Struggling with losing weight? Fed up of stepping on the scales to find you’ve put on weight when it was supposed to be coming off – despite the fact that you’ve been dieting? Keeping a food diary may well turn out to be your secret weapon. In fact, a study from the Kaiser Permanente's Centre for Health Research shows keeping a food diary can double a person’s weight loss 1. The simple act of writing down what you eat encourages you to eat less calories and it also makes you stop and think before you reach for that extra chocolate biscuit before bed.
But why does this technique work so well?
You don’t eat every time you feel hungry
As humans, we’re becoming a greedier race, failing to realise that being hungry isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A hunger pang doesn’t mean you need to eat straight away but every one of us has become a little too used to eating whenever we think we need to. We’re also inclined to eat past the point of fullness – either because we’re eating too quickly or because we’re simply not sitting back to take note of whether we need any more food.
By keeping a food diary you’re much more likely to eat when you really need to – rather than taking the approach ‘my stomach’s rumbling, I must eat immediately!”.
You don’t underestimate your calories
On average people tend to underestimate how many calories they’re eating. It’s very easy to do especially when a lot of food labels specify a portion size that – if you measure it out – is surprisingly small. If granola’s your go-to breakfast and you’re filling a bowl right up with the stuff, for example, you’re likely eating a lot more calories than you think. And if you’re spreading your toast with a thick layer of peanut butter because you’ve been told it’s a healthy snack, it isn’t when you’re consuming ten times the tiny 12g portion size.
Logging your food forces you to weigh out each ingredient, so you don’t get any nasty surprises when you next step on the scales. You know exactly how many calories you’ve eaten and at the same time you learn what a normal portion size actually looks like.
You’ll notice the patterns of boredom and stress eating
It’s amazing how much you pack away by snacking and snacking is often a result of boredom. You’re having a wave of tiredness at work and you decide to pick yourself up with a flapjack, you eat a slice of cheese whilst you’re cooking dinner, you tuck into a ‘few’ treats that your office co-worker has put in the middle of the pod – these are all slip ups that don’t happen if you have to write everything you eat down.
Stress eating is also a killer when it comes to eating excess food. It’s easy to turn to food for comfort if you’re feeling stressed due to fatigue and or pressure at work and it’s even easier to do this if you have no calorie or health goal to stay within or reach.
With everything written down there’s no chance of you convincing yourself that you only had 3 sweets at work when you actually had ten, or that the slice of cheese you ate whilst cooking dinner needn’t count because it was so small. Everything’s recorded so you can make changes if you feel you need to. Do make sure you’re honest with what you record, though. Keeping a food log won’t be of any help if you choose not to note down anything and everything you consume, including drinks!