The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates 2/3rd of all American adults are on a diet. Americans spend 40 billion dollars annually on diet related products. Yet, only 5% will be successful at keeping the weight off over a year. In 2008 the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, focused on the efficacy of various behavioral weight loss interventions in more than 1,500 subjects. Researchers found that those who used a food diary > 5 days a week lost twice as much weight as those who did not.
You May Ask: Why does keeping a food dairy work?
Food diaries create a foundation of personal accountability. Accountability is the most important ingredient behind any successful lifestyle change. Food diaries force an increased awareness of habits and eating patterns. The visual diary can highlight pitfalls that may have gone unnoticed such as portion distortion and mindless eating.
The incidence of obesity has increased in parallel with increasing portion sizes of individually packaged and ready-to-eat prepared foods as well as foods served at restaurants. Portion distortion (perceiving large portion sizes as appropriate amounts to eat at a single eating occasion) may contribute to increasing energy intakes and expanding waistlines. Between 1970 and 2000 supermarket portion sizes have increased by 10 times (Young, 2003). Restaurants’ jumbo-sized portions are up to 250% larger than the appropriate size (Schwartz & Byrd-Bredbenner, 2006).
American’s typically under estimate their daily intake by 25%. Under sounds good right? Not really, under estimating by 25% could add up to an extra 250-700 calories daily! One way we are tricked is by the size of our dinner plate. In 1960 a dinner plate was 9 inch in diameter and today the average dinner plate is 12 inches which is a 36% increase in surface area. The problem is our daily intake requirements have not increased 36% but our waistlines have!
Mindless eating can also be a weight loss pitfall. It is easy to overlook the bites, licks, and tastes (BLTs). We are all guilty; candy jar on the desk, nibble on goodies in the break room, handful of chips before dinner, or that last swig of milk or juice right out of the frig. Small bites can equal Big pounds!! It only takes 100 extra calories a day = 10lb gain a year!
Did you know?
1 peppermint = 10 calories
1 Hershey Kiss = 25 calories
1 handful chips = 90 calories
1 swig of skim milk = 45 calories
Total = 170 calories
You would have to walk or run an extra 2 miles to burn your mindless calories!!
How to make the most out of your food dairy:
Step 1- Find a system that works best for you.
There is a food diary to fit every budget and lifestyle. You can use good ole pen and paper, a website database or smart phone app. whichever you choose just make sure it is easily assessable and user friendly.
Step 2- Log what you eat.
You should approach logging your food consumption in two phases so you are not overwhelmed. Phase one (1), just simply jot down every meal, snack, and beverage that you consume. This will get you familiar with what you are eating. Next, start noticing the portion size and the amount you are eating and record food portions in ounces for meat and cups of fruits and vegetables. Ex: 4 ounce piece of chicken, ½ cup rice, 2 tablespoons salad dressing etc. Do not leave out additives and flavorings, count the oil or butter you sauté vegetables or add to a pot during cooking, condiments, sauces and gravies. Don’t forget the mindless stuff… it counts and adds up!
Once you have become comfortable with base food journaling move into phase two (2) and take it a step further. Start to track the time and place you consume food and examine your thoughts and feelings before, during and after eating. By tracking the time and place you begin to figure out where you eat most and at what time of day you are most likely to splurge. Record taste details about your snacking habits and where you were ate and what time it was and if you were alone or with friends. Also mention what you were doing at the time, like working or watching TV. This helps determine patterns in your eating habits and figure out ways to stop bad habits.
Examining your thoughts may take some time and energy. Consider how you felt and what you were thinking about when you were eating, and record a word or short phrase describing your mood and thoughts. This will help you notice if you tend to eat when you feel lonely, anxious, or depressed. By identifying what triggers eating, you can start to look at healthier ways of coping with those emotions and spare the calories and pounds.
Step 3- Evaluate your food dairy.
You can have the world’s best food dairy with all kinds of details but if you do not evaluate your meals it does not do you any good.
First, spot the obvious mishaps such as portion distortion and mindless eating pitfalls. Just identifying and making these small changes can show quick results.
Second, check for balance and combination of foods. Look for a protein, carbohydrate, heart healthy fat, fruit/vegetable in every meal.
Goal per meal: One (1) of each but never more than one!
Correct Breakfast example: Scrambled Eggs (protein), Wheat Toast (carbohydrate), fruit cup (fruit), yolk of the egg (fat)
Incorrect Breakfast example: Scrambled Eggs (protein), Bacon (protein), Grits (Carbohydrate) with toast (carbohydrate) and orange juice (fruit), yolk of egg (fat)
Then check for variety throughout your day. You want a minimum of two (2) of each food group but maximum of three (3) food choices from each group per day.
Step 4 - Set Goals
Once you have taken the time to evaluate your food diary you need to set goals to improve. With no goal for improvement you are no better off than when you started. Short and long term goals will help you reach your weight loss goals.
Short Term Goals can be achieved in 7 days and they are small steps. NEVER EVER set goals that are measured in pounds. All goals should be behavior changes that will lead to weight loss not weight loss its self. Examples: Allow one soda a day. Eat one (1) fruit every day. Walk one (1) mile a day five (5) days a week.
Long Term Goals can be achieved in 30 days. Why not 3 months, 6 months or a year? Because we live in an instant gratification society and we get bored easily. Setting goals to far away we will forget about them, change our minds, or give up. So 30 day long term goals are short enough to be tangible but long enough way to make real changes, plus you get the chance to reach goals and change them more often. Again never ever measured in pounds! Examples: Try one new “healthy” recipe a week. Use, remove and replace 10 unhealthy items from my pantry. Complete my first 5K.
Food for thought:
A food diary can be tailored for different accountability goals: calorie counting, diet quality, or overall assessment of eating habits. A food diary can be used in the short and long term. It can be a simple self-assessment to evaluate your current diet or a long time weight management tool. You can begin and end a food diary whenever the individual desires and they can be as simple or as complex as desired.
A food diary brings awareness… an individual brings change.
Friendly Warning: Do NOT become obsessive! Food dairies are not meant to make you feel trapped, under pressure, or bring about anxiety. The truth is sooner or later recording every single thing you eat will get old and obnoxious. The idea is to use it truthfully while it is still fun and new and LEARN from it! Through goal setting and changing behavior learn how to balance your meals, apply portion control, and stop mindless eating. This will lead to a great relationship with food and freedom from dairies and diets!
Think of it as a weight loss tool not a crutch! When we know better we do better.