Keeping a Food Journal

Among weight loss tools, tricks, and tips, I have found that nothing else works like keeping a food journal.

Before you even begin to contemplate what dietary theory you plan to follow, you should know this. The best thing you can do to ensure your success is to write down every single thing that you eat. Everything. Keep. A. Food. Journal.

I have gone through two periods in my life (1996-1998 and 2009) where I lost a large amount of weight (30-40 lbs). In both instances, the most important weapon in my arsenal was my food journal.

When I keep a food diary, I attempt to record everything I eat, with unrelenting honesty. If I do this, then two things happen.

First, I am confronted clearly with the facts of my eating, and all excuses vanish. When I spend night after night eating candy before bed, that shows up in writing, where it can’t be denied. Its link to my waistline gets documented too, since I record the data from my Tanita Body Fat Percentage Scale in my food journal too.

Second, I am forced to become more conscious of what I eat. I learn to remember more clearly all the things I consume, and over time, my memory of my eating behavior improves. Learning to be honest about what I eat (and drink!) breeds a different kind of honesty, about what I want from food, my body, and my life. Being honest with myself in this way points me towards success.

There is a simple bottom line. One must own one’s own eating. The food journal helps you do that.

But don’t take my word for this! Scientists have noticed it too. As Dr. Sanjay Gupta reported for Time in July 2008, a recent study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine (Hollis, Gullion, Stevens, et al., “Weight Loss During the Intensive Intervention Phase of the Weight-Loss Maintenance Trial,” AJPM 35:2 [2008] 118-126) found that there is one single factor that correlates highly with weight loss. You guessed it: keeping a food journal. Victor Stevens, one of the lead researchers, told Gupta that in their study of weight loss trials, “hands down, the most successful weight-loss method was keeping a record of what you eat.” Over a six month period, study participants who kept a journal lost TWICE the weight of non-diarists.

An effective diary contains a record of what you eat every day, from waking to sleeping. In it, you attempt to describe all the substances you consume, in whatever quantities you consume them. You record the items, the time of day, and, if necessary, additional information.

If you get serious, you will record the exact amounts (see the next post in this series), and all nutritional data.

I actually use an Excel spreadsheet to keep my food journal. I do this because it’s a stable and quick way to record data in a table. The sheet just goes on forever, and I can customize the look, and update my system as I need to. I use different “sheets” within the spreadsheet to record weight, or frequently utilized nutrition data, or data I calculate about recipes, etc.

Also, I like to take advantage of the spreadsheet’s ability to do math automatically. The spreadsheet file I keep needs input only on the list of items I consume, and then I add in the relevant information about grams of protein, fat, carbs, and alcohol. But then I have the sheet programmed with formulas, so that it then computes automatically the protein/carb ratio, total calories, percent of the protein, fat, carbs and alcohol, and even the number of “Zone blocks” this represents. More on all this stuff later. All this data data is extremely useful in the war against excess body fat.


  1. Man, I am so far behind, for being in crossfit so long. Never keep a journal, don’t weigh and check my body fat. Hell I have NO IDEA how many calories I am consuming in a day. I eat “better”, sure. But I need to drop some more lbs. My BMI states I am overwight, and if I am gonna keep up with you guys, I need to be leaner. I played foot ball in high school at 135, wrestled at 119, this was when I was in better shape than now. Maybe it is the extra 40 lbs I am still carrying around. Weighed myself at lunch, 170. That’s an improvement from a year ago, but too much. Thanks for the info.

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