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The Key to Establishing a Healthy Lifestyle

WFL Week 1
  -- By SparkPeople
Finally-- here it is. You have been waiting to hear these words for years. The key to establishing life-long healthy habits! It's not a shake, a supplement, or an exercise gizmo. You have it already- right at your fingertips.

"I feel the most important action one can take when trying to lose weight or just make improvements to their diet is to keep a food diary," says SparkPeople dietitian Becky Hand. "Yes, it takes time to write down everything consumed during the day, but this in itself can curtail overeating and be vital for self-assessment and monitoring. Today, it is easier than ever with computer-based tools such as Sparkpeople's food tracker. A few clicks, and your results are known immediately!"

Studies show that people who keep food journals lose more weight and maintain their weight more easily in the long run. The National Weight Control Registry-– an ongoing research project tracking more than 3,000 people who’ve lost an average of 66 pounds and kept it off for five years– found that keeping a food journal is the one strategy used by the majority of successful dieters. Using a food journal is also helpful for those just looking to improve their eating habits. By tracking your foods, you'll see if you're eating too much, not enough, or lacking important nutrients like calcium or iron. This is why the Nutrition Tracker plays such a key role in the SparkPeople program.

Why keep a food journal? If you're beginning a program to change your habits, you may want to start with a baseline food journal that keeps track of a "typical" week of food choices and exercise. This way, you'll have a better handle on what you need to work on-- problem times or situations, circumstances that make it difficult to eat healthy, and so on. The level of detail you record depends on your goals, but some possible things to jot down include: Once you have a baseline journal, you can set priorities for what to work on. Do you eat well when eating by yourself, but go overboard when you're with friends? Does the routine of a workday keep you in line, while the freedom of the weekend weakens your willpower? Do you subsist on convenience foods that are heavy on processing but light on nutrients and real taste? Important things to consider include: A food journal allows you to compare your habits to the healthy habits recommended by experts: getting 25 grams of fiber a day, limiting fat intake to 35 percent of your total calorie intake, and consuming fewer calories than your body burns daily. You can then continue to track what’s important to you—whether it involves elaborate detail or very simple information.

Keeping a food journal can make us uncomfortable because doing so forces us to recall things we’d rather not take note of—that chocolate shake we had for lunch, or that extra mound of mashed potatoes we regretted as soon we inhaled it. In other words: no pain, no gain. When you see the foods you’ve eaten listed in black-and-white, you can’t wish them away. But pain, even metaphorical pain, can be the impetus for change—and if used consistently, a food journal can be the instrument of that change.