Nutrition Articles

The Key to Weight-Loss Success

It's Write In Front of You

Finally-- here it is. You have been waiting to hear these words for years...or at least as long the zipper on your skinny jeans hasn't budged. The key to weight-loss success! It's not a shake, a supplement, or an exercise gizmo. You have it already, right at your finger tips.

"I feel the most important action one can take when trying to lose weight 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 free Food Tracker.  A few clicks, and your results are known immediately!"

Studies show that people who keep food journals lose more weight and keep more of that weight off 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. In fact, in a study of 1,685 dieters conducted by a health insurance company, the best predictor of weight loss throughout the first year was the number of food records kept per week. Another recent study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that dieters who tracked their food intake in a "food diary" lost twice as much weight as those who didn't track their food.

This is why the Nutrition Tracker plays such a key role in the SparkDiet. It gives you a proven, fighting chance. If you're not yet a Nutrition Tracker user, try it out for a few days and see if it doesn't help you make better choices, too.

Why keep a food journal?
  • Tracking the food we consume forces us to take responsibility for our food choices. It shows what we're really eating.
  • An accurate food journal helps us see eating patterns, giving us insight into when and why we eat.
  • Monitoring the foods we eat helps us estimate calorie intake, so we can make adjustments, by eating less or exercising more.

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:
  • What you eat and how much you eat: You can estimate portions, but be honest and be thorough-- don't forget items such as candy, condiments, etc. Record as you go to ensure accuracy.
  • When and where you eat: Time of day, how long you were eating, if you ate in a fast-food restaurant or the company cafeteria, etc.
  • Who you were with and any other activity you were involved in: Were you reading or watching TV, or having brunch with your best friend?
  • Your mood while eating: Were you bored, frustrated, happy? This may tell you whether you engage in emotional eating—eating triggered by mood, not hunger.
  • Any exercise you did, including the activity, length and intensity, and estimate of calories burned.
  • Any special categories for which you want to monitor consumption, such as carbohydrates, fat, or fiber content.
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:
  • What is your real motivation for eating? Are you truly hungry when you eat or are you eating for emotional reasons?
  • Do you eat well-balanced meals with reasonable serving sizes? If not, map out the changes you’d like to make.
  • Do you eat at appropriate intervals, or do you eat a little and then overindulge later? It may seem counterintuitive, but eating smaller amounts more often may keep your energy high, and prevent overeating.
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.

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Member Comments

  • Tracking food and exercise has been the most important tool for me.
  • I will start tracking, great article.
  • Thanks for posting such an amazing blog.
  • I must admit, I HATE tracking my food. However, it really works for me because I eat less so I don't have to record as much. It also helps if I record my food before I eat and adjust if needed. It allows me to enjoy what I'm eating so I don't have to think about recording it afterwards!
  • I never realized how much I ate in a day until I started tracking my food. Now I see how much those two M&M's and three Cheetoh's add up! though I miss them, I stopped the mindless snacking (and sampling the food I'm cooking) as it takes more time to search for the calorie count of one darn M&M that it does to eat it. SparkPeople, you better not ever go away in my lifetime. Thank you!
  • The nutrition tracker at SparkPeople has been the best tracker I have found and I have been tracking my food faithfully for about 5 years now. Not always with the nutrition tracker. When I don't have access to a computer or mobile device, I write it all down. When I don't, and there has been times like that, I certainly gain weight. The nutrition tracker for me is the way I need to stay accountable to myself. I'm thankful that I found SP.
    The food tracker has been the single most important, useful tool in my weight loss. I can see exactly how much I'm eating, be accurate about portion sizes, and see if I'm eating a balanced diet and including enough fruits and vegetables. Knowing anything I eat will show up on the food tracker and be part of my daily total keeps me from "mis-remembering" what I ate and helps me plan my calorie intake for entire week.
  • Food tracking has been a game changer for me! Thank you for such a useful and powerful tool.
    Tracking with sparkpeople does help me to see the nutritional value of what I am eating. I didn't track yesterday as it was a bad eating day for me. I now realize I should have tracked it as well so that I can be even more aware of the lack of nutrition I am eating and make better choices. Thank you for this article
  • Although I am inconsistent, tracking my food makes me aware of what I am eating and to see eating patterns.
    I gave up on using the Sparks food tracker. I rarely used mixes or packaged food. If I look up calories using the tracker is so difficult and time consuming. Also rarely use a recipe other than for ideas so never make the same dish twice the same way making the nutrition count vary.
    BUT I do use an old fashioned way of at least keeping track of what I eat. A notebook and a pen! Not an exact calorie count of course as I usually just estimate if even that.
    I have lost just shy of 14 lbs in 3 months. In that time frame I had only one week with a 1/2 lb gain. Yes, it probably would have been a larger loss using a tracker but the time and aggravation just wasn't worth it to me.
    So use the tracker as it would really be best but if not at least keep a simple food journal.
    I use to log all my food but all it did was make me realize I did not really want to lose weight because I didn't change my eating habits. In fact I began eating even more food with little nutrition value and less of the vitamin and nutrient foods. And began gaining all the weight I had been losing back and some more. I decided that it was counter productive to log food if all I did was change my diet to something even worse. Now I just eat what I want and how much I want and I am trying to increase my exercise. I tend to lose some weight when I don't pay so close attention to my diet.
    I realize that the #1 thing you need is the will to really change your lifestyle to get lots of exercise and know what foods are the best to eat and only buy them. Weight loss is 95% mental and only 5% food and exercise.
    I write my foods down on a large wall calendar, online takes too much time. Keeping track helps when you are in the right state of mind to actually cut back on your eating.
    Foods with protein:

    Proteins are very important for the formation of muscles. Foods including rich protein accelerate the metabolism. Your digestion system spends extra energy to burn the proteins and thus, it burns more calories. %20-35 percent of your nutrition schedule should proteins. By doing so, you may burn 120-130 calories a day.

    Foods with spice:

    Spices and particularly red pepper accelerates metabolism; this is because the nutrition materials in it increase the release of adrenalin and thus indirectly accelerates calorie burn. - See more at: http://www.weight
  • I've been tracking everything religiously since I started with SP almost eight weeks ago. I've lost 23 pounds. I also track my exercise minutes every day (6 days out of seven). It works. Apart from the time it takes to look everything up and note it down (less time to to think about food) - even doing it online - it's really interesting to see the nutrition values of everything you put in your mouth. It's great the way you can track just about everything which is wonderful for those of us who have medical problems or dietary issues. It realIy shows how easy it is to suck up a few hundred extra calories without being aware of it. I suppose people who don't have a struggle with their weight have some kind of natural inbuilt tracker! I now think I'll start to keep a journal as well - to track everything else. Every little helps!

About The Author

Rebecca Pratt Rebecca Pratt
A freelance writer who contributes to various newspapers and magazines, Becky loves covering ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

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