But when it comes to losing weight — I’m a believer. More than 9 years ago when I was overweight, if you had asked me if I overate — my answer would be a flat out “No!” In fact, I would argue that I had the occasional ice cream or cookie, but according to “me,” I followed a “great, healthy diet.” Thinking you eat a lot less than you actually do is a pretty common problem. Many dieters simply can’t understand why they’re not losing weight. Hmmm. I wonder why?
“The fact is, studies have shown that most people eat much more than they realize,” says New York Nutritionist Carey Clifford, M.S., R.D. So what should you do if you want to get real?
How about keeping a food diary? Although there hasn’t been a tremendous amount of clinical research on the effectiveness of food diaries, experts agree that in some form or another, keeping track of what you eat is a critical factor in losing and controlling weight.
One of the main reasons a food diary helps a person lose weight is that it provides a “heightened self-awareness, an early step in behavior change in weight loss,” says Lesley Fels Tinker, Ph.D., R.D., one of the few researchers who has studied “self-monitoring” tools. Keeping a food diary is a way for a person to take responsibility for his or her own actions. Many common weight loss obstacles are preventable, or at least minimized, by keeping a record. A food diary can help you identify:
It’s amazing — even though all the experts agree on the weight control benefits of journaling, many people just find it “too difficult.” In fact, a recent survey found that 63% of those trying to lose weight do not keep a food diary, in spite of knowing that it would help them succeed.
Weight loss is one of the few goals that is attainable by being scientific — consume fewer calories than you expend and bam! — you lose weight. Therefore, by being aware of what you consume, you’re taking back the control — you are no longer “flying blind.” Here are a few tips to help you journal your way to good health.
DO WHAT YOU CAN DO
If you don’t want to go through the trouble of writing everything down for the rest of your life — that’s understandable. Not everyone is the journaling type, and some people may not be willing to devote the time to keep a very descriptive journal throughout the day. So it’s important to know what’s doable for you. You don’t have to keep a diary EVERY SINGLE day; just jotting things down 3 days out of every month is enough to make a substantial difference.
FOR GOOD MEASURE
Have you ever heard of “portion distortion?” Your eyes may be deceiving you, especially if you’re already desensitized to larger portions. Most of us have very little idea how much we are really eating. Learn to be honest about size. “As a general rule, assume you’re eating 30 – 40% more than you think,” adds Clifford. I’m pretty sure most of us won’t suffer from malnutrition by heeding this advice. Also, it wouldn’t hurt to occasionally measure the foods that you eat — particularly if you are having trouble losing weight.
KEEP IT REAL
Make sure you keep your diary or notepad handy. Most of us tend to underreport what we eat, and it’s mostly those “sin” foods that are forgotten, such as cakes, candy, salty snacks, and other high-calorie and high-fat items. You need to come clean with yourself. Write it ALL down — even a few Hershey’s Kisses or one Oreo cookie — it all adds up. If it’s embarrassing or you’re simply concerned about privacy, keep in mind that no one ever has to see your food diary. You can keep it just like any other diary — off limits.
KEEP YOUR OPTIONS OPEN
Create a few different ways to record what you’re eating. Studies show that a small notebook that fits into your pocket or bag is the best way to keep you writing. Have extras on hand in the car, house and office. Never give yourself the excuse that you didn’t have a diary available to write down what you ate. “Even if you have to use a scrap of paper and a borrowed pen — just get it down on something,” says Dr. Tinker. I’m sure your memory is excellent, but trust me — put it down on paper.
IT GETS EASIER
Over time, it becomes easier. Once you know the nutrient values for the foods you most commonly eat and you become an expert at estimating portion sizes, keeping a food diary is a breeze. Most of us eat the same things for breakfast and lunch, with some variation at dinner.
There are several sources to get nutrient information, but a good place to start is the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). They have a free database available on their website (http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/cgi-bin/nut_search.pl). Research shows that getting the “precise measurements” of your nutrient intake is NOT the most important part of keeping a diary; just the act of putting it down on paper will help you shed pounds.
TAKE THE CREDIT
As long as you’re keeping track of the food you eat, how about giving yourself some points for exercising? Whether it’s walking, riding your bike, or going to the gym, it all adds up.