It seems too simple to be effective, but tracking what you eat by keeping a food diary or logging your calories in an app can help you lose weight. It increases your awareness of the amount and type of food you consume on a daily basis and builds accountability for meeting your goals.
How does writing down what you eat help you lose weight?
- Building awareness of snacking. As you become aware of what you eat, how much, and why there’s more chance that you’ll be able to note when you’re eating for reasons other than hunger or making choices that aren’t helping you lose weight. As an example if you log lunch at 1pm and reach for snacks at 2:30pm, it may be a result of stress eating or habitual snacking rather than a response to actual hunger.
- Targeting nutritional improvement. By logging calories and macronutrients, it’s easy to see if you’re not eating enough fiber, or consuming too many carbohydrates. Using a food diary can help you proactively plan what food you need to eat to optimize for nutritional value.
- Getting comfortable with portion sizes. Most of us don’t know what one serving of rice or noodles looks like (it’s usually about a cup) so there’s a tendency to overeat without even realizing it. Tracking food and measuring portions helps us understand how much we should be eating at each meal, and calibrate serving sizes better.
- Pacing your eating throughout the day. Keeping your glucose levels even throughout the day may need you to change the number of meals you’re having or the timing of your meals. As an example, there are days when you might suppress your appetite during the day, only to binge eat at night when your will power is depleted. It’s better to eat smaller meals with fewer carbs throughout the day to prevent excess glucose spikes that can spur insulin release to try to store the extra glucose and this can lead weight gain.
Tips, Tricks, and Treats for Keeping a Food Diary:
- Log your food as soon as you eat it. It takes less effort to log fewer items than to log an entire day’s meals at the end of the day. And by the end of the day, it is difficult to remember exactly what and how much you’ve eaten.
- As you develop the habit of logging what you eat, start using measuring cups, measuring spoons, or weighing scales. People in general tend to underestimate how much food they eat by 20-40%.
- Cook at home. You’ll have more control over what you eat, the ingredients you use, and how much you put on your plate (hello appropriate serving size!)
- Plan your meals daily and even weekly to set expectations for what you will be eating, and also to create a buffer for planned snacking.
- Don’t skip logging on your “cheat days” and do include the extras that add up like candy, chips, ice cream, and sweetened beverages.
- Review your food journal so you can uncover your eating patterns.
- The more you journal or self-monitor your diet, the more likely you are to be successful in your weight loss journey. It’s science.