Justin’s eight great tips for food journaling success
POSTED BY: Justin Cantwell on September 30, 2016, 8:12 a.m.
I’ve been a trainer at Time 2 Change Fitness for Women for more than five years now. One of the things I regularly get asked about is food journaling — how to do it and why it can help to write down what you eat and drink.
I’m a fan of using a food journal, and it’s something I recommend both women and men consider when they’re working toward a health and fitness goal. I’ve used one off and on over the years to either lose or gain weight, depending on what was going on in my life (e.g., training for a competition). Food journaling can also be useful for identifying food groups and nutrients you could be missing, as well as a way to help pinpoint food allergies.
In a study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, researchers found that 1,700 people in a weight-loss program who kept food journal lost twice as much weight as those who didn’t. So, you can call this “proof” that journaling works — and I’ve seen people’s results first-hand, too.
Eight great tips for food journaling
Here are my top tips if you’re interested in using a food journal:
- Be consistent with it. Keep track of what you eat at every meal. Don’t forget to log what you drink (if it has calories) and, of course, journal those in-between-meal snacks. No surprise, but those bites and nibbles will add up.
- Keep it real. While it might be tempting to take liberties with your tracking, you’re only hurting yourself if you’re not honest about what you’re eating and drinking. So write it all down, no matter how it looks.
- Be accurate, but don’t stress out. My Fitness Pal (MFP), one of the online tools I recommend, often has multiple entries for a particular type of food — like, a grilled chicken breast. While I believe you should be accurate when journaling, don’t drive yourself crazy worrying about slight differences in the nutritional make-up of a given food. Journal the item, based on how the food was prepared and what it weighs, and move on.
- Get to know your macros. Journaling can be a real eye-opener for people who aren’t used to thinking about the carbs, protein and fats in what they’re eating. As you grow your knowledge of what you’re consuming, you’ll likely find yourself making better choices and reading nutritional labels more regularly. (Need help with establishing the right macros for you? See tip 7.)
- Make journaling convenient. Tools like MFP are great since you can access them from your phone or computer. But if you’re not the techy type, there’s no shame in going old-school and using paper and pen. You might want to consider buying an inexpensive journal, as there’s something about even a small purchase that might make you more inclined to keep up with the journaling habit.
- Use the tools of the (journaling) trade. A journal alone isn’t all you’ll need to keep track of what you’re eating. You’ll need a food scale, measuring cups and spoons, etc., to be able to quantify what you’re eating so it can be added to the journal. If you eat a lot of packaged foods, you’ll benefit by the info found on nutritional labels. Note: Eating whole foods (things without a label!) are key to good health.
- Consider an accountability partner. Journaling with a friend can be a great way to stay accountable to your commitment to track your food intake. On MFP, you can share your journal with another MFP user. That’s one of the things we offer in our nutritional support program, where members use MFP and I have access to their journals. As their accountability partner, I regularly review their journal entries and provide advice and coaching on what they are doing well and what could be improved. I also give them macro guidelines to follow based on their health and fitness goals.
- Experiment a little and have some fun. You can make journaling fun with some experimentation. For example, buy some new food you’ve been meaning to try. Also, don’t think of journaling as punitive. You can still enjoy some of your favorites, as long as you stay true to your goals and keep your macro targets in mind.
Even with the rules I’ve set out here, I don’t think it’s realistic to journal 100% of the time for months on end. Food journaling can still help you, even if you do it just 80 or 90% of the time. Give it a try, and see if it’s eye-opening and/or helpful for you!
To read more about our lead trainer Justin Cantwell, visit his team page.