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Can a Food Diary Help You Lose Weight?

Wondering how to keep a food journal? Here are 8 tips for making a food diary work for you.

8 Steps for Food Diary Success continued...

"The basic elements I would recommend including, however, would be time, food, amount/portion size and degree of hunger," says Hawkins.

Rebecca Puhl, PhD, director of research at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, also suggests including the location of the meal: "These details will provide insight into emotional triggers for eating habits, as well as times of day and places where healthy and unhealthy foods are most likely to be consumed." 

If you're trying to understand how your emotions relate to your food choices, you might also want to include questions in your diary such as, "How hungry am I?" or "What were my emotions before, during and after the eating episode?"

Keeping track of carbs, fat, and fiber grams will be helpful for people with diabetes and other medical conditions. If you have type 2 diabetes, you might find, for example, that meals high in carbohydrates or meals high in saturated fat may cause you trouble. Or you might discover that your blood sugar levels improve when your meal or snack contains a certain amount of fiber.

Write down other items you think are important, such as how you felt (physically and emotionally) when you finished eating, what and how much exercise you got that day, any medication you took, and your blood sugar results, if you have diabetes. 

Food Diary Tip No. 3: Decide How Often to Update

You should write in your food diary at least 5 days a week -- but filling it out every day is best, says Catenacci. 

You can fill out your food diary as you go throughout the day, or set some time aside at the end of the day to update it. But experts say your record will be more accurate if you do it right after eating. They also say it's important to record everything – even if that seems painful.

"It can be tempting to avoid recording an unplanned indulgent dessert or binge episode, but this is the most important time to record," Puhl says.

Something to watch out for: As time goes on, dieters tend to become more lax about how often they update their food diaries and go longer after eating or drinking before logging the information. 

Food Diary Tip No. 4: Decide How Detailed You Want to Be

If you just can’t bring yourself to fill out a detailed food diary form each day, that’s OK. Just writing a minimum amount of information in your food diary will help you self-monitor. Hawkins says many of her patients believe that if they do not keep a "perfect" food log with every detail, they have failed. She tells them that every attempt they make at recording gets them a step closer to paying attention to their food choices and habits.

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