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

    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. - 9/17/2015 12:17:02 PM
  • 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. - 9/15/2015 12:05:01 PM
    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. - 5/6/2015 2:14:28 AM
    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
    -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

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