If You Want to Lose Some Weight, Start Writing!
You want to lose some weight. You know you need to change how you eat. But how do you know where to start? The most useful tool to change any habit is writing it down. Keeping a food record helps you figure where extra calories are coming from. It can also change the way you eat through the simple act of writing it down.
Why keep a food record?
People keep food record for a variety of reasons: to change their eating habits, to evaluate their eating habits, or to show to a registered dietitian for advice.
- If you are trying to change your eating habits a food record will help you by making you think about what you are going to eat. When you have to write it down, you may be more likely to make healthier choices.
- The food record can help you see what you are eating now, where problem areas are, and what changes you need to make.
What and how to record things on your food record.
Keeping a food record can be an eye-opening experience but it can also be tedious. Here are some tips for keeping a truly useful food record.
Write down everything you eat or drink. And write it down when you ate it and when you drank it. Don't kid yourself by thinking you'll remember it all at the end of the day! If you don't want to take your food record with you, write it down on a post-it note, a cocktail napkin, or anything you can find and copy it over on your food record later.
Estimate portion sizes as best you can. You may want to measure out a few items at home using measuring cups and spoons to get a better idea of how much you're eating. Here are some "visuals" to help you estimate portions:
- 3 ounces of cooked meat, fish or chicken = a deck of cards or the palm of a small hand
- 1 1/2 ounces of cheese = 3 dominoes
- 1 tablespoon of salad dressing or peanut butter = your thumb
- 1 cup of pasta, rice, corn, vegetables = a tennis ball
Here's a fun activity: Take the "Portion Distortion" quiz at this website to see how much portions have grown over the past 20 years: http://hin.nhlbi.nih.gov/portion/
- Be specific. For instance, if you had chicken indicate whether it was the breast meat, wing, leg, etc. Also write down whether it had the skin on or off and how it was cooked (e.g. fried, baked, sautéed).
- Don't keep your food record every day. Keeping a food record can be very tedious so while you are trying to lose weight, keep your food record 3 to 5 days a week. During maintenance, keep it less often but still regularly. If you find that you're gaining a few pounds back, the first thing you should do is pull out that food record to get yourself back on track.
- Timing is everything. When you eat can tell you a lot about what and how much you eat. If you find yourself overeating at particular times of the day, it may be because you went too long without eating - and your food record will reflect this. Your body is designed to eat every 3 to 5 hours!
- Record activity and other factors. If you eat as a way to deal with stress or emotions then you should jot down how you were feeling at the time you ate. You can also record how much physical activity you got that day. Add up your total minutes of activity - even if it was just 10 minutes here & there. It all adds up! You may want to record calories to get an idea as to how many you are getting each day. An excellent and easy-to-use resource for counting calories, fat, etc is: The Complete Book of Food Counts by Corinne Netzer, 7th Edition (it also includes fast foods and other chain restaurants!)
Let it help you not hurt your feelings. Use the food record as a positive tool to help you change your habits. Don't use it to feel bad about yourself. You should congratulate yourself simply for the act of keeping the food record.
You can print a food record here to get you started!
Beth Kitchin, PhD, RD
UAB Department of Nutrition Sciences