It sounds suspiciously easy: Shed some kilos by keeping a food diary. But it’s been proven that one of the best ways to stay motivated and on track with your goals is to write down everything that passes your lips.
If you’re looking to make healthy choices, find out what’s upsetting your tummy, or reach your goal weight, then a food journal is your answer. It sounds so simple, but recording your meals and snacks will not only help you to track your diet, but also analyse and alter it. What are you waiting for? Grab a pen and start writing.
The major drawcard of food diaries is that they help you to keep track of absolutely everything you eat and drink over the course of a day. While most of us can remember what we had for breakfast or lunch, we often don’t realise just how much we are snacking in between meals.
The key to a successful food diary is to be honest. You have to record every single morsel that goes into your mouth, including any guilty pleasures or lapses. If you “forget” to write down that fun-size chocolate bar you grabbed on your way out the door, then you’re not only lying to yourself (and defeating the purpose of keeping a journal) but you could also be missing out on analysing your triggers and patterns. The fact is, denial won’t do you any favours — once you see your food intake in black and white, you’ll be able to see where you’re going wrong (and right) and make better choices.
When they’re used properly, food diaries are a very powerful tool because they encourage you to track what you eat, as well as when and why — all factors that help you figure out your relationship with food.
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Most people assume food diaries are about calorie counting, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Sure, tracking kilojoules is the most common reason for keeping a journal, but there are others. If you’re looking to lose weight and lower your portion sizes, logging food and calories is sufficient. However, if you’re trying to pinpoint an allergy or intolerance, including ingredients in your food diary can be really enlightening. For example, if you note that you constantly feel sick just after your 10 a.m. yoghurt, it could point to a dairy sensitivity. Cater your journal to your needs and goals and you may be surprised at what you learn.
Dissect food labels
Navigating the supermarket aisles can be time-consuming, but when you throw in the extra task of deciphering food labels, it can be an hours-long affair. Add in the rows of boxes plastered with nutritional phrases — 99.9 per cent fat free! — and it’s easy to get sucked in. No-one wants to spend that much time doing the groceries, so that’s where a food diary saves the day. If you’re really serious about the nutritional content of food — which, if you’re trying to drop kilos, you should be — then download a food diary app. These genius inventions allow you to scan or type in a product name and voila — you can find out exactly what’s in it. Some apps, like Calorie King, can also give you the facts on fast food. (Type in “Big Mac” or “Krispy Kreme” and we bet you’ll swear off junk forever.) With information like this at your fingertips, you’ll end up making healthier choices.
Get your plate right
Keeping a food diary can be a huge help in figuring out if you’re eating the right amount of protein, carbs and healthy fats. Ideally, each meal should have a bit of protein, a bit of carbs and a whole lot of vegetables, but in a time when many of us grab-and-go, that doesn’t always happen. A food diary will enable you to work out if you need more of a certain thing and less of another. It will also allow you to sort out your portion sizes. For example, if you notice that you’re eating the most at dinner, when your digestive system should be winding down, then you’ll know to give your body a break and eat your largest meal earlier in the day. In many cases, weight loss comes down to simply eating less. As a general guide, average-sized women trying to lose weight should aim for 1200 calories a day (instead of 1500).
Pick up any patterns
If you need another reason why food diaries are fabulous, here’s an important one: They help to identify good and bad habits. By jotting down your meals, snacks, workouts, water intake, energy levels and slip ups, you’ll work out your triggers as well as areas you need to improve. In short, a food diary helps you to see connections. Reaching for a sugary soft drink every afternoon could be a sign that you’re stressed or not getting enough sleep.
Tips for keeping a diary
- Most importantly, write down every single thing you eat and drink. Try to note the time as well.
- Record your workouts as well as your mood, energy levels and sleep quality.
- If you’re keeping a printed journal, make sure it’s small enough so you can carry it around with you.
- For the best insight into your eating habits, track your meals over the course of a few weeks, not days.
- If you’re trying to pinpoint an intolerance, write down how you feel before and after eating.
- Analyse your food diary weekly and see if you can identify areas to improve on. It’s also a great idea to look over it with your doctor, nutritionist or personal trainer.
The all-in-one diaries
The fitbook is a food and fitness journal that goes beyond any other one on the market. Whether you want to lose weight, record calories or amp up your workouts, this diary has the sections and inspirational quotes that will help you get there.
If your iPhone may as well be superglued to your hand, download My Fitness Pal. This app has the nutritional value of hundreds of thousands of products and restaurant meals, and it also works out how many calories you burn with strength and cardio exercises.