If you want to succeed at weight loss, you need to maintain some level of conscious awareness of what you are putting into your body. One of the best ways to stay conscious about what you are eating is to log your food. A food log can be the single most valuable tool in your weight loss journey. According to a 2008 study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, people who write down what food they eat lose more weight than people who do not log their food.
There are a number of very good food logging platforms available for free online, and many of them have free apps for the Android and Apple operating systems. Some of the more popular food logging platforms are LiveStrong, SparkPeople, LoseIt, and MyFitnessPal. However, there are still some people prefer to keep their log on paper. It may take some trial and error before you find the food log method that is going to work for you. It’s not important which method you choose, as long as you use the method that works for you.
I’ve been keeping my own food log for over five years now, and I have supported many clients in beginning their food logs. Here are some of the most common pitfalls you may experience while logging your food, and how you might overcome them.
Pitfall #1: I don’t remember what I ate.
Solution: Log in real time. Your meal isn’t over until you log it.
Be prepared to log at every meal. If you wait to log your food at the end of the day, you are going to underestimate what you have eaten. Research shows that we chronically underestimate the amount of food that we eat. This is especially true for situations where we are using food to “zone out” from feeling uncomfortable emotions. Combine this chronic under-reporting with forgetting, and the food log becomes an exercise in fantasy instead of reality.
The most helpful way to use a food log is to log in “real time,” which means that you are logging the foods and the quantities you eat in the moment that you eat them. If you are logging with a mobile device, take out your device and launch your food log app before you take your first bite of food. You can log the meal as you eat it. If you are using an online log, this may mean you have to keep a notebook handy to write down what food you eat for lunch, and you go back online after lunch to enter the foods in your food log. Be sure to make time during your lunch break to go back online and do the food logging.
Here’s the rule: In your new lifestyle, you’re not really “done” with your meal until you’ve entered the meal into your log. Don’t forget to log “hidden” calories in items such as the sugar you add to drinks, salad dressings, condiments, and the bite you shared of your companion’s dessert. Everything counts.
Pitfall #2: I keep logging my food, but nothing changes.
Solution: Review your log and use the data to set goals for changes.
Sometimes people will log food in a vacuum- they can manage to keep the log, but they rarely go back and review the logs from previous days or weeks. There is a time and a place for this! In the beginning- when someone is first learning to get into the habit of keeping a food log- logging in a vacuum is acceptable. When I’m working with a client who has never kept a food log before, I tell them to “Just Log It”- get it all down, without any worries about total calories or judgment about what the food log says about their diet habits. If my client is a person who tends to judge themselves for what they eat, I actually don’t want them studying their log too much in the beginning. “Just Log It” is a fantastic strategy for beginners to overcome any concerns that the log shows that they are a “bad person” for eating the foods that they do.
Eventually, though, everyone should look at the feedback. The ultimate goal of keeping a food log is to get feedback about your nutrition based on the log- that’s the whole point of why you are logging in the first place. After you have been logging for a couple of weeks, review your log and allow it to show you a picture of your general eating patterns. Are you skipping meals? Are you eating the bulk of your calories at night? Are you eating too much of one food group, and not enough of another? Your food log can help you find places where you would like to improve your diet.
Many people will adopt the goal of dialing in their calories, so that they stay within range for the number of calories recommended for a person with their activity level. If you want to dial in calories, I find that it’s most useful to do this in two stages: In the first stage, “Just Log It” to establish a logging habit. In the second stage, when you are comfortably logging in real time, then we can look at the food log during the day and use the feedback from the log to make food choices that will get us closer to our goal. We can pull out our log and look at what we’ve already eaten today, and the food log can help us make choices about what we will eat the remainder of the day.
Another goal might to be log for macronutrient balance. You can use your food log to look at what percentage of your calories come from various macronutrient groups- meaning Cabohydrates, Protein, and Fat. Many food log programs will keep a real-time graph of the macronutrient percentages as you eat during the day. Depending on your diet and your health concerns, recommended percentages are between 45-65% Carbs, 10-35% Protein, and 20-35% Fat. For example, MyFitnessPal has the default macronutrient goals set to 50% Carbs, 20% Protein, and 30% Fat. However, you can to go into your settings and change the goals to any percentages that are appropriate for your diet. If you are diabetic, for example, your doctor might give you different percentage goals.
Pitfall #3: I lie to my food log.
Solution: Understand why you are tempted to lie, and recommit to your new lifestyle.
It’s important to be 100% honest with your food log. For myself, when I was in the beginning stages of keeping my food log, I would eat foods that I knew I “shouldn’t” eat, and I would be tempted to skip recording them in my food log. This was especially a problem for me when I was writing down all my food at the end of the day.
There can be any of a number of complex reasons why you might be tempted to lie to your food log. Here are a few possible reasons you may feel tempted to lie to your log:
- •You’re stuck in the “good foods/bad foods” diet mentality, which leads you to think you’ve “failed” if you eat “bad” foods.
- •You’re ashamed or embarrassed by the foods listed in your log, or by going over your daily calorie goal.
- •You’re ambivalent about making a commitment to your health and weight loss. Part of you wants to live healthier and take the steps to lose weight, but some part of you really doesn’t want to change. Rebelling against the food log is one way for your inner teenager to scream, “You can’t tell me what to do!”
If you are tempted to lie to your food log, it may be necessary to keep your food log completely private. When nobody else but you can see it, nobody else but you can pass judgment on what you’ve eaten. However, sometimes we can judge ourselves more harshly than others would even judge us. Sometimes opening your food log to a trusted professional can help you overcome these harsh self-judgments. A professional will always respect the confidentiality of your food log. However, when your log does not accurately reflect what you have eaten, your professional won’t be able to give you accurate feedback. Ultimately, lying to your log is a waste of your effort that hurts no one but yourself.
Most of us approach weight loss from a “diet” mentality. When you’re starting a food log, try to avoid thinking that you are dieting- along with all of its negative connotations. Think of your food log as a positive step you are taking towards living a more healthy lifestyle. Keeping a food log will help you make more conscious choices about what you eat. Once you are fully committed to your food log, you will be less tempted to lie to your log.
Are you having any issues keeping your food log? Share your concerns here, and I will try to help with your issue. I’d love to help you get the most out of your food log.