Recent research published in the journal Obesity shows keeping a regular food journal may help boost your weight-loss success, and it only takes about 15 minutes per day. However, the most impactful variable in the study wasn’t how long people spent recording what they ate or even how detailed they were. Rather, it was how often they logged. Those who used their food journal the most frequently (Think: three or more times a day) also shed the most pounds.
“When we pay attention to what goes in, we are more aware of the decisions we make and our typical eating habits. Tracking what we eat is a way to cultivate this awareness, and it also encourages accountability to ourselves,” explains Marni Amsellem, PhD, a clinical psychologist based in Connecticut and New York. “Compliance, or regular tracking, is key.”
Of course, there’s a gap between knowing that consistent food journaling is good for you and actually making it a habit. Read on to learn how you can increase your motivation to stick with a food journal for long-term weight-loss success:
Step one: Set yourself up for success with a food journal that’s easy to use and accessible 24/7. “You can be motivated to stick with a food journal by keeping it somewhere you can always find it, like on your phone with an app like MyFitnessPal,” says Staci Gulbin, RD. It’s simple: “If something is convenient for you to do, you will be more likely to follow through with it,” she says. If you’re short on time, try taking a picture of your food and logging it later, suggests Emily Tills, RD.
“Set alarm reminders on your phone before your typical meal times,” recommends Tills. Rather than waiting until the end of the day (and struggling to remember everything), try to enter food in your journal before you eat it, adds Dr. Craig Primack, president of the Obesity Medicine Association. This small step can help you make more mindful eating decisions. “For example, if it’s 3 p.m. and I know I have 600 calories left to eat in the day but my snack is 400 calories, I may cut the portion size or look for something with less calories,” says Primack.
Research shows regularly writing down goals and monitoring your progress can help motivate you to change for the better. Schedule some time each week to record a specific goal that will help you adopt new healthy eating habits, says Gulbin. For example, you might aim to eat more veggies by adding 1 cup to your dinner every day of the week, or lower your soda intake with alternatives like sparkling water three days per week. “Changing your behavior one small step at a time will help you transform your habits for the long-term, which will, in turn, ultimately help you reach your weight-loss goals,” she says. At the end of the week, look back at your log to see how you’re doing. This can help motivate you to keep up the healthy habits.
If you’ve slacked off tracking food for a while or you’re not so happy with what you’ve been eating lately, you can boost your motivation by being compassionate with yourself, says Amsellem. Life can be busy and stressful, and forgetting to track a meal or snack (or even a few days worth) is to be expected. Rather than giving up when your record is less-than-perfect, be understanding about your challenges. You can always return to your food journal at the next snack or meal and having a consistency-beats-perfection mindset will help you succeed long-term.
One of the best ways to lose weight or meet nutritional goals is to keep a food journal. On the MyFitnessPal app, you can quickly log foods, view a nutritional breakdown and see how you’re tracking for the day. Go to “Diary” in the app or tap the “+” on your homescreen.
We also asked MyFitnessPal staff to share their insider tips here. Share the tips that work for you in the comments below.