What if I told you that all you need to be successful in losing weight is a notebook and pen? No special diet, no FitBit, no detoxing, no supplements. Sound too simple? Sometimes simple is best.
Sue Hanneman, 65, from Fergus Falls, is now a food journaling believer having had incredible weight loss success. In the past eight months, she has lost 54 pounds, just from keeping track of what she eats in a basic school notebook.
Food journaling simply means writing down everything that you eat all day. Studies show that the longer you keep the journal, the more weight you lost, and the longer you keep the weight off. You can purchase a special food journal (also known as food diaries or food logs) online or just use a simple notebook. A small spiral bound notebook is handy to tuck inside your purse, car, or pocket as you move around during the day. Keeping a digital journal on your phone via an app is also an option.
Sue says she has always struggled with being overweight, and has tried and failed several other weight loss methods including TOPS, Weight Watchers, and other diets. She learned about food journaling in an I Can Prevent Diabetes class through Lake Region Healthcare’s Hub. She also attributes her success to having access to health care professionals to help answer her questions and encourage her to keep going.
What do I write in the journal?
1. Everything you eat or drink, including condiments, coffee and alcohol. Be as specific as you can, measuring if possible. For example – record 28 M&Ms or 1½ tablespoon half and half
2. Time of day for each meal/snack.
3. Physical activity. Record type of activity and how many minutes.
4. Optional – Record calories for each food. At first, recording calories can be overwhelming and cause some people to quit journaling. But as you progress with journaling, becoming familiar with how many calories foods have will help you control your calorie intake. If you are interested in another marker, such as fiber or sodium, record these as well.
5. Optional – Degree of hunger. If you know that you are an emotional eater, or that you eat out of boredom, this is especially helpful to help recognize triggers.
6. Optional – Record your mood / energy level. Sometimes you will see a correlation with your mood and food intake.
Why does a food journal work?
A food journal keeps us accountable and increases our awareness, which helps to be able to set goals to improve. We tend to be overly optimistic about our food intake, forgetting about or overlooking unnecessary calories during the day. Writing our food down makes us accountable to our actions. Many times people will avoid eating something or choose a better option because they know they will have to write it down. Journaling helps cut down on mindless snacking and grazing.
Write down the foods as you eat them; don’t try to remember it all at the end of the day. Record the indulgent days, don’t skip them! No one will see this journal (unless you want to increase accountability by sharing it with someone close to you) so being honest with yourself will help you see where you can improve. At the end of the day, Sue transfers her food journal to her My Fitness Pal phone app to double check her calorie intake.
Sue asks herself two questions before eating something “Is this healthy?” and “Do I want to spend calories on it?” She has learned to love many new vegetables, hummus, almond milk – and more. In her calorie allotment, she works in room for a little bit of chocolate every day, and has realized that she doesn’t enjoy large portions of overly sweet foods any longer. She says “I learned that I really love healthy foods!”
After you have journaled for a few weeks, you can take your food journal to the next level. Study your journal to see patterns emerging. Maybe you start your day off great, but by 3 p.m., you begin to make poor choices. Are there certain days that you make better choices? How much water are you drinking? Are you skipping any meals, and then overeating at the next? How many servings of fruits and vegetables are you eating each day? How many hours are between each meal/snack? Use your patterns to set some personalized goals that will slowly improve your eating habits.
Start by setting one or two weekly goals, writing them down at the beginning of a new week. Goals should be realistic, specific and measurable. For example: I will eat two servings of vegetables and three servings of fruit each day this week. At the end of each day, record in your journal whether or not you met the goal, and at the end of the week see how many days you were successful in meeting the goal. Keep or modify goals as needed, but always trying to improve somewhere.
Sue believes in food journaling and looks forward to
continuing it for the rest of her life. “This has to be my new lifestyle now. I want to travel, paint and enjoy activities without any pain, and being lighter helps me to be able to do that.” After 43 years of teaching in elementary schools, Sue is retiring this spring and looks forward to enjoying it with a lot more energy.
We all have good intentions of improving our eating habits, but if you truly want to make strides like Sue has, start today by putting those good intentions down on paper!