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Home > Health Archive > Write Yourself Thin

Write Yourself Thin

Weight Loss Tips
Write Yourself Thin


Written by: Linda Knittel

Writing down what you eat each day practically guarantees weight-loss success. In fact, dieters who record daily what they consume drop twice as much weight as those who don't, according to a study by a health insurance company. As you lose pounds, you'll gain something else: a keen understanding of why and when you overeat. You may learn that you're feeding your stomach when you really should be feeding your soul. "Keeping a food journal forces you to be accountable for what you're putting into your body," says Victoria Moran, a New York City-based motivational speaker and author of Fit From Within (Contemporary Books, 2002). "It also provides you with a clear picture of the food patterns that keep you from reaching your weight goal."

Starting and maintaining an effective food journal is simple and takes just 10 to 15 minutes a day. Here's how to do it right.

How to Start Your Weight-Loss Journey

Food will be the focus of your journal, but you'll also track how often you exercise. To identify your unhealthy habits, you must commit to writing in your journal every day for four weeks, says Bob Wilson, a nutrition specialist at Kaiser Permanente, a nonprofit health insurance company in Portland, Ore. Experts say that's enough time to change your habits and start losing weight. And if you regain weight, you can resume journal-keeping for short periods to get back on track. To begin, follow these five steps.

STEP 1: Get Your Journal Ready.

Purchase a notebook (preferably a 6-by-9 inch one) and take a few minutes to prepare the pages: Allot two pages per day for the next two weeks, and divide each set of pages into four columns. Label the columns as follows: What I Ate, When and Where I Ate, How Hungry I Was, and How I Was Feeling. At the bottom of one of each day's pages, mark off space and label it Exercise.

STEP 2: Record What You Eat.

For the next two weeks, dine and snack as you normally would. Immediately after you finish eating or drinking something (even water), write it down in your journal, recommends Anne Fletcher, R.D., a Minnesota-based nutritionist and author of Thin for Life (Houghton Mifflin, 2003). Fill out each column as completely as you can. If you do something else while eating or drinking (like working or watching television), note that under the column When and Where I Ate. For example, Monday's lunch entry might include the following information:

What I Ate: 1 can albacore tuna, 2 tablespoons mayonnaise, 1 stalk celery, 2 slices rye bread, 2/3 cup baked potato chips, 5 Hershey's Kisses, and 2 cups green tea
When and Where I Ate: 1 p.m., at my desk while working on deadline
How Hungry I Was: ravenous
How I Was Feeling: stressed

At the end of each day, estimate the calorie and fat counts of everything you ate and drank. Whenever you consume a packaged food or drink, note in your journal under "What I Ate" the calorie and saturated fat count from the nutrition label. For those items that don't have a label, wait until the end of each day to add their calorie and fat counts. Consult a calorie and fat counter, like The Doctor's Pocket Calorie, Fat & Carbohydrate Counter (Family Health Publishing, 2002) by Alan Borushek, or the website, for this information. Also note how much water you drank. Finally, write what you did for exercise that day and for how long.

STEP 3: Study Your Notes.

After two weeks, review your journal. Use a highlighter to mark the days when you ate and drank more than 2,500 calories or more than 65 g of fat. Note the days you drank less than four glasses of water. Next, scour your journal for eating patterns (like skipping meals) that may be impeding weight loss; for a list of common patterns and tips on how to overcome them, see related article, "How to Analyze the Secrets in Your Journal." Finally, mark which days you skipped exercise.

STEP 4: Set Goals.

On the next blank page in your journal, create a list of goals for the coming week. Weight-loss experts recommend the following four: Pledge to drink six to eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day. Promise to cut back on calories; Derek Johnson, R.D., a Los Angles-based nutritionist, recommends shaving 500 calories a day from your diet until you reach your ideal weight. Commit to replacing foods high in saturated fat, like butter, cheese, and red meat, with foods high in beneficial unsaturated fats, like almonds and avocados, and omega-3 fats, like salmon and walnuts, Johnson says. And plan 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise a day (eventually you'll want to add another 30 to 45 minutes of mild to moderate exercise to that amount).

