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

    I am sometimes surprised by the amount of calories I am not eating. A couple days passing, I consumed less than 900 kcals when I felt sure I had eaten enough.

    I also created a food called "Basic" which records 100 kcals for one serving. If the item consumed is not something I eat often, I only enter the calories. This saves time searching or entering details for something I would not eat again.
  • Great information
  • tracking is time consuming, but there is just no other way to let you know how many calories and other nutritional info that we need to stay fit
  • I've been tracking my food for a long time but this is a good reminder to tell me why. It really does help and I lost 85 pounds doing it.
  • I totally agree that tracking is the most important tool there is!! Now, being consistent with the tracking is another thing. I track for Weight Watchers and track for Sparkpeople, I wish there was a way to just track one time, because I also post and blog, so it seems like a lot of time goes into record keeping that might be put into better use by moving. Working on trying to tackle that dilemma
  • I have come to the conclusion that in order for me to be healthy, I will have to keep a accurate food journal the rest of my life. It does work for me, and is the only way that I can actually know what I'm putting in my body. This article gives me affirmation that keeping a journal the rest of my life is actually pretty normal. Thank you for sharing!
  • I am still less than 1 week into joining SparkPeople. The food tracking has already been a humbling experience for me. Yes it can seem tedious AND time-consuming, however, I find it helpful in really being honest with myself. I did pretty good the first day or two...proud I was getting the hang of it. And then it happened to me, (like I am sure others have experienced.) It was the day I thought I could manage the pizza thing. I ordered Papa John's for me & my mom. Next thing I know...4 pieces of pizza later, which is what I would normally eat, not that often, but still I had to face my own reality. It was humiliating to me & somewhat of a wake up call when I realized that that was at least 1000 calories maybe more, out of my daily allowance. Wow! What did I do? Since then I have had a new perspective & awareness of including EVERYTHING in my food diary...condiment
    s, nibbling while cooking etc. Am already doing better w all this "math" of what I eat...I plan to win. Mm
  • Tracking food and exercise has been the most important tool for me.
  • I will start tracking, great article.
  • 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

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.