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The keys to food journaling

Each week a nutritionist from the University of Maryland Medical Center offers a guest post on healthy eating. This week, Robin Rudner writes about food journals.

Are you keeping a food journal to help manage your weight, but still not seeing results? A food journal is vital in helping track your food trends. For best results, here are key things to include while keeping track of your food and beverage consumption.

First and most obvious: What are you eating? Write down everything you eat with as much detail as possible. Be honest, because it’s the only way that you can effectively make any necessary changes. My motto is, “If you bite it, you write it!”

Portion size: How much are you eating? More often than not, people underestimate exactly how much they are eating. Portion control can make all the difference. You can overdo it on even the most health-promoting foods. For example, precisely how big is your dinner plate? If it is about 10 or 12 inches, chances are good that you are eating more than you need. Make sure you are using a food scale to weigh your portions or measuring cups and spoons to know exactly how much you are consuming.

How is your food prepared? This is where you can jot down things like “baked, grilled, broiled, fried,” etc. Olive oil is a great way to prepare your food and is a healthier alternative to using butter or margarine. You don’t need much of the heart-healthy fat, so keep track of how much you are using. A serving of oil is 1 tablespoon and provides approximately 120 calories.

Where are you eating? If you are dining in front of the TV, in the car or at the computer, you may not be fully aware of what and how much you are eating. Try selecting a room and designated place to eat both at home and work, such as a table in your kitchen, dining room or workplace cafeteria, and make an effort to only eat there. Eating in the same place every day helps to isolate your eating from distractions and has been shown to be an important behavior modification in weight loss and maintenance.

How hungry are you when you are eating? Keep track of your hunger at each meal. If you are eating without a physical sense of hunger, take a look at why so you can track any trends. For example, you may realize you eat when you are bored, anxious, fatigued or depressed. Responding to physiological versus psychological hunger triggers is a big step toward controlling your weight.

Do you eat quickly? Do you eat everything on your plate? Learning to slow down, chew your food well and put your utensils down between mouthfuls, is better for your digestion and will allow your stomach to remind your brain that you are getting full. This is called “mindful eating” and can have a significant impact on how much you eat as well as how you digest and absorb our food. It is also helpful to learn to leave a small portion of food on your plate; it can be as small as a single grain of rice, but this behavior modification teaches people to break the habit of feeling obligated to always eat everything put in front of them.

Additional tips: I don’t recommend tracking specific calories, protein, fat, sugar and carbohydrates. Sometimes focusing on too many things at once can make it too tedious to keep and hard to maintain. If you are a numbers person and it helps you to know specific amounts, go for it. Otherwise, focus on eating when you are hungry and watching your portions to help you be successful with your goals.

Set weekly goals. Make sure these goals are attainable. If you aren’t doing something every day, don’t set a goal to start doing it every day. Start by doing it three to four times a week. Keep track of your goals and review them weekly. Then take the necessary actions to make sure you have a better chance to meet your goals next week.

There are plenty of websites to track your meals/beverages and exercise. For example, fitday.com, choosemyplate.gov and sparkpeople.com are all great sites to help track what you are consuming. Or keep a small notebook with you to write down your meals/beverages as you’re enjoying them. Whichever you prefer, remember to document everything and be as honest as possible.

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