I hear this question so much and although keeping a food diary has its place in the realm of weight loss, it is not always the best technique to use by itself.
What is a food diary
Many nutritionists will ask their clients to provide a food diary for their analysis at the beginning of their interactions with each other; normally this involves writing down what you ate, the portion (g or kcals), why you ate when you did and how much you drank. This can point the nutritionist in the general direction of where someone may need to make some changes.
Where does a food diary go wrong?
Food diaries go wrong for people in so many ways, but here are some of the ones that I think are key:
- As soon as someone is asked to keep a track of what they eat, they change what they eat! Tracking food on a diary I believe automatically makes people more mindful about what they eat and, more often than not, they will not go for that extra slice of cake, sweets etc… Especially if they know someone will be checking it!
- If that person doesn’t change what they eat, then the likelihood is that they will not state it! The amount of times I’ve looked at diaries and thought “hmmm… If they were actually eating this then they wouldn’t have any problems”! What I’m not seeing is the secret packets of crisps, glasses of wine and sweets that they are having and not writing down!
- The majority of people have no idea how much they are eating! Calorie estimates are normally off by about 25%, and realistically even more as the food nutritional information found on packets is often very misleading.
Ok.. But I want to make changes, what should I do?
Firstly set some goals! But make them achievable so that you have something tangible to work with. Don’t say “I want to lose weight” as how will you know when you’re there? Instead say something like: “I want to be a size X and I want to achieve this by x date”. Realistically you should aim for 1lb a week, this is what is stated as being a sustainable amount to aim lose long term.
Weirdly my second piece of advice is to do a minimal food diary! I actually think this process is quite a good trigger for people to eat really mindfully! You will suddenly become aware of all the “treats” you give yourself without thinking and I bet you will start to make changes! Don’t worry so much about portions, it’s less about that and more about starting an educational process!
My third piece of advice is to commit to making one change a week or every couple of weeks and stickwith it! Examples could be:
- Drink on only 1 or 2 nights a week
- Eat breakfast
- Have 1 small treat every day (this helps with binges!)
- Take lunch into work everyday in the working week
The effect of making one small change, one at a time is so powerful! You don’t need to change everything all at once, it’s unlikely to stick if you do. Incremental steps will help you build confidence in your ability.
So yes, create a food diary if you want, but it will be a much stronger tool if you use it in parallel with setting goals and making small incremental changes!
Let me know what you think!