Raise your hand if this sounds familiar: You're moving your body regularly and making mindful, healthful eating choices—and yet the number on the scale is stuck. This common, frustrating scenario often boils down to hidden calories. We all know the trick to growing slimmer is to burn more energy than we eat; unfortunately, everything from your morning coffee creamer to lunchtime condiments and the jar of candy sitting on your co-worker's desk can derail all the hard work you're putting into your physical health.
The good news? A food log can help you sidestep this sneaky diet saboteur. People who kept a detailed diary of what they ate every day doubled their weight loss compared with those who didn't record their daily meals, according to a 2008 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Another 2012 study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that women who kept a food journal lost 13 percent of their starting body weight, compared with 8 percent for those who skipped the note taking.
Food journals aren't magic; they work because they force you to eat mindfully. When you're chewing and distracted by a conversation with colleagues or the game on the TV, it's easy to lose track of how many chips or pretzels you've eaten. Sure, hummus and veggies can be a healthy snack, but scooping half the container of dip onto carrot sticks can quickly tally over 400 calories.
Writing down your intake forces you to pay attention and holds you accountable for your food choices. You'll learn what you can eat in larger portions and what you may want to eat more sparingly—like whatever's in the office candy bowl. It also gives you an opportunity to look at why you're eating throughout the day. Are you eating because you're really hungry or because you're bored? Were you feeling super stressed? Understanding how your emotions feed into your eating patterns empowers you to take charge of your relationship with food.
You may be surprised to find the perception of your diet is different from the reality. A food journal (in a notebook or even in your phone) lets you see the big picture: Where are most of your calories coming from? Grains? Dairy? Happy hour drinks? Do you really eat as many fruits and veggies as you think? You can see whether you're prone to skipping certain meals or overindulging at others. Noticing slip-ups and identifying victories helps you find ways to make healthy changes going forward.
Not sure how to get started? Here, three secrets to successful food journaling:
1. Don't wait.
You're more likely to forget small bites here and there if you wait until the end of the day to jot them down. Make a note of meals and snacks immediately to ensure you're keeping an accurate record. Or use a meal-planning app like NutriBullet LEAN that allows you to plan your day or week ahead while tracking your success. The app can even shoot out a shopping list based on what meals you've planned!
2. Be honest.
Did you take two handfuls of nuts or three? Fudging the truth won't get you anywhere, so keep it real if you want real results.
3. Get in touch with your emotions.
In addition to monitoring your food intake, track how you feel and the people you were with at mealtimes. You may discover emotional triggers that cause you to reach for junk food or notice you eat more when around certain friends or loved ones. It can even be helpful to write down how you feel after a meal. Remembering how good you felt after eating healthy and how gross you felt when you went back for thirds can show you how much to eat to feel your best.
Every night, review the journal and see what stands out to you and where you can do better. This insight will help you eat more mindfully and will give you a road map for making simple tweaks toward balanced, healthy weight loss. Not only does NutriBullet LEAN offer a great app to help with this, their healthy weight loss plan is easy to follow and focuses on natural whole foods that help make you feel great!
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