The Benefits of Keeping a Food Diary
COULD KEEPING A FOOD JOURNAL HELP YOU LOSE WEIGHT?
Does this sound unlikely? Perhaps too time consuming or a waste of time? Well, think again because several studies have now shown that people who keep a food diary are more likely to lose weight and keep it off. Furthermore, in one study those who kept a food diary six days a week lost about twice as much weight as those who kept food records one day a week.
BUT I REALLY DON’T EAT THAT MUCH!
As a Nutritional Therapist, I often suggest recording a food diary as it really does increase awareness of what, and how much, you are eating. When I first see someone who is overweight and we go through their diet, it often doesn’t look too bad and sometimes makes the fact that they are overweight look like a bit of a mystery! So are they trying to fool me? Most of the time the answer is no, they are actually fooling themselves.
We all lead such busy lives, we tend to eat more than we think we do. We underestimate the exact amount because we fail to take into consideration portion size (usually much larger than we think), grazing (such as finishing off the kids fish fingers, a chocolate or two) and fluid calories (alcohol, lattes, juice etc) – and these can really add up.
IDENTIFY WHERE YOU CAN MAKE CHANGES
Food diaries help people identify particular areas where they can make changes that will help them lose weight. Sherrie Delinsky, PhD, a psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, confirms that food diaries can unveil patterns of overeating. They can also reveal identify triggers to avoid, such as not eating enough throughout the day and then overeating at night, or overeating when drinking alcohol. In my experience, all of these factors can be significant reasons for weight gain – yet often get overlooked.
THE TRUTH AND NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH
It’s only when you write down absolutely everything you eat and drink that the true story is revealed and often people are shocked by how much they really do eat. In fact, the very act of recording every single thing you consume can actually sometimes deter overeating – people often reconsider eating something if they have to write it down. A surprising number of people conveniently don’t count the often staggering amount of calories consumed in the form of snacks and drinks.
Also, a food diary can be used to record more than food intake. You can use it to record the emotions, situations, and triggers that cause you to overeat or make poor food choices. Your food diary could help you identify your emotional eating triggers and help you address why you overeat and to be proactive about doing something to change the situation.
OTHER USEFUL REASONS FOR RECORDING A FOOD DIARY
Food diaries are not just useful tools for weight loss, they can also be very useful for reactions to certain foods. They can help you to identify a food or drink that may cause symptoms such as fatigue, digestive discomfort, anxiety, palpitations etc and in the case of children, hyperactivity.
You may also notice when you write everything down that perhaps there is not as much variety in your diet as you thought, that you have an awful lot of wheat or that you don’t get your 5 a day for example. You may also be shocked when you honestly add up your units of alcohol or your sugar consumption, especially if you’ve been drinking fizzy drinks.
So writing a food diary will not just reveal why you are overeating but also your emotions around food and your possible reaction to certain foods. It can therefore encourage you to eat more ‘mindfully’ which will result in improved health one way or another.
Studies show that tracking your food intake for a week or more yields the best results. Do not rely on memory because at the end of the day, it’s likely that you’ll have forgotten something. Experts say your record will be more accurate if you do it right after eating. They also say it’s important to record everything – even if that seems painful. It can be tempting to avoid noting an unplanned pudding or binge episode, but this is the most important time to record. Remember also to accurately assess portion sizes.
Don’t forget to review your diary. Food diaries are most helpful when you look back and review them. You can do this on your own or with a nutritional therapist who can help point out patterns and suggest ways to improve the situation.
Keeping a food diary can also provide a perspective on all the positive changes you’ve made and keep you motivated to make further changes and may even increase your self-esteem as well. Getting back on track with healthy eating is difficult enough so any tool that is useful in this process has got to be worth a try!
Where relevant, don’t forget to make a note of the following:
WHEN YOUR ENERGY IS LOW (this may well be before you eat something)
SLEEPINESS AFTER EATING
WIND, DIARRHOEA, BLOATING
WHERE YOU ARE EATING, IF NOT AT A TABLE (car, in front of TV etc)
IF YOU FEEL VERY HUNGRY BEFORE YOU EAT
IF YOU HAVE PMT (this can affect what you eat as many of you may know!)