One of the easiest (and cheapest) weight loss tools out there is a food journal. Here is my current food journal. See how small and pretty it is? It fits nicely into all of my handbags and I carry it with me everywhere I go.
What is a food journal?
A food journal is simply a log of everything you consume in a day. Simple huh? From the time you wake up, to the time you go to bed, record ALL of the food you eat. (I also record how much water I drink, my exercise and the Weight Watchers points for each food that I eat.) Here's a sample page from my food journal:
If you write everything you eat down, you are held accountable. You can't just forget about that handful of M&Ms you grabbed from the candy bowl. If you eat, it you have to write it down and those M&M's will be staring you in the face all day from the page of your journal. The fact that you have to write it down makes you think twice before putting anything in your mouth.
Identifies Problem Areas
The point of the food journal is not simply to eat less so you have less to write down. Instead, the food journal can help you identify your problem areas. After you've kept the journal for a week, go back and look at your eating habits. Perhaps you'll notice that you do more mindless snacking than you realize. Or, maybe you'll see that you eat less in the day and end up compensating at night. By keeping a food journal, you're more likely to see where you need improvement and can work to correct your bad eating habits.
Do What Works For You
You can organize your food journal any way you want. I used to categorize my journal by meal type. So I'd write "Breakfast" and underneath, I would record everything I had for that meal. After a while, I changed the way I was eating so I changed the way I recorded. Most days, I eat more small meals. So I simply write everything down without worrying about what meal each food is associated with. Maybe you don't follow Weight Watchers, but instead count calories. Include a calories column instead of points values.
Just Remember...Cheaters Never Win (Or Lose Weight)
If you aren't honest in your food journal, you're only hurting yourself! So, even if you don't want to own up to eating that cookie, you should. There a days where I add up all of my Weight Watchers points in my food journal, and see that I have come in over my allowance. Though it would be just as easy for me to take something off the list and seemingly "stick" to my points, that would just be a lie and not help me. So, write down EVERYTHING (and I mean everything) you eat in the journal.
Electronic Food Journals
For the tech-savvy healthy friends out there, you can record your food journal electronically. There are TONS of different options out there, ranging from keeping your journal in a word document to websites and services that calculate calories for all of the foods you eat. You can google "food journal" and you'll get a lot of free, easy to use choices. One web-based program that I have used and like is called FitDay. It's free and very user-friendly. Click here to check it out.
If you don't have access to a computer all day or are just forgetful, than a program like fitday might not work for you. If you have a phone that allows you download applications, like the Iphone, well, there's an app for you! I have two weight loss apps on my phone now that are like portable food journals. One is called Lose It! and it is very easy to use. You simply add the foods you eat, and it provides the calories for those foods. I also have an app called IWatchr that isn't Weight Watchers approved, but really just keeps track of points for you. It includes a point calculator.
Both FitDay and Lose It! allow you to enter a common food or add your own. So, for instance, if you eat an apple, you can search for apple and add to your log. The programs will automatically give you the nutrition info for that apple. Both also offer nutrition info for brands so you can easily look up foods that you buy in the supermarket based on brand name. If you can't find your brand or food, you can create your own and add the nutrition info yourself. Another benefit of using these type of programs is that they also track progress. You can enter your goal and they calculate how many calories you should have a day to reach your goal. They also can create charts to track weight loss.
So, whichever route you go, old-school paper journal or new-age Iphone app, you should definitely keep a food journal!