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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!


Mary C. Weaver, CSCS
I'm Mary Weaver, your weight-loss and body-transformation coach. My specialty is helping women get in the best shape of their lives with satisfying diet plans, effective fat-burning exercise, and loads of encouragement and motivation. Check me out on Google+, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter!
Mary C. Weaver, CSCS
Mary C. Weaver, CSCS
Mary C. Weaver, CSCS
Grab your Hot Body Kit, including your Look Better Naked report and a checklist of 11 essential fat-loss tips. It's FREE!

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

gretchen weisenburger January 4, 2013 at 12:50 am

LOVE this! Thanks for the helpful advice!


Mary C. Weaver, CSCS, M.S. January 23, 2013 at 10:39 am

Thanks, Gretchen!


Pam January 23, 2013 at 1:24 pm

Yes, I have kept a food journal. Much to my alarm, the journal worked almost exactly the same way a person walking behind me watching my every move would have worked. I was terrified to eat anything that wasn’t noted in the journal. Terror is maybe not the best way to handle accountability, but it’s at least a motivator!


Mary C. Weaver, CSCS, M.S. January 23, 2013 at 1:48 pm

Pam—that’s a response I’d never heard before! :-)

But I do find that people think twice about their choices when they’re going to have to document them.


Anita Levesque January 23, 2013 at 1:45 pm

What a great idea about keeping a journal. I will have to suggest this to my husband. Thanks for sharing.


Mary C. Weaver, CSCS, M.S. January 23, 2013 at 2:26 pm

Thanks for commenting!


Leslie January 23, 2013 at 5:28 pm

I have started but never follow through. What have you learned about being consistent with keeping a food journal?


Mary C. Weaver, CSCS, M.S. January 23, 2013 at 5:35 pm

Leslie–thanks for commenting.

I’m a big fan of making habits out of desirable behaviors, and once they become habits, they’re more or less on autopilot.

So I’d recommend setting aside certain times of day—like maybe when you’re checking e-mail or surfing the web so you’re online anyway—to record what you’ve eaten.

All the food-tracking services also offer mobile apps, so you can easily track while you’re on the go.

Think about ways to make tracking as convenient as possible. If it’s a big effort, you’re less likely to stick to it.

And you might consider finding an accountability partner and agreeing that every night you’re going to e-mail or Facebook message each other to say “I tracked today” or “I didn’t track today.”



EmeregeFit January 23, 2013 at 7:12 pm

Yup! The other great thing about food journaling, in the longer term, is that patterns surface over time which may be used to make adjustments for the future. I have written down nearly everything I have consumed, alcohol included, for decades. It’s good data!


Suzanne January 24, 2013 at 12:00 pm

It can be difficult to convince clients to keep a food log. People don’t want to get caught up in such details. But citing research and presenting the facts helps people understand how important a food log is. Thanks for a great article!


Mary C. Weaver, CSCS, M.S. January 24, 2013 at 7:18 pm

I hear you! But if you use an online service and save a list of your favorites, it takes, like, 2 minutes a day . . .


Pamela Hernandez January 24, 2013 at 12:54 pm

You are so right! Yet for some reason a food log is seen as “obsessing” about food. I say it’s like keeping a checkbook. It’s responsible to keep track of your finances. While your nutrition doesn’t have to balance to “the penny” it’s just a responsible way of staying on track with your fuel.


Mary C. Weaver, CSCS, M.S. January 24, 2013 at 7:19 pm

I agree, and I really like the checkbook analogy. :-)


Angelika Davey January 25, 2013 at 6:02 pm

I stopped logging food about two years ago, because it was too much hassle for me and I thought I knew what I was eating…. fast forward to january 2013 and 10 kilos later I started logging again. I found out that I was still pretty good at my regular meals, but not when it came to snacks. I had NO IDEA how much I was snacking!

Things aren’t perfect yet but look a lot better already!


Shira February 1, 2013 at 4:54 pm

My food journal gets more love and attention than my regular diary, because I know visiting it daily and being honest about my intake is the best way to maintain my long-term weight loss. Flipping back to past entries is the best way to figure out why a skirt “suddenly” doesn’t fit so well…and it gets me right back on track!


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