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Arthritis Today

Food Journals Help You Lose Weight

Keeping track of your food intake helps you see how much you are really eating.

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Seeing is believing. Studies have shown that people who keep a daily food journal lose more weight than those who don’t. In the early days of keeping a food journal, you can look back a day or a week at a time to assess your food choices and quantities and see why your weight is going up, down or staying the same.

Food journals are all about accountability, says Elisa Zied, a registered dietitian in private practice in New York. “Being accountable to yourself empowers you to make changes, to see where there's room for improvement,” she says. “It’s very easy to eat and not give it much thought, but when you put it on paper, it may shock you to see how much you take in.”

What to Record

Resolve to write in your diary every time you eat something, so it will become a habit that will serve you well. For best results, record the following:

Every bite that goes in your mouth. That means meals, snacks and even samples you’re given at the grocery store. And tally the calories you consume. Not sure how many calories are in that cookie or slice of cornbread? Check out the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Nutrient Database

Where and when you eat. You might find a pattern of late-night or between-meal snacking. Some people lose their discipline when dining out, and some find they tend to get excess calories eating in the car or sitting at their desk.

How you are feeling. Emotions can drive us to eat more than we should. If you have a frustrating day at work, are worried about your marriage or pressured by a never-ending to-do list, write it down.

Who you are with. Some people eat with gusto when alone; others when in a social setting.

The circumstances. If you eat a bowl of ice cream, jot down if you had the craving for two nights and finally gave in. If you ate a second helping of mashed potatoes because you thought they would otherwise go to waste, put it in writing.

Activity and exercise. It’s not only what goes in that counts. The calories you burn by walking, gardening or working out make a difference in whether you lose or gain. For a free list of calories expended for a variety of activities, visit nutristrategy.com.

Your sleep schedule. If you sleep too little, you might eat too much.

Changes in weight. You’ll want to record your pounds from week to week, and consider keeping track of your body measurements, too. Measure your hips, waist, chest, thighs and arms regularly, and watch the inches come off.

Tip: Think of your food journal as you would a checkbook.

Imagine you get “paid” a certain amount of calories every day. Those calories are your account balance. As you eat during the day, deduct from your balance the calorie count of everything you eat to monitor your “spending” habits.

Where to Record It

Any old spiral-ring notebook will work as a food journal, but finding a method that’s convenient and well-suited to your personality might mean the difference between being a faithful journaler or a sporadic one. Look in bookstores for blank notebooks. A book with heavy, white paper and a beautiful jacket might draw you to it throughout the day. Indulge in a special pen, too. 

For more guidance than a blank piece of paper, purchase a journal such as The Corinne T. Netzer Low-Fat Diary  by Corinne T. Netzer (1995, Dell Publishing). An oldie-but-goodie, this popular spiral food journal provides a maximum daily fat intake chart, goals for the week and space to total up fat grams, as well as daily exercise and comments. The back of the book lists a fat gram counter for foods. 

If you prefer to make your entries at your computer, here are some online options worth checking out:

MyFoodDiary.com  For $9 per month, you get tools to help you maintain a food and exercise diary, chart your weight and keep track of your changing shape with a log of body measurements. It boasts a calorie and nutritional listing for more than 30,000 foods.

FatSecret.com This free site offers charts to record your daily food intake, activities and weight loss, and a special section to create or join other people's weight-loss, diet and fitness challenges to help achieve your goals.

FitDay.com A free site that helps you organize your eating and exercise information, count calories and track weight loss. It also provides fitness and nutrition facts that can be personalized for your needs. Just enter your data and the site does the work.

In addition, there are food journal apps available for your electronic devices.

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