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Counting calories is easier for creatures of habit: If you have a bowl of cereal for breakfast almost every morning or a turkey sandwich three times a week, you won't have to look up the number each time.

Keep Your Diary Close

"I'm forgetful, so I always need to put the journal where I can see it — on my kitchen table, on my desk at work. I carry it a lot in my hand, too, as a reminder," says Melissa Smith, 32, of Omaha, who lost 25 pounds keeping a food diary.

You can also try this trick from Maryellen Mealey, 42, of Chicago, who lost big (188 pounds) keeping a journal: "I made a deal with myself that I wouldn't eat anything unless I wrote it down first. It's obsessive, but I'm a mindless snacker and putting everything in the book really helped me be more conscious," she says.

Examine the Evidence

No matter how diligent you are, a food log won't help in the behavior-changing department if you don't analyze it. At night, sit down and calculate how many calories you consumed. Tally up what food groups you're eating, and make adjustments. (A big plus of online tools is that they do a lot of the analysis for you, totaling everything with a click of a button and often giving you charts to show what you can improve.)

You may also want to consult a registered dietitian. A professional may see things in your diary that you don't (cost: usually $50 to $300 for an initial consultation). A two-year study from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle showed that participants who consulted a dietitian had better success keeping off weight than those who followed their usual diet.

Reward Yourself

"I read that it takes 28 days to build a habit," says Mealey. "So when I have a new goal — like eating veggies more often — I do it for a month, then treat myself by shopping or going to a movie with a friend. Rewards give me an incentive to keep going."

Originally published on December 12, 2007

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