Nearly every successful weight-loss effort involves conscious reduction of caloric intake.
Let’s assume you are 40 pounds (18.2 kg) overweight. To hold steady at that weight, you are eating a certain amount of calories, on average, on a daily basis. To lose weight, you have to eat fewer calories than your baseline level, whatever that is. Or you could start burning up more calories through physical activity while holding caloric intake steady. Many people combine caloric restriction with increased exercise. Whichever path is chosen, the result is conversion of excess fat into weightless energy.
Be that as it may, I have run across a few people who can say, “I’ll just cut out soda pop and snack chips,” and they’re able to lose weight. These individuals are a distinct minority of “successful losers.” Most people end up replacing their soda pop and chip calories with other calories, and don’t lose weight.
The idea behind a food journal, also called a log or diary, is to record everything you eat – the type of food and the caloric content – for as long as you are watching your weight. How could this help?
- You think twice before cheating on your diet.
- You stay within your specified calorie restriction.
- It can help you reach your consumption goals for specific nutrients.
- You learn how many calories are in your food. If you have a teaspoon of sugar in your coffee but drink four cups daily, that sugar becomes significant.
- If you decide to cheat and exceed you calorie limit, you know how many calories to avoid tomorrow to make up for it.
- It can help you identify triggers for “emotional eating,” when food is a pacifier instead of necessary nutrition.
- It helps you learn what is an appropriate amount of food to eat.
- In short, the food journal improves compliance with the diet.
It’s well established that keeping track of your food intake increases your odds of successful weight loss. Most diets do work, if only temporarily. Compliance deteriorates over time, and that’s when the diet stops working. ‘Cause you’re not on it anymore!
Read more about food journals at CalorieLab or About.com. The article at About.com, by Shereen Jegtvig, is comprehensive and allows you to print her journal page forms.
One of the beautiful things about the Advanced Mediterranean Diet is that it is highly customizable. For example, you have four options for caloric intake, based on your age, sex, and activity level. Each calorie intake level is designed to help you approximate the traditional Mediterranean diet while losing excess weight.
Advanced Mediterranean Diet food journals, which I call Daily Logs, are now available free online here. They include space to record physical activity and miscellaneous comments. Print the PDFs on your printer holding standard (8.5 x 11-inch) printer paper. Each page holds logs for three days. These logs also work with the free DIY Mediterranean Diet (Do-It-Yourself).
Why the term “log” instead of journal or diary? Think of James T. Kirk dictating, “Captain’s log, stardate 754428 . . .” “Daring to go where no man has gone before . . .” Your successful weight-loss journey has been pioneered by others. Now it’s your turn.
PS: NutritionData.com has added a free food diary called “My Tracking.”
I can’t agree with you more on the importance of a food journal. None I’ve tried are ideal for my needs, but a person shouldn’t give up if there isn’t a perfect fit. I find estimating meals I didn’t prepare myself to be difficult, so my tactic has been to learn how to overestimate. I also find that the fact that I cook most of my meals myself to be important as I know exactly what is in them. If you adopt this approach you need a good kitchen scale.
To keep me honest a friend who acts as my coach for exercise reviews my diaries monthly. Another set of eyes can pick up trends you miss.
I’m in a long term maintenance phase and find journaling even more important than the loss phase. I am slowly experimenting to see how to best manage hunger – not so much as what I eat, but when I eat particular foods.
Steve, thanks for those very helpful comments