Food Journaling: Weight Loss Success
Jennifer* came into my office and tearfully announced that she has tried every diet, spending a lot of money on special food plans and meal replacements, only to gain it all back, plus some extra after she stopped the programs. She was only 32 years old and did not want to be overweight her entire life. Shopping for clothes was a nightmare but thank goodness for on-line ordering, where her friends couldn’t see that she needed plus size clothes.
Jennifer insisted that she really didn’t eat that much, so she had no clue why she was so heavy. She knew the difference between healthy food and junk food, understood portion size and exercised fairly regularly. When I began to do the initial assessment, it was clear that she would benefit from some nutrition education because frozen diet dinners were not going to help her lose weight.
The first step in identifying challenge areas is keeping a detailed food journal to assess actual food intake, triggers, hunger score before and after eating, mood or thoughts and times. Did you know that the average person only recalls about half of their food intake from memory? Maybe you remember what you ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but what about the couple of bites of goodies your co-worker shared, the coffee with cream and sugar, the “tastings” while you prepared dinner, the glass of juice mid-day or the small snack while watching TV or on the computer? We usually underestimate our food intake, both what and how much we eat.
When I suggest they weigh and measure their food (don’t panic- only in the very beginning) to get a sense of how much they typically consume, there is usually resistance. The food journal sheets include columns to keep track of key indicators, which help identify problem areas. I asked Jennifer to assess her level of commitment for her vision to lose weight and to feel better and received a determined 10/10. So off she went with her food journal sheets to fill in for the next week. Her instructions were very specific and clear; if it goes in your mouth, you write it down, whether it’s food or drink.
At our next session, after reviewing the food journal sheets, Jennifer was stunned to learn:
- Her portions were quite large
- She rarely ate when physically hungry but more from emotional hunger
- Most often, she ate past the point of fullness, into the uncomfortable zone
- In-between meal snacks were more frequent than she realized
- She was definitely a stress eater This was valuable information that allowed me to develop a plan to gradually transition Jennifer’s eating behavior to a healthier, more effective eating style that would enable her to still enjoy food and lose weight.
Accountability is one of the biggest benefits of food journaling, even if you are only accountable to yourself. The act of writing everything down, or keeping track in an on-line food diary, is a strategy that has proven to increase your chances of weight loss. You are much less likely to go back for seconds or eat junk when you are writing it down and visually have the proof in front of you as a reminder. It’s so easy to mindlessly eat if you don’t keep track, but you will be more mindful, knowing it’s being documented. Over time, you will be able to see a pattern develop around when you eat, who and what triggers you and unconscious schedules, such as snack every night at 9pm. Awareness is the first step in any change.
After the initial resistance, Jennifer began to look forward to keeping track of her eating. She said it kept her “honest” during the transition. We developed some specific strategies to circumvent the boredom and loneliness that frequently triggered her eating, as well as pre-planned activities. Jennifer is on her way to a new, healthy way of eating and a new body.
*Jennifer is not client’s real name. Name and some of identifying information changed for confidentiality purposes.