Nutrition Articles

The Key to Weight-Loss Success

It's Write In Front of You

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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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.

Member Comments

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    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.

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    -weight.html - 2/20/2015 10:24:12 AM
  • 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! - 4/21/2013 11:02:28 AM
  • 1954MARG
    Definitely. It makes me more aware of what I am eating, so I can spot what needs to be changed. - 8/27/2012 6:10:07 AM
  • Thanks - 4/20/2012 7:13:14 PM
  • At first I used the food tracker daily. Then I got lazy and started 'estimating' my portions and calories. Big mistake and I had gained 10 pounds back before I realized it. I'm back to using the daily food tracker and losing weight again. - 4/20/2012 2:56:44 PM
    Tracking what we eat is indeed very effective. But the article should have first stressed daily weight measurement is the most important thing for weight control. Compared with that, food diary is secondary supplement. Why? Because weight measurement gives us direct BIO feedback. Food daily give us analysis, reasoning and understanding why our wight changed or not changed. It's a good educational tool, but still secondary tool. - 4/20/2012 10:48:22 AM
  • Tracking my food and fluid intake is one of the best habits I've ever acquired. I will never be able to express enough gratitude to SparkPeople for making things so easy to do and so simple.

    My food tracker is all "custom" because, frankly, I eat kinda weird (LOL) but that's how it works for me. I created my own "lists" from day one and have never missed a day because I really enjoy doing it.

    I learned so much from the moment I began to track! I discovered that most of my habits and choices were good ones--I know, who knew? I found out I was well-hydrated and made healthy food choices. I also found out that portion control, something I never had to do before, was key to enjoying success, along with accountability, of course. And here I thought I was I just a big, fat mess (well, yeah, I was), but I'm not anymore. Plus, I have the happy feeling every day that this success brings every day.

    By the way, the food tracker showed me first thing to stop consuming cough drops. Yeah, I know, isn't that ridiculous? Cough drops were adding about 3-5 pounds to my body a year and THAT'S ridiculous. Also, I tried food tracking a few years ago on another online tracker--I don't recall which one now--and it did not work for me. The user-friendly design by SparkPeople makes things work, if you work it, and isn't it nice to have some help? Oh yeah, I'd say so, yes. - 4/20/2012 10:32:14 AM
  • Journaling helps me. Sometimes I don't eat a food because I don't want to write it down, and admit to the SP world that I fell off the wagon again.

    Becca - 4/20/2012 10:28:47 AM
  • I resisted logging my food intake for years, all the while telling myself I was trying to lose weight. I was afraid to be honest about what I was eating. Afraid to give up my comforting, mindless eating binges.Now I track everyday, I AM losing weight and have the binges under control (ok, 99% of the time). Tracking keeps the AWARENESS of what I'm eating at the forefront of my thoughts everyday. It helps me to be mindful, helps me remember to check the ingredient/nutrit
    ion label of any new food before I add it to my meal repetoir, encourages me to check out restaurant menus online before going out. It helps me keep food in perspective -fuel for thought, not emotional therapy- and helps keep me moving toward a life of balance and long term health. I can't stress enough how much tracking food has gotten me on the right track! - 4/20/2012 10:01:11 AM
  • In the beginning, I never thought that a food journal made that much of a difference. In fact, I thought it was a pain in the butt, but I did it anyways. Now, 16 months later, and 117 pounds lighter, I know that it is THE biggest thing that helps me with my weight loss efforts. If I ever skipped a day of my food journal, I either took in too many calories, or (most often) I would under eat - which also hinders any weight loss efforts. So, now, a food diary is just second nature. In the beginning I would journal my emotions and surroundings when I ate, but now I don't do that - but I still journal every day. I told my dietician and my nurse that they can now say "I told you so" about how a food journal is beneficial. - 4/20/2012 9:38:44 AM
  • I completely agree that writing it down makes all the difference! In doing so, you can adjust your nutrition intake as well as calories. I find this extremely useful, not only for weight loss, but also for controlling other things like sodium, potassium and sugar! For the most part, I use the Nutrition Tracker in Spark People and it has helped me succeed in several areas. I love the app so I can record 'on-the-go' too. Great article! - 4/20/2012 5:39:04 AM
    The food tracker on the Android app is good in principle (I do believe tracking is useful, especially if you're just starting out), BUT I wouldn't trust the nutritional data on it. I hate how there is about 10 options for "potatoes", all of which seem to have conflicting info on them. Yes, I could look at the packets and add the data myself, but it takes too long. I am not trying to just criticise the tracker because it is useful,but I am not a nutritionist. I would be prepared to pay for a tracker if the information was reliable. Sorry. Just saying. - 8/17/2011 7:53:36 AM
  • GREAT article. I've been with SP for almost 4 years and have managed to maintain and or lose my weight when utilizing the nutritional tracker. It doesn't lie. It's when I DON'T use it (due to vacation, too busy or what ever reason), that I see the scale begin going up...even though I THINK I know how many calories I'm taking in. My brother keeps telling me he doesn't need to count all that...he knows what to do. Well..... 3 years later, he still hasn't lost and maintained weight. I used to enter my food as I ate but now, if I know what my daily intake is...I enter all that in the morning and I KNOW what else I can't eat or what I may have to take out.
    It allows you to replace one thing with something else, etc. I just know that the tracker is my best friend and what has helped me most on SP. - 8/13/2011 10:33:47 AM
  • I didn't used to think tracking food was that big of a weight loss component. But it definitely is. When I began SparkPeople, I tracked often, and when I got to about 25 pounds lost, I stopped tracking. I told myself that I didn't need to and that I understood what foods were bad and what foods were good. I'm at 50 pounds lost, but I've been stuck here for nearly two months, and I know the "plateau" has something to do with food. For me, tracking food isn't about counting calories anymore. It's about staying accountable for everything. Right now, I'm back to writing everything I eat in a small journal that I take everywhere. I also make notes about how I feel, like if my stomach gets upset or if I feel like I have tons of energy. Seeing it keeps me from binge-eating. Last night, I wanted a waffle spread with Nutella and topped with ice cream. I had already eaten dinner, had a plum for dessert, and it was 9PM. I didn't need the food. I was not hungry. I even had the ice cream OUT. But I put it back. And went right to my food journal and made a note that I overcame the desire to binge.

    Like I said, it's not about counting calories for me, but accountability. - 8/13/2011 10:20:07 AM
  • I find tracking to be helpful, to a point. The first time I track I came to see how many of my calories came from junk food. It was an eyeopener for me and caused me to focus on what I am putting in my mouth.

    I occassionally track now when I want to see how my micro and macro nutrients are. I think that is more important than just calorie counting. - 8/13/2011 7:36:05 AM

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