In her 1996-bestselling novel Bridget Jones’s Diary, later adapted into a popular movie series, Helen Fielding made her lead character copiously take notes on everything she ate through the day, every day. The hilarious entries were a part of Jones’s weight loss journey; they not only helped her track calories but also, in more than a few cases, displayed how lifestyle factors and emotional stress often leads to binge-eating and unwise food choices.
As it turns out, maintaining a food diary, especially if you’re trying to lose weight, is quite an effective way to stick to your fitness goals. A study conducted in 2008 by Kaiser Permanente, found that out of the 1,700 people observed, those who kept a daily food journal lost twice as much weight (18 pounds) over 6 months as compared to those who didn’t record their food intake, even though all participants underwent similar dietary and exercise schedules.
Another study, published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, studied overweight post-menopausal women who were in diet plus exercise weight loss groups. While all of them lost weight at the end of 12 months, the ones who maintained food diaries were found to lose an extra 6 pounds.
To start with, a food diary makes you far more accountable for your indulgences: knowing you have to write down the calories in your impromptu midnight snack or post-work pub crawl immediately makes you more conscientious about the foods you choose. It can also cut down on the mindless eating we do sometimes, a bag of chips while working or watching TV for example.
For most of us, fitness is also about ensuring that our nutrition intake is balanced. Having a food diary provides an easy insight into what essential food groups you may be missing out on. Perhaps you need to increase your intake of leafy vegetables, or perhaps your carb intake is too low which may account for lower energy levels. Recording your meals diligently can help you plan better, more balanced meals that include all the food groups, and can therefore enhance your overall nutritional status.
Maintaining a food diary that records how you feel after your meals is a great way to understand food intolerances. For example, if your notes record feeling bloated, nauseous or irritable after consuming milk-based desserts, there’s a chance that you may be lactose intolerant. You may also find that other foods leave you feeling lethargic or up your anxiety levels. Furthermore, those who suffer from chronic diseases like diabetes are likely to find a food diary useful for maintaining special diets and avoiding problematic foods.
It’s in the details
Successfully maintaining a food diary means that you have to note down every detail about your meals, including portion sizes, number of servings, estimated calories, along with the time of day, where you ate (home or outside), and what you were doing during that meal (e.g.: watching TV, working, at a movie). In some cases, nutritionists encourage noting how you feel after the meal and who you were eating with. Both of these are useful for indicating whether you’re eating out of stress, boredom or because you’re among company, as opposed to when you’re simply hungry. While it sounds like a lot of effort, eventually this can lead towards making more conscious food choices that benefit your fitness plan. And what’s more, thanks to smart phones these days, there are several apps that will happily do most of the work for you.
Image credit: Just Stop Eating So Much