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In 1971, when I was pregnant with my son, I started a food journal. In retrospect I should have patented and marketed it! I wrote down every morsel that went into my mouth. I was only 22 years old and was obsessed with staying slim. Besides, I stood out enough being the only woman in my electrical engineering classes.
Nine months later I gave birth to a healthy, 6 1/2 pound baby boy. I brought my pre-pregnancy jeans with me to the hospital and wore them home.
Since that time, I always turn to journaling my food and exercise when I need to lose weight. Or if I'm on a cruise or vacation and I want to make sure I don't gain weight. Now is one of those times. I had foot surgery in February which actually made my neuroma pain worse so my usual exercise regimen has gone down the drain. Unfortunately I've been enjoying life at the same pre-surgery rate so I've gained about 5 pounds.
I signed up to one of the popular fitness websites and started journaling a few days ago (more about that later.) But I will assure you that journaling works. In fact studies show that you will double your weight loss when you do this. I think it does more than that. I've seen it work for people who have not been able to lose significant weight despite many different diets and many tries. Here's why:
#1 - Journaling makes you mindful of what you eat. How many times have you passed the refrigerator, opened it, and popped something in your mouth without even thinking about it. Or at work, how can we resist that bowl of candy or pile of doughnuts sitting in the break room? When we do that, we are eating out of habit or boredom, certainly not because we are always that hungry. Writing down what you eat makes you stop and think, "I have to record this, maybe I don't need to eat it!"
#2 - Education is another important aspect of food tracking. When you enter a food in a good food program, it will tell you how many calories, grams of fat, type of fat, grams of protein, grams of dietary fiber, grams of carbohydrates, etc. that you are consuming. Some app's allow you to customize the micronutrient you are interested in monitoring. You will quickly figure out that to meet (and not exceed) your daily calorie allotment, it is better to select an apple than a bag of chips. Or to get enough daily fiber, a cup of beans is far superior than a burger. With enough variety, through time you will learn what is in your food and will begin to naturally make better selections.
#3 - Weight loss is basically calories in and calories out. When you track calories in, calories burned by exercising, and the actual weight loss accomplished, you experience and confirm that you can indeed control your weight. You are not heavy because "it runs in the family" or because "your metabolism magically slowed down." Weight gain is caused when a person eats more than he or she burns.
#4 - These programs also allow you to graph the results so you can see the outcome of good food choices and exercises. This feedback gives you a feeling of accomplishment that encourages you to continue your fitness and weight-loss journey. The act of setting daily, weekly and monthly goals and achieving them promotes success.
#5 - These programs also demonstrate the association of various exercises and calories burned. If you walk 30 minutes you get to eat a bit more that day or lose weight even faster. Believe me, it gets you moving! Even though I can't walk too far or run until my foot recovers, the program motivates me to get on my stationary bike, go swimming or do some strength training.
Find a Food and Exercise Tracker that Suits You
There are a number of good food trackers out there to work with. The one I started working with is MyFitnessPal. It's got a very large data base, which is key for ease of use. Many of the programs I've tried in the past do not. It even allows you to enter foods that don't appear on their database and share the new info with the community, if you wish. And once you've selected a food on one day, you can bring it up on other days. Since most of us repeat a lot of the foods we eat, that is a big plus.
I was very disappointed at first to see that the program just tracked calories, protein, fat, carbs, etc. and not fiber. But happily I found out that you can actually pick the micronutrients that you want to track so I immediately added dietary fiber to the list. As many of you know, I think eating a high fiber diet is critical to healthy and successful weight loss. You can also set the program with respect to the percentages of each nutrient you want to track. For example, instead of 30% fat, 30% protein and 40% carbs which was the program's default settings, I set my goal for 20% fat, 20% protein, and 60% carbohydrates which more accurately reflects a more plant-centric diet.
To provide further motivation, MyFitnessPal allows you participate together with friends. Whether you do better when you are competing with someone or you just need some words of encouragement, having fitness buddies increases your odds of sticking to the program.
It's best to just sign up for one of these programs (the basic MyFitnessPal program is free) and play around with it. The most important thing is to just get started. You have nothing to lose except weight!