Journaling for Health & Weight Loss

Though you may detail your daily activities and thoughts in a diary or journal, you may not realize the benefits of recording the food you eat. Whether you’re managing weight or a health condition, maintaining a food journal can provide the motivation you need to stay on track.

When it comes to nutrition, it seems that every bite counts, and often we lose track of the foods we consume throughout the day. Snacking on a few potato chips and drinking that super-sized gourmet coffee may seem trivial at the time, but it can really create havoc in terms of your health.

A food journal is a good way of recording everything that you eat or drink. This journal frequently leads to a startling revelation – the amount of calories, fat and sugar you’re ingesting on a regular basis can be far higher than you suspected.

“If you’re trying to manage weight, allergies or a medical condition, a food record helps identify trends and changes that may determine why you are successful or unsuccessful at achieving your health goals,” says Denice Taylor, clinical dietitian on staff at Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital.

Also, calculating your body mass index (BMI) can help with determining if you are underweight, at a healthy weight, overweight or obese. Use this formula from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Your weight, divided by your height in inches squared, times 703.

For example, if you weight 160 lbs and you are 70 inches tall, your BMI is 23.

If your BMI is . . .

  • Less than 18.5, you are considered underweight
  • 18.5 to 24.9, you are considered a normal weight
  • 2.5 to 29.9, you are considered overweight
  • 30 or higher, you are considered obese

When starting a food journal, think about your goals and how you hope to achieve them.  Your journal should include everything you eat and drink during the day and, if possible, nutritional information such as:

  • calories
  • carbohydrates, especially if you have diabetes
  • fat (saturated and unsaturated)
  • protein

Taylor suggests recording how much and when you eat, your level of hunger, and how you felt emotionally prior to eating.  Describing your emotions can be a helpful indicator about your dietary habits.  Do you eat in reaction to sadness, stress or boredom?  A food journal can reveal emotions that trigger your desire to eat.  If you suffer from digestive discomfort or food allergies, a food journal can also help you notice contributing factors in your diet.

“Sharing your food journal with a dietitian or a trusted friend can keep  you accountable as you aim for success,” says Amy Goodson, registered dietitian on the medical staff at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth.  “Through diet assessment and eliminating negative eating habits, you can stay healthy and accomplish your nutritional goals.”

Also, keep in mind, if you are interested in losing weight and want to keep it off, the true key is changing your lifestyle.  Generally, it is best not to completely re-arrange or replace your lifestyle but to change parts of it gradually over a planned period of time.  This way, you are not as likely to give up on your new found plan and before you know it, you will have achieved permanent weight loss.

And one more incentive:  a recent study by the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that people who keep a food journal lose twice the weight of those who rely on dieting and exercise alone. 

Here’s to starting your journal – a very possible portal to a new you!

Researched by Linda Lawrence-Winter

References:  Texas Health Resources – Spring 2011
American Journal of Preventative Medicine – Fall 2010