At the beginning of July, I started a five-week training camp for a fight. Not only did I need to sharpen my skills, and peak my conditioning, but I had to lose about nine pounds of actual weight before I did the final week of hard cutting. I was starting out pretty lean and already eating whole foods and living an active lifestyle. I knew it wouldn’t be easy so I enlisted one of the most effective tools for weight loss- the food journal. Food journals are a proven way to get fat loss results.
I know it sounds annoying to log everything that you eat. At least it did to me. The thought of actually measuring and recording my food turned me off initially. But I always advocate the practice to my clients as it achieves results, so when the time came for me to have to lose some hard weight, I decided to go for it. There are different methods of journaling. For some, it is easiest to physically write it down on paper. If you have internet blocks at work, or you aren’t attached to your phone, then paper may be the method for you. If technology is more your thing, you can use a spreadsheet on Google Docs. I always make a Google Doc for my personal training clients that we can both view when they first get started with me. A simple database like this can be a very quick way to jot down your meals right when you eat them. There are also apps and online tools for logging food that can give you a little more information about how your food is adding up throughout the day. I like MyFitnessPal.com which is also available as an app. This is the tool that I chose to use leading up to the fight because I needed to get specific about the quantities of protein, carbohydrate, and fat that I consumed. I think this is helpful information if you are journaling for weight loss, but when it comes down to it, the best tool is the one you will use.
So why is food journaling so useful? First off, it encourages mindful eating. You are forced to think about what and how much of everything you eat because you are responsible for writing it down. I am always so much more reasonable with my portion sizes when I am journaling. It is a way to easy for me to stand in the kitchen with a jar of sunflower butter and a spoon and to go through a quarter of the jar before I realize how much I have eaten. Or I sit at the computer munching on something, and all of a sudden it is gone. When I journal I always decide my portion ahead of time and dish it out for myself instead of eating out of a container or just directly out of the refrigerator. Also, I tend to pay more attention to the food while I am eating it because I know that is all I am going to get. I am not starving myself. But I find that I am way more satiated when I am not doing something else while eating, so I am more satisfied eating less. Measuring also helps to educate me as to what kinds of nourishment my food choices are providing me. I like using the MyFitnessPal app on my phone because it is convenient, and it tells me the macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fats) in my meals. I find that a lot of people under eat protein, which is not good for weight loss. A couple of weeks of logging meals helps to teach you about what you are getting from your food and shows you where you can make adjustments to optimize your eating habits.
Another great thing about food journaling is that it adds accountability. Not only are you deciding what and how much you are going to eat, but recording it makes you consider your actions. Sure I can still be mindful and decide ahead of time that I am going to eat a whole big bar of dark chocolate. But do I want to write that down? Nope. So I will eat three squares instead. I still get my chocolate, but I know that a whole bar is excessive and having to write it down makes me think twice. Also, many of the digital methods of food journaling allow for sharing of your diary with others, so if you work with a personal trainer, you can give him or her access to your log in order to get their advice on your choices. Or you can journal with a friend, family member, or significant other. Making new habits is always easier when someone is on board with you.
Keeping a food journal gives you a record that you can refer to. Maybe you had a week where you had great energy, you were sleeping well, and you felt like you leaned out a bit. You can go back and see what you ate to look for any changes. Maybe you switched up your breakfast that week, but you might not remember if you just tried to think about what you did differently. I find that it is best to leave nothing to memory. The food journal is a reliable, accurate record.
So try it out. Start on a Monday. Treats tend to happen more on the weekend, so I find people do best when they start as far from then as possible. And be honest! If you had wine with dinner, record it. If you went back for seconds on ice cream, record it. You are just cheating yourself if you aren’t accurate. It isn’t something that you have to do forever. It is a tool to help you learn, create good habits, and hold you to them. And once you have measured things for a little while, it is easier to eyeball portions, and it gets to be a quicker process. I journaled for five weeks leading up to my fights. I haven’t journaled in a little over a week because I have been giving myself a post-fight break from squeaky clean eating and from focusing so much on planning my food. But I will get back to it soon. Join me!