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Research Reveals Journaling Improves Weight Loss

You’ve undoubtedly heard the advice before about writing down the foods you eat in a journal when trying to lose weight. Journaling has long been considered by weight loss experts an extremely effective strategy for lifestyle and behavioral change.

But the case for keeping a food journal just got even stronger. A recent study by the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research showed that individuals who kept daily food records lost twice as much weight as those who kept no records.

What The Research Shows On Journaling And Weight Loss

The (KPCHR) study which was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine(Aug 08) included over 1,685 participants. It was also one of the largest and longest weight-loss maintenance trials ever conducted.

Those participants who used a food journal followed the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, which is a whole food based diet plan that emphasizes fruits and vegetables for carbohydrates.

After six months, the average weight loss was 13 pounds, with 69% of the participants losing 9 or more pounds.

Similarly the National Weight Control Registry which tracks over 5,000 individuals who have lost large amounts of weight and maintained that weight loss, found that an overwhelming majority of successful study participants tracked what they ate in some fashion.

The research is clear, writing your diet down in a journal improves results- period. It may seem boring and tedious work, but journaling can make the difference between weight loss success and failure. This is especially true in the first 2-4 weeks of your weight loss program.

What Real World Experience Has Shown Me About Journaling

I’ve seen the journaling connection over and over again with our Shaping Concepts clients. Those individuals who achieved the best body transformations (losing 20, 30, 40 pounds or more) had a very clear understanding of the quality and quantity of food they consumed.

If you don’t have any idea of what you’re really eating on average each day, your chances for weight loss success are significantly decreased. It’s like going into the whole process blindfolded.

Why Keeping A Food Journal Is So Effective For Weight Loss

There’s a lot of other stuff going on here with journaling which makes it so effective for weight loss. Here’s a quick summary on why I think the practice of journaling what you eat (and what you plan to eat) works so well.

Writing things down makes them part of your subconscious thoughts…

The more you program something into your subconscious, the greater your likelihood of habit change. There’s a lot to be said about “top of mind awareness” when you look at success with most anything in life.

It’s been proven time and time again that people who write down their goals and refer to them often have far greater achievement rates than those who don’t. The same thing holds true for weight loss and the food-calorie-habit connection. It all goes back to what’s being programmed into your subconscious thoughts.

The practice of  journaling provides accountability…

You’ll think twice about eating something you know is bad if you have to write it down. There’s a guilt association in play here that we naturally want to avoid. In essence, journaling promotes conscious eating.

You may think nothing of walking by and pulling a few pieces of candy out of jar on the counter, or picking on food while you’re preparing it. No thought process will typically enter your mind.

But when you have to write these occurrences down it forces you to stop and think. Journaling will help you to evaluate your choices and the consequences of those choices before proceeding.

Journaling will help you to draw out any emotional connections with food…

By writing down how you felt when you slipped up and ate junk food or went off your diet, you can begin to make correlations. If you can recognize the patterns, you can then make a game plan for dealing with the emotional eating.

By changing the activity or setting you’re in when you have that emotion, you can change the behavior. For example; if you find yourself making bad decisions with emotional eating after coming home from work stressed out and eating in front of the TV- you can change your habit by changing the setting.

Instead of coming home immediately after work, plan on going to workout, go for a walk, or do some other activity where you won’t deal with the stress by eating.

The process of journaling doesn’t have to last forever…

The initial commitment to keep a food journal should be for 2-4 weeks. It simply takes that long for new habits to take hold. I’m sure you’ve heard about the “21 days to form a new habit.” That’s why I recommend 2-4 weeks for optimal results.

There are numerous ways you can journal. You can use something as simple as a notebook or purchase a food & nutrition journal with ready made templates to track calories and nutrients.

There are also some great on-line resources you can use like the LiveStrong Daily Plate which provides all kind of really cool features.

Here’s What I’ve Personally Seen Produce The Best Results

Do REVERSE journaling by writing out what you plan to eat before hand…

This is by far the most effective technique for building new habits and routines. Instead of writing down what you ate after the fact, plan out your diet a day in advance. This will help with your preparation and cut down on decision making. The fewer choices you have to make with your diet the better.

At the end of each day simply review what you actually ate with what you had planned. Add in any additional items not already included in your journal. There will be days when plans change as that’s just life, but you’ll be much more likely to succeed this way compared to simply recording your “decisions.”


(Optional) take the information in your journal and input into an on-line program…

A good example would be resources tools like the LiveStrong Daily Plate that I mentioned earlier. By analyzing the calorie and nutrient content of the foods you eat you’ll be able to see where changes need to be made.

Have an accountability partner review your journal weekly…

This could be your personal trainer or someone like a close friend or spouse. You simply want to be accountable to someone other than yourself. This is a very important and extremely effective strategy for lifestyle and diet change.

Continue keeping a food journal until you no longer need to

The length of time you should journal will vary for everyone but ask yourself these two questions.

Have you overcome any and all emotional eating issues?

Have you successfully developed new eating habits?

The Bottom Line And Practical Advice On Journaling

Success leaves clues. If the majority of the most successful people with weight loss used a food and nutrition journal, wouldn’t it make sense to go and do likewise?

It’s easy to make excuses and come up with any number of reasons for why you don’t need to waste time with journaling.

But at the end of the day you’ll still have to answer to yourself and be accountable for your own results.

So how’s your weight loss plan working out for you?

If it’s not as good as you’d hope you may want to reconsider journaling and the other success habits of people who have already “been there, done that.”

Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts Personal Training Studios. You can receive a FREE, no-obligations trial of his Charleston personal training programs and experience the Shaping Concepts difference for yourself.

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Category: Fat Loss.