If you try to recall everything you ate and drank yesterday, chances are you’d forget a few things (like the fries off your son’s plate!). With hectic schedules and mealtime multi-tasking, it’s easy to forget what we put into our mouths throughout the day! The less aware we are of what we eat, the more we allow “extras” to slip by. Keeping track of your eating habits is the best way to gain control of them. A study of more than 1,600 people found that those who kept a daily food journal lost twice as much weight over six months (18 lbs. vs. 9 lbs.) compared to those who weren’t regular recorders. The act of journaling enhances both accountability and awareness; two keys to goal achievement.

Pen and paper is an obvious choice for starting a journal, but tech-savvy journal apps provide instant gratification and feedback. For those who don’t find journaling, let’s say…pleasurable, I encourage you to try these online apps. You might find it easier and more rewarding than imagined! From years of experience closely following my clients’ online journals, “Lose It” (available online and iPhones) & “MyFitnessPal” (available online and multiple smart phones) have proven to be the most user-friendly.

In this month’s Nutrition Connection blog, we’ll look at four ways journaling will improve your eating habits.

1. It will show you how much you are really eating.

Research has shown us time and again that we all tend to underestimate our portion sizes. In one study, Cornell University researchers spied on diners at an Italian restaurant via a hidden camera. Just five minutes after their meal, diners were asked how much bread they had eaten. Most people ate about 30% more than they thought, and 12% who were seen eating bread on camera denied having any at all! Journaling what you eat protects you against “eating amnesia” and helps you get in tune with portion sizes.

2. It clues you in to what works, and what doesn’t.

When we record everything we eat, patterns begin to emerge and the connection between what we eat and how we feel becomes clear. For example, you might begin to realize a huge difference between the way a hearty oatmeal breakfast vs. a skimpy bowl of sugary cereal impact your mood and eating habits for the rest of the day. With the oats, you are full and happy until lunch, but with the cereal, you find yourself diving into the office candy dish by 10 am. This written reminder of food, mood, and hunger levels reinforces the behaviors that keep you moving toward your goals.

3. It provides accountability.

Logging your daily intake and receiving quantitative feedback is motivating for many, but the lesson goes beyond the numbers. Honest logging allows you to face potential emotional and mindless eating, and encourages you to “pause” before putting something in your mouth.

4. It gives you a black-and-white reminder of your accomplishments.

Another valuable feature of online journals/apps is the ability to log daily weights. I encourage my clients to weigh often (weighing in the buff, first thing in morning, after using the restroom). While weighing daily might not be for everyone, the act of recording morning weights supports awareness and accountability. It is important to know that weight is affected by hydration status, glycogen storage (1 gram of carbohydrate holds on to ~3 grams of water), “waste” in your body, and hormones. It is very normal for weight to bounce between 1-3 pounds on a daily basis, so focus on weight trends over time. The visual of your weight trending in the direction of your goal provides an abundance of motivation and positive feedback!

You can’t manage what you don’t measure! 

Journaling does not have to be a lifelong commitment, but it is especially useful when initiating a new eating plan or getting “back on track.” Embrace these savvy tools as an opportunity to learn and grow in your journey to good health!

Contributing author: Kayli Perfetti, MS, RDN, LD http://runonsunshine.com/ 

Jennifer McDaniel

Jennifer McDaniel is a Registered Dietitian, Media Spokesperson, and co-author of Prevention's Mediterranean Table Cookbook. She and her team of Registered Dietitians aim to help their clients go further, make change last, and unlock their potential. She lives in St. Louis, MO with her husband, and three young sons. If you are interested in working with Jennifer, please visit our contact page.