What if I told you there was one thing you could do that would guarantee you lose weight? I mean, not just maybe, but absolutely guarantee it. And I’m not talking about the fake television infomercial guarantee, but a real, honest-to-goodness guarantee that you would lose the body fat you’ve been trying to lose for years. If something like that existed, would you do it? What if I told you it was food logging — would you still do it? Beyond that, what if I told you that food logging is the ONLY way you’ll be successful in your weight loss endeavor — would you at least start to consider it? If so, please read on.
The process of keeping a food log is one of the more daunting behavioral propositions faced by those of you trying to lose weight. For many of you, the idea of food logging conjures up the thought of having to laboriously write down everything you eat for the rest of your life. The good news is that this doesn’t have to be the case. If you follow the proper method for keeping a food log, not only is it something you won’t have to do for the rest of your life, but you’ll make such significant behavioral changes that, eventually, you won’t even have to think about what you’re eating because your mind will subconsciously make the right choices.
With that said, let’s establish one very important aspect of nutrition for weight loss: it is a psychological, not a physiological, process. That is, the nuts and bolts from a physiological perspective are pretty simple: eat fewer calories than you expend every day (for more information on that notion, go to: Weight Loss Overcomplicated & Misunderstood). So, the physical part of the process is fairly simple; the complex part occurs when you consider the multitude of behaviors that have to be addressed in order to eat less. Our eating habits are some of the most innate and engrained behavioral patterns that we adhere to every day; as such, changing these patterns is not simple. That’s where the food log comes in: when used properly, a good food log is a self-correcting behavior modification tool.
Earlier I mentioned that most people view a food log as too daunting because they think they have to do it forever. This is because most people view a food log as only a record-keeping tool. They write down what they eat (or what they remember they eat) at random points during the day, or at the end of the day. When this is the method used, all the food log tells you is that you ate too much or too badly – it just keeps a record of what you eat. If this is the method you employ, you’re right that you will have to food log forever. However, if you use a food log properly, it turns into a dynamic, self-correcting behavior modification tool that will progressively shape your eating patterns and habits so that you can lose the weight you want to lose and keep it off forever.
In order to make sure you’re getting the most out of your food log, adhere to these four steps:
1) Determine a practical recording method that can go everywhere with you. The biggest key to making a food log into a behavior altering tool is logging everything you eat, AS YOU GO THROUGHOUT YOUR DAY. If you fail to do this, you’ll likely just get to the end of your day and realize that you consumed too many calories (and, unless you’re willing to go out and run five miles at 10 o’clock, there’s very little you can do about it). With that said, you have to select a method that can go everywhere with you — work, home, out to lunch, out to dinner, etc. In other words, wherever you are, so is your food log. In most cases, this leaves you with one of two options: a 5×7 notebook (that will fit in your pocket or purse) or a smart phone application (like Calorie Counter by Fat Secret). All other methods are too cumbersome, and you likely will not keep the log as you go throughout the day.
2) Make a cheat sheet of your top 20 most commonly consumed foods. One of the biggest issues people cite with keeping a food log is not knowing how many calories are in the foods they’re consuming. Making a list of 20 common foods (and beverages) you consume BEFORE you begin your food logging journey will prevent this from becoming an issue for you. This cheat sheet must be kept in the same location as you keep your food log (for example, in the back of your 5×7 notebook or in the notepad in your smart phone), so you can quickly and easily reference it. The cheat sheet should include the following: (1) the food or drink item, (2) serving size (grams, cups, ounces, etc.), and (3) calories per serving. Now that last item is where people usually stop dead in their tracks, because they don’t know where to find calorie values. But, like most things on this planet, that’s what the internet is for. There are an infinite number of websites (caloriecount.com is probably the best) where you can find calorie values for nearly every food imaginable. So, make your list, and hop online to find those calorie values. Finally, this should be an ever-expanding cheat sheet. When you eat (or drink) something that’s not on the cheat sheet, add to it. Eventually, you’ll find you have all the foods you consume added to the list; shortly afterwards, you’ll find you no longer have to reference the list to remember the calorie values, and that’s when your behaviors are really starting to change.
**3) Use simple methods for determining serving size. **You’re not going to carry around a food scale or a measuring cup in your purse or back pocket to determine how big of a serving you’re consuming (at least I don’t think you are). A great alternative method to weighing and measuring your food is to use a couple of time-tested, simple approximations. Instead of getting out your food scale, use the palm of your hand to approximate 4oz (women) and 6oz (men) of whatever you’re consuming. When I say the palm of your hand, I mean the circumference and thickness — no fingers, no wrist – and if it’s twice as thick as your palm, it’s twice as much. Another great approximation, in lieu of getting out a measuring cup, involves using your fist clenched to approximate one cup (women) and 1.5 cups (men). In fact, the serving size of pretty much everything you consume can be calculated using either your fist clenched or the palm of your hand, making this whole process just that much simpler.
4) Log as you go throughout the day. This final step is the most critical to your long-term success. You have to log your foods and beverages as you consume them in order to know where you’re at calorically throughout the day, so you know when to stop. Now, granted, your actual stopping point (or daily calorie goal) is a bit beyond the scope of this article, but it exists for everyone, and once you know it, you food log as you go throughout the day so as not to exceed it. Basically, this method of logging is a systematic method of behavior modification that teaches you to budget your calories as you go throughout the course of the day. If you know how many calories you’ve consumed, and how many you have left, you’ll always know when to stop eating.
Follow these four simple steps to food logging, and you will hold the key to lifelong weight management through a behavioral-based approach to eating.