what they ate.

The secret is, “using that record (of what you’ve eaten) to identify eating habits that need to be modified,” added Stevens. “While most people think they know what they eat, they really have only a general idea and tend to have a selective memory, especially when it comes to the foods that aren’t so good for us.”

Simply stated, a food journal makes you aware of the “sneaky” calories, which will derail the best-laid weight loss plans. Think about digging into a bag of chips while you watch CSI Des Moines. You may know the bag contains 8 servings at 210 calories each, but did you eat two servings or three or more? What about that bowl of jelly beans on your desk at work? Do you wonder, is a handful only one serving and how many handfuls did I have today? What about the soda and candy bar you ate on the way home from work? You forgot about eating that, didn’t you?

Consider this, if you worry about how many calories you burn during a workout, you should concern yourself with the 1000 calorie drink and dessert you had after dinner. If you do the math, your little indulgence just wiped out the calorie burn from your last two workouts. At the very least, a food journal can help you identify the eating patterns, which are slowing your progress. At best, writing down what you eat will become a record of your successful weight loss journey.