Wednesday, January 19, 2011

beginner's guide to losing weight: food journals

 image from here

The first installment of the Beginner's Guide to Losing Weight was about cardio training at the gym.  But even if you're exercising consistently and burning calories, it may not make any difference if you have poor eating habits. Keeping a food journal, in my opinion, is the best way to encourage good eating habits.

When I feel like I'm gaining weight or not able to control my portions, I get out my trusty little notebook and revisit my food journal. I like to think of calories like money. I am allotted X amount of calories each day and I can spend it on whatever I want.

Sidenote: Not everyone needs 2,000 calories a day. A 6'2" man and a 5'4" woman have entirely different caloric needs. It varies by gender, height, metabolism, activity level, etc. It takes a bit to figure out what is appropriate for you.

Anyway, back to money. On a day I'm not working out much, I allow myself 1400 "dollars" each day. On running and strength training days, it gets much higher than that. I choose how I want to spend that money.  Some things are more money, but keep me full for a long time. Some things seem really yummy, but aren't worth the money to me- they're too expensive.  The return I get for buying the item is not worth shelling out the cash. 

Why keep a food journal?
It's a way to budget the money (calories) I am given for the day! People tend to underestimate how many calories they are actually eating.  It's easy to forget about the handful of goldfish you had while packing your kid's lunch, the samples at Costco, or the nibbles from dinner as you were preparing it. Also, many people don't realize how many calories that are in their normal order from their favorite deli or the mashed potatoes they had for dinner.

What do you write in your food journal?
Everything you put in your mouth.  Everything. It's okay that you ate the candy from your coworker's desk, but write it down.
3 dark chocolate Hershey kisses ------------- 60 calories
Don't know how many calories are in 1 Hershey kiss? Google is your friend! Make sure your portions sizes are correct. Don't write, "bowl of Cheerios", but "1 cup of Cheerios and 1/2 cup milk".

Keep a running tally of everything you eat in the day. Mid day, add it up and see if you have budgeted well enough that you still have money left for dinner. If you didn't, something needs to be readjusted for the next day so you have money left. At the end of the day, check your balance.

How does this help?
Firstly, food journals keep you honest about how much you are eating.  When I find myself not wanting to write something down or round down on a calorie count, I have to remember that there is no point in lying to myself and it won't help me to my goals.

I think the biggest area that food journals help with is simply being conscious about what I am eating.  Rather than reaching for the snacks unconsciously, I'm thinking about consequences and if it will help me towards my end goal.

There are plenty of more complicated food journaling techniques that count fat grams and protein and what percentage of your diet is carbs, but I find that this simple technique can help monitor calorie intake without becoming obsessive.

Happy journaling!

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