Add your own food goals for the week (like eating more vegetables). And note any anticipated obstacles, Fletcher says. If you have a business dinner scheduled, plan to call the restaurant ahead of time to familiarize yourself with the menu. Record your actual weight and target weight.

STEP 5: Keep Writing.

Create two pages for each day of the week ahead, again dividing each page into two columns. For the next seven days, abide by the eating and exercise goals you set and record everything you eat and drink, as well as when, how, and how much you exercise. After seven days, weigh yourself and write down how much weight you've lost. Check to see how often you met your goals. Then create a new goals page (include new goals and a new workout schedule, and consider modifying the goals you missed from the week before) and a new set of pages for each day of the coming week. Again, record all meals, snacks, and workouts throughout the week and review your notes after the seven days are up. You've now kept your food journal for four weeks.

How to Analyze the Secrets in Your Journal

When you scrutinize the information you've recorded in your journal each week, chances are you'll notice some patterns. Spotting the patterns and learning ways to overcome them will lead to long-lasting weight loss, says Woodbury, N.Y.-based Maria Walls, R.D., a senior nutritionist for Weight Watchers. Here are the six most common harmful eating habits and how to change them.

You Skip Meals and Splurge Later.

Do you wake up early but don't eat anything until midday? Or do you get so wrapped up in work projects that you skip lunch? In both cases, you probably become famished and are more likely to make poor food choices and overindulge, says Walls. Deprivation followed by overindulgence can wreak havoc on your weight-loss ef- forts. To keep your metabolism steady so you can lose weight, eat breakfast within 45 minutes of waking, and then eat every 3 1/2 hours, snacking on a piece of fruit or a handful of nuts between meals, says Johnson.

You Ease Stress with Food.

If you find yourself overeating when you're stressed, you need to find other ways to manage that stress. Pinpoint the most pressure-packed times in your day and, although it may seem counterintuitive, schedule a quick break during those times. A short breathing exercise or walk outside will help prevent or alleviate stress so you're less likely to reach for food. In addition, keep healthy snacks like celery around so when you feel the urge to munch, you'll reach for those instead of chips. Or get into the habit of drinking a cup of mildly sedating chamomile tea (Matricaria recutita) to soothe your frazzled nerves.

You Nibble Late at Night.

For many people, emotional eating occurs between dinner and bedtime, says Walls. If your journal reveals that you consume up to 50 percent of your daily calories after dinner, check how you felt during those times. If you were bored, make a list of nonfood activities you can do to relieve the boredom, Walls advises. Read a book or write a letter. If you tend to feel blue in the evenings, call a friend or take a short walk outside.

Your Hormones Drive You to Eat.

By comparing your journal entries with your menstrual cycle you may notice that cravings hit at certain points in the month, says Johnson. Once you've discovered when your cravings occur, stock your kitchen with satisfying healthy foods during those times. For example, if you crave salty foods during your period, snack on soybeans in the shell, also called edamame (available in natural food stores and some grocery stores). If you crave sweets, keep fresh fruit on hand. But keep in mind that these foods aren't calorie-free (edamame has 188 calories per 1/2 cup and a medium apple has 80 calories), and eat sensible portions.

You Eat Mostly Carbohydrates.

If you see the words "bread," "cookies," and "pasta" in most of the entries in your journal, you're eating too many refined carbohydrates, which can cause erratic blood sugar levels and make you crave more food, says Johnson. To keep your blood sugar levels even, eat foods containing healthy fat (like fish and flaxseeds) and lean protein (like nuts and beans). When you do choose breads and pastas, select only those made with whole grains (like quinoa, spelt, or wheat). Determine when your carb cravings hit and have healthier options on hand at those times.

You Eat More When You Eat Out.

If you exceed your daily calorie count because of rich restaurant food, cook at home more often. When you do eat out, choose a restaurant that offers a healthy menu and head off hunger pangs with a small snack (like a few nuts or a piece of fruit) before you arrive. Then sip a glass of water while you peruse the menu to distract yourself from overordering or nibbling on bread. And if you feel comfortable with your dining companions, let them know you're watching your diet; you'll be less likely to overeat if they know you're trying to cut back.

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