If you’re struggling to reach your ideal weight despite spending all your spare time at the gym, it might be that you’re simply eating more than you think. It’s very easy to grab the occasional snack between meals or throw down a cappuccino or two and forget to add those calories into your meal plan. One way to take complete control of your calorie intake is to keep a food journal – a record of everything you consume, day and night, big and small. Read on to find out it this could be of help to you.
The awful truth
In a study conducted by researchers at Cornell University, hidden cameras were fitted to the inside of an Italian restaurant to spy on people dining at several tables. As soon as a group or couple finished their meal, they were asked to estimate how much bread they had eaten. It transpired that most people underestimated the amount of bread they had consumed by around third. Even more incredibly, more than one in ten of the patrons who had been filmed eating bread denied having any at all. The result goes to show that much of the time, we simply eat without thinking at all.
Your eating behavior can also be influenced by the people around you. In one study a woman who felt she had good control of her eating habits was shocked to discover she ate significantly more when dining with her husband than she did when she was out with friends because she often shared his desserts or ate the same size portions of food that he did. Since the pair had started living together, she had gained a significant amount of weight and, until she started keeping a journal, was unable to fathom why.
Think before you feast
Most people simply aren’t mindful enough to be fully aware of what they are eating on a daily basis so keep a journal can be highly illuminating. In addition, the fact that you must write down everything you eat before you can consume it (if you leave it until afterwards there’s a greater chance you’ll forget) means you must stop and consider every meal, every snack and every drink. That alone can lead to a significant reduction in the calories you consume.
To ensure the accuracy of entries while keeping a food journal you should, as much as possible, measure the amount of food you are consuming. This can be surprising. You may think your bowl of cereal is in line with the single serving mentioned on the packaging but weighing the amount may tell a very different story. Keeping more accurate tabs on the quantity of what you are eating as well as the actual food itself can help you see where extra calories have been sneaking into your diet on a regular basis.
Understand the context
To see if there are any other factors that motivate you to eat certain foods, you can expand your food journal by recording details of your stress level and emotional state each time you eat. You can also add in details of your location and, of course, the time of day.
It may be that you always gorge yourself on fried foods and chocolates each time you have to visit your mother, of that you may start snacking on Sunday evening as part of a ritual for getting your mind used to the idea of returning to work on Monday morning. The place where you eat can also be a source of information. If all your meals are being consumed in your car or while sitting in front of the television, you instantly know that you are not making the best health choices.
There’s an app for that
Although logging everything you eat, and drink might seem like an awful lot of work, studies from the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research have shown that individuals who keep food diaries lose twice as much weight as those who do not.
You don’t need to carry an actual journal around with you. There is an array of apps for smartphones that can be used to quickly and easily track your food consumption. Many of them contain databases with thousands of branded foods and food types so whether you pop into your local fast food joint for a quick burger or into your local store for a tin of mystery meat, all you need to do is enter the first few characters and search for the product. As well as the name, the apps also contain all the nutritional information.
Relief from IBS
If you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), keeping a food diary can help you to identify triggers if you include details about your condition alongside your food entries for each day. Once you have built up a few weeks’ worth of entries you can go back and see what you had to eat before each flare up. You can then try eliminating the suspect foods from your diet for a period of weeks to see if you condition improves. If your IBS is being caused by a lack of nutrients in your diet, there is now a specially designed supplement that may be of help.
If you use your food journal to record other information about your health, you can use it to identify other food intolerances you may have been struggling with unawares. If you are placed on a special diet for health reasons, a food journal can make it easier to stick to it as you are less likely to eat something without first ensuring it fits in with the rest of your plan.
Honesty is the best policy
Whether you’re keeping a food journal for yourself or at the request of your health professional, you need to be completely honest if you want to derive the maximum benefit. Once you start to gain greater control and understanding of what you eat and why you eat, you may be able to look back over your early entries with a real sense of accomplishment. A well-kept food journal can be a fantastic motivational tool, but only if it contains the truth.