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Diet Management

Keeping a Food Journal

Writing down everything you eat in a food journal has been shown to increase weight loss, the idea being to track the number of calories as you consume them and keep yourself from going over your daily limit.

Since even dieters with the best of intentions slip up from time to time, getting motivated about keeping your food journal up-to-date is an important step in successful dieting.

What You Need To Know?

Food Journal: Proven Success

If you keep a food journal you could double your weight loss, according to results from a study of 1,700 overweight or obese men and women who were participating in a DASH-based weight lose program with a daily goal of cutting 500 calories. (DASH is a dietary program that limits salt intake to help control high blood pressure.)

After 20 weeks, those who kept the most food records each week saw the greatest amount of weight loss. While their records were not perfect, the effort they put into keeping an accurate food journal was directly related to pounds dropped.

Food Journal: Record as You Eat

In an ideal world, you would jot your food intake or amount of exercise in your food journal immediately, but behavioral studies show that, unfortunately, people stop doing this as time goes by. In fact, many people wait from two to six hours after eating to update their food journal. This is a problem because you could easily reach your daily calorie goals during that time without knowing it, and the purpose of a food journal is to help you make adjustments quickly.

You are most likely to be successful with weight loss if you consistently update your food journal within 15 minutes of eating.

Food Journal: Getting Disciplined

Sticking with your food journal is one part discipline and one part convenience.


"If you bite it, you write it," says Catherine Bethea Dempsey, RD, LD, a dietitian and research coordinator at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. "You might have a Hershey’s kiss here, a nibble of potato chips there, and before you know it you’ve eaten 200 to 500 calories more that day."

So, yes, you have to keep track of each seemingly tiny taste in a timely way. That kind of detailed accountability is partly why food journals work. The thought that you will have to write down your second helping of baby back ribs should be a deterrent to eating them.

Food Journal: Going High-Tech

The other part of the equation is convenience. People have traditionally used pencil and paper food journals to keep track, but the same data that suggest making your journal entry within 15 minutes also show that people aren't that eager to flip open a paper journal and write. In fact, we lie to ourselves and believe we are more timely and accurate with our paper journals than we actually are.

Dempsey recommends finding a Web-based food journal that you feel comfortable using. "Doing it online makes a huge difference," she says. "It will calculate calories for you. Some Web sites even offer commendations if you reach your goals. Winning an award isn't that big a deal, really, but knowing you can meet your goals is."

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