Dieting? Why a food journal helps

by Mary C. Weaver, CSCS on January 23, 2013

woman working at computer

Are you dieting and looking for a really hot success tip?

Here goes: to lose fat, focus on the caloric deficit. Maybe that’s not what you were expecting.

But the point is, calories do count, despite all kinds of chicanery that attempts to persuade us otherwise.

The very human part of us that wants a quick fix or pixie-dust solution yearns to believe that somewhere there is a diet that will allow us to eat all the fried chicken or ice cream or whatever (name your poison) we want “and still lose weight.”

That’s not gonna happen as long as we’re subject to the laws of thermodynamics.

Of course, calories aren’t everything. The quality of the food matters too. But without a caloric deficit, whether through food reduction or exercise or both, fat loss cannot occur.

The only way to know whether you’re in a caloric deficit? Keep a food journal!

See, research proves that keeping a food journal is one of the best possible strategies for fat loss.

It’s not a sexy idea, and if people haven’t done it, they think it’s going to be too much trouble. It was a lot more trouble before so many cool web apps appeared to make it easy. Now in just a couple of minutes a day, you can keep an online journal at or with a Google spreadsheet or with any number of free online services.

In the study, published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, the researchers looked at the relationship between fat loss and keeping a food record.

Here’s what they found:

Keeping food records was a better predictor of weight loss than were baseline body mass index, exercise, and age. Monthly as well as cumulative weight loss was directly related to the number of days in which food records were kept. The strong, linear relationship between food record patterns and weight loss suggests that in spite of legitimate concern about the accuracy and representativeness of self-reported food records, they have considerable power as a predictor of success in achieving weight loss.

Possibly you’ve heard or read the statement “What gets measured gets done,” attributed to management guru Peter Drucker. What gets measured gets attention and focus—and the goals we focus on have a much greater chance of being accomplished.

There’s ample research—not just the study cited above—that measuring and writing down food intake has a huge positive effect on a fat-loss program.

Most of us have no idea how much we’re eating until we get really intentional about tracking it. Keeping a food journal makes it much harder to eat mindlessly. And the simple act of writing down our intake tends to encourage eating less.

How about you: have you kept a food journal? Let me know in the comment box below!


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