Food Journals: The Most Effective Way to Lose Weight?

by ksteed
Food Journals: The Most Effective Way to Lose Weight?

As someone who suffered for most of her life from overeating and obesity, I can safely say that when it comes to the quest for thinness, there isn’t much I haven’t tried.  Like so many of us, I spent—literally—thousands of dollars on expensive diet centers, gym memberships, weight loss drugs (that were usually taken off the market eventually for being unsafe) and countless gimmicks and gadgets.  I hoped that these would produce permanent weight loss and freedom from obsessing about food. So it was truly ironic that one of the most effective tools that contributed to my eventual weight loss success turned out to be as easy and inexpensive as a pen and paper.

According to research reported in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, people who use a food journal lose twice as much weight as those who don’t. I know it certainly worked for me. In 2003, I started planning out and writing down my food. The result was an over 100-pound weight loss, which I’ve been maintaining for over seven years.
So why does tracking food work?

Brings awareness to food choices.
Many times we eat unhealthy food because we’re not fully focusing on what we are eating. Tracking our food forces an increased awareness of habits and eating patterns, which helps to highlight pitfalls that may have previously gone unnoticed.
Provides accountability. Almost everyone agrees that accountability is crucial to any successful lifestyle change. We can’t rely on our memories to accurately assess how much we’re eating. Seeing our food written down gives us the much-needed accountability to adhere to our healthy eating plans.
Identifies emotional eating. When we fill out a food journal, we can see when we either overate or ate unhealthy foods. This enables us to examine what emotions we were experiencing at the time and find solutions other than reaching for food.
Reinforces a commitment to health. Every time we write in our food journals, we’re sending ourselves a message that our health is important and we’re worth the effort.
Fosters peace of mind. Especially when we plan our meals in advance, we don’t have to worry about what we’re going to eat, when we’re going to eat it, or how much we’re going to eat (or worry about what we ate after we ate it).
Acts as a medical record. Having a written food history is one of the best resources we can use to determine how the food we eat is impacting our health, either positively or negatively.
Helps curb impulsive eating. When we know we’ll be writing down our eating in our food and fitness journals, we tend to reach for healthier food and manage our portions.
Shows progress. When we look back on past entries, we’re able to see how far we’ve come, which will help motivate us to stick with a healthy lifestyle.
Reveals imbalances. Seeing a record of food eaten allows us to see whether our diet and exercise program is balanced and where we may need to make adjustments.
Helps control portion sizes. Knowing we have to write down our food encourages us to eat correct portion sizes and discourages us from eating food our body doesn’t need, such as unnecessary second helpings.
Every day I continue to write down my food as part of my maintenance program. It takes less than ten minutes a day and I consider it to be an investment in my self-care, long-term health, and peace of mind. I encourage you to also use a food journal and reap the benefits it provides.
Shannon Hammer is a Redondo Beach resident and author of The Positive Portions Food & Fitness Journal. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter (@PositivePortion) and sign up for her free newsletter on