Quick: Can you list down everything you ate and drank yesterday, from breakfast to dinner (or beyond) plus the snacks, bites, and sips in between? Chances are, you’ll have a hard time recalling exactly what you had, right down to the last morsel. And this could be damaging your get-healthy efforts.

Keeping track of your diet and nutrition is the key to reaching specific goals, like if you’re trying to shed some weight. Science backs it up: A Kaiser Permanente study found that subjects who kept a food diary lost twice as much weight in six months compared to those who didn’t keep track of their food consumption. Meanwhile, another study showed that women who kept a food journal lost an extra six pounds on top of the weight they lost through diet, or diet and exercise.

If carrying a notebook and pen around to jot down what you ate after every meal is a little too tedious for you, then you’ll be pleased to know that there are now numerous smart phone apps for this purpose. Still not convinced to give it a try? Below are some of the ways keeping track of your diet and nutrition can help you.

You become more accountable. A food journal can act as a kind of conscience. When you see a list of what you’ve eaten that day, there’s no denying if you need to take the feasting down a notch. This, of course, presupposes that you’re being honest with yourself. If you start lying about the portions or decide not to include that doughnut because it was “just a bite”, then the only person you’re really hurting is yourself.

You can see the sneaky calories that are getting into your diet. Eggs for breakfast, a salad for lunch, pasta for dinner, and an apple for a snack…you may give yourself a pat on the back for eating healthy all day. But what about that taste of birthday cake you had at the office or the latte you sipped on at your afternoon meeting? The little things can really add up without you realizing it.

…or the foods you aren’t eating. You may have a skewed perception of just how healthy the foods you’re eating may be. Perhaps you think that you’re getting enough fruits and vegetables but a food journal can tell you otherwise. 

You can figure out your triggers. While the basic food journal simply requires you to write down what you ate, it may be helpful to also take note of how you were feeling when you sat down to eat. This can help reveal patterns, which in turn could inform your choices: Do you reach for chocolate when you’re stressed? Seek out food when you’re bored? Snack in front of the TV out of habit? Mindlessly munch on chips as you work? Eat a second serving whenever you’re with friends? Knowing that hunger isn’t your only trigger can be empowering.

You can determine which foods are best for you. Writing down how you feel after a meal can signal which foods have the best and worst effect on you. Some foods might make you feel bloated and sluggish, others might give you more energy and help you focus. From there, you’ll be able to make better food choices that can help you perform at optimum level.


Get Started

Download an app or grab a little notebook and take a few seconds after each meal or snack to write down what you consumed. At the end of the day, review your list. The American Heart Association recommends that you ask yourself the following questions: Did I eat healthy meals? Did I have filling foods (including water) with every meal or every snack? Did I eat enough fruits, vegetables, and fiber from whole grains? Did I plan for healthy snacking to help conquer cravings?

The association further advises asking the following questions if you’re trying to reduce calories: Did I keep portions small? Did I limit sugary, high-calorie foods and beverages? Did I include fruits and vegetables with every meal or snack? Did I eat when I was not hungry? If yes, what was I feeling or doing that made me eat?

More than aiding in weight loss, a food journal is a great tool for building awareness. Keeping track of your diet and nutrition isn’t about shaming you or guilt-tripping you into eating right but about giving you the chance to learn more about your habits and triggers. And as the saying goes, knowing is half the battle. Once you have a better understanding of your relationship with food, you’ll be able to take appropriate steps and make the right adjustments so you can meet your health goals.