How to Get Started With a Food Journal

Photo: Graça Victoria/Shutterstock.

Need to lose weight? Ever thought about keeping a food journal for weight loss? Recently published research proves that food journaling — along with not skipping meals and not dining out frequently — will help you lose more weight than dieting alone.

The landmark study, published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, claims that women who kept a food journal lost six pounds more than those who did not.

The study involved 123 overweight or obese postmenopausal women who were monitored for one year and was conducted by researchers with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

The study is the first of its kind “to look at the impact of a wide range of self-monitoring and diet-related behaviors and meal patterns on weight change among overweight and obese postmenopausal women,” according to the cancer center’s website.

A different review of randomized controlled trials of weight-management interventions for pregnant or postpartum women, published in 2008 in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, concluded that subjects studied in the trials achieved better results when they kept a food journal; the results, however, had inconclusive research gaps.

Logic would dictate that women of any age — not to mention men — who want to lose weight (especially body fat) would be wise to keep a food journal. Here’s how to do that.

Elements of a food journal
To achieve the best results, i.e. lose more weight, you’ll want to keep a dynamic food journal that records much more than the foods you eat.

In addition to entering all the foods and drink consumed, some other helpful categories to include in your food journal are:

  • Time of day consumed
  • Hunger level before the meal and satiety within two or three hours after the meal
  • Location of meal (e.g. on couch in front of TV, at restaurant)
  • Physical description (bloating after meal, for example, or upset stomach)
  • Emotional (e.g. lethargic, depressed before meal, felt better after)

“There are many things that individuals can include in a food journal, especially if they want to begin to explore their relationship with food,” says Natasha Barber, a registered dietician in Vancouver, British Columbia.

“A food journal can be a great place to play detective to help understand our relationship with food. This is very important for individuals who note that food fulfills an emotional role in their lives,” adds Barber, who recommends using a 0-10 hunger scale where 0 is starved and 10 is stuffed (6-7 would be the ideal, denoting a feeling of balance to, at most, slightly full).

Discover patterns with a food journal

Filling out something more complete than simply what we ate can allow us to look back over time to get a sense of what was going on for us when we eat, says Barber. Some questions that she recommends asking when using a food journal include:

  • When do I overdo it?
  • What are my patterns?
  • Where are my difficult times?
  • How does eating in certain places impact my food choices, whether it is how much or what I choose to eat?
  • <

    With many Americans overworked and overstressed with too little free time, it may seem laborious and too demanding for some individuals to record and analyze all these parameters. But Barber disagrees, saying, “We all use food to cope. However, when our relationship with food causes us distress, we need to discover what is going on. This type of a journal can give insight into what our patterns are, and this can give us ideas for making the changes we want to see if our lives.”

    If the thought of maintaining a long-term journal intimidates you, try a food journal for one week, recommends Barber.

    Food journaling for greater health beyond weight loss

    “It’s important to know how to keep a food journal, not just for weight loss, but for achieving and maintaining good health in general,” says Reed Davis, a clinical nutritionist and founder of the health educational program Functional Diagnostic Nutrition. Keeping a food journal will allow a person to eventually fine-tune his nutrition and discover the foods provide the best energy, says Davis.

    “In addition to satisfying one’s hunger, food should provide us with solid energy until the next meal and produce a positive emotional state. The proper foods and correct proportions of the macronutrients (proteins, fats and carbs) can be easily fine-tuned in this way,” adds Davis.

    Craving something salty or sweet after a meal? Davis says that’s a sure sign that a meal was lacking in one of the macronutrients. Try upping your intake of natural fat at your next meal, for example, and see how you feel.

    “Considering the enormity of how foods affect our health, vitality and appearance, keeping a personal food journal might be the most important method of creating the perfect individualized diet,” says Davis.