If you know me, you know that I'm super-skeptical of any "get skinny quick" shortcuts that marketing companies feed the public. Often, they're filled with empty promises and can be quite dangerous - not to mention bizarre...cabbage soup diet anyone???
When working with clients one-on-one to help them lose weight, I have a golden rule that helps them get even greater results: Thou Shalt Keep Track of Your Diet.
In one weight loss study of 1,700 people, two-thirds of the subjects lost 9 pounds or more over the course of 6 months. But those who tracked everything they ate, lost TWICE as much weight as those who didn't track every day.
Think you're eating "healthy"?
I bet many of you think that a food journal won't work for you. You "don't eat that bad" or "eat pretty healthy", right? But the truth of the matter is there is ALWAYS room for improvement. Keeping a food diary helps create awareness of what you're actually eating. Not what you "think" you're eating, but what you're REALLY eating. The calories from the orange juice you had with breakfast, the dressing you put on your salad and the "few bites" of your partner's dessert can add up to an extra 300 calories per day. Multiply that over 365 days and you could gain four and a half pounds in one year!
Hidden Calories Revealed
Do you know how many calories are in your favorite cocktail? What about your go-to energy bar or your famous lasagna? When coupled with counting calories and nutrients, food diaries become an important educational tool. That's why I'm an advocate of weight loss programs like Weight Watchers. They educate you about the quality and quantity of food you're eating. But you don't need weekly meetings to start empowering yourself today. Keeping a food diary can help you make healthier food substitutes and navigate through the grocery aisles as an informed consumer.
Remember to combine exercise with diet. Those who use diet alone to slim down lose one of their best calorie-burning tools: their muscles!
Tone muscles in 4-weeks with Ultimate Bootcamp
Did you REALLY just sneak back to the conference room to eat the last cookie from your earlier meeting?!?! Maybe not, but I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that I have! With the abundance of available food in America, we don't think twice about heading to the fridge...even if we aren't hungry. Stress, boredom or the need to take a break (re: the "cookie incidence" above), can lead us to mindless eating. Writing down everything you eat, every day, helps you think twice about the food choices you might subconsciously be making.
How to Start a Food Diary
Keeping a food diary might seem cumbersome at first, so here are some tips to making the transition fit into your life.
- How long should you track?
If you'd simply like to educate yourself and make some small changes to your diet, I'd suggest keeping a food diary for 2 weeks. If you have goals of losing weight or that last layer of fat you can't seem to shed, keep track for 4-8 weeks. After that set time period, re-evaluate your goals and decide if you'd like to continue.
- Your Tracking Medium
An artist might prefer to work in clay rather than acrylics. You might prefer good ol' pen and paper rather than online calorie counters. However you choose to track your food journal, ask yourself "will this method work for me no matter where I am and who I'm with".
- Get to It
You might be surprised how many "meals" per day you might eat - anywhere from 4 to 8 meals isn't uncommon! Each time you eat something that is 30 minutes from the last time you ate is considered a meal. So your day might look something like this:
1. 6:15am - 16 oz latte, 2% milkWhen tracking meals, don't skip over the small things. Dressings, sauces, side dishes, candy, drinks...it all matters!!! Don't know exactly what foods are in your restaurant meal? Ask! While the wait staff might be a little surprised by your request, simply tell them you have "special dietary needs". Which, in all honesty, is the truth! Don't be afraid to ask questions, "inconvenience" your server or take charge of your nutrition when you're amongst your peers. YOU are the ONLY PERSON in this world who is in charge of your weight and your body!!
2. 8:20am - Blueberry Muffin, small banana,8 oz orange juice
3. 12:00pm - Veggie Pizza slice, small side salad w/tomatoes, mushroom, carrots, 1 tbsp Italian dressing, Orange/Mango yogurt smoothie
4. 2:45pm - Diet Coke
5. 4:15pm - Handful Almonds, big apple
6. 7:30pm - Chicken Tikka Masala, medium bowl, garlic naan, 2 glasses of wine
If you want to enhance your food diary, make notes about how you felt before or after the meal. For example, "got tired 60 minutes after eating", "had a headache, needed a caffeine boost", "ugh, indigestion", "energized!", "satisfied, not stuffed". You might begin to see some patterns forming that you otherwise might not have realized. Try incorporating more of the food combinations that make you feel good and less of the ones that make you feel bad.
- Go the Distance
Tracking your calories as well? An Internet or app store search for "calorie counters" will reveal many options. You'll happily find calorie counting tools that not only will give you the calorie counts based upon the amount of food you ate, but that will let you store and track your food diary online. Sometimes they call these tools "calorie trackers" or, you guessed it, "food diaries". With an online food diary, you can create a "favorite food" list which is a huge time saver. That way you don't have to research the calorie count for every single ingredient in your favorite recipes every time you cook.
- Kick the Struggle with Support
Let others in on your weight loss secret! If you're not a professional food critic, your fellow diners might find it odd you scribble in a notebook after every meal. Ask your partner, friends and family for encouragement to help you stick with your food diary.