3. Youll discover where your diet detours.
I thought I ate a lot of vegetables it seemed like I was constantly cooking spinach, broccoli, or Brussels sprouts," says Melissa Smith, a 32-year-old mom from Omaha whos been keeping a food diary for the past 18 months. But looking back over a few weeks of my journal, I was surprised to realize that I was only eating veggies once or twice a week." So she made salads a regular part of dinner and noticed that it helped her eat less of her entrée. Her analysis and follow-up action paid off: Shes lost more than 27 pounds.
A balanced diet is the key to weight loss, says Suzanne Farrell, R.D., who owns Cherry Creek Nutrition in Denver. Whole grains, low-fat dairy, green vegetables, orange veggies, beans, nuts science shows that we need to eat these regularly to reach a healthy body weight. So when I flip through my clients journals, I always look for what Im not seeing."
To find out how many servings of each food group you should be eating, go to mypyramid.gov. This tool will calculate the correct portions based on your age, gender, height, weight, and level of physical activity. Itll also tell you the number of calories you should aim for daily to lose weight.
4. Youll learn why you pig out.
Experts suggest that, to help break bad habits, you record not only what you eat, but the circumstances that prompt you to eat. For example, maybe you indulge in more sweets at work because you sit close to the vending machine. Maybe you have a milkshake several times a week because you pass Wendys on the way home. Or maybe every time you worry about money, you retreat into the kitchen for chips.
When you begin to notice these patterns, you can figure out ways to change them. If the vending machine is a constant temptation, stock your desk drawers with fruit and granola bars. If you cant resist a fast-food sign, MapQuest a new route to work. If you eat when youre under pressure, steer clear of snacks and take a short walk instead (its a scientifically proven stress buster).
Another bonus: When you increase awareness of whats going into your mouth," says Thayer, youll feel fuller sooner than if you were just mindlessly munching."
5. Youll see real results quickly.
Your food diary can be as revealing as the one you kept in fifth grade. For example, to get a glimpse into how much youve improved your diet, compare the entries in week one (Twinkie-filled) to week four or five (ideally, veggie-filled). You can also discover which decisions translated into pounds lost for instance, that week you had fish for dinner twice mightve helped you lose weight.
Food journals also let you give yourself credit where credit is due (personally, I reward myself with a gold star each day I resist eating candy). And that positive reinforcement is essential for shedding pounds.