06/10/2012 10:05 am ET Updated Aug 10, 2012

The Power of the Written Word: Keeping a Food Diary

I am a Facebook junkie and a big fan of the motivational quotes that tend to find their way to many of my friend's walls. One in particular caught my eye the other day: "Your body keeps an accurate journal regardless of what you write down."

I always record my workouts, but not always what I eat. I have noticed, though, that when I do need to focus on my diet, either in preparation for competition or because I've gone off-course and want to get back on track, I am far more successful when I log everything I eat and drink. In my work with clients, I also suggest they keep a workout journal and a food diary. I don't ask that they share this with me on a regular basis, but it provides a resource to review if they struggle in meeting their goals.

Research has shown that keeping a food diary improves a person's chance of losing weight. In a 2008 study by the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research, participants who logged their daily food intake lost twice as much weight as those who kept no log. Researchers believe that simply writing down what one eats encourages the consumption of fewer calories. Knowledge can be power. Taking the time to gather and reflect on one's daily intake is a great way to bring awareness to actual vs. perceived consumption, to habits and patterns.

I like to use a food diary as a plan rather than just a log -- a tool not just for reflection, but for prevention. Instead of starting the day with a blank page and recording everything I eat and drink, I write a menu for myself beforehand and refer to it throughout the day. My rule is that if it's not in the diary, I don't need it. There are times when flexibility is necessary and other times when I stray. This is when I make notes about the diversion with details about how and why for reflection.

Making the most of a food diary (and a couple tips for staying on track):

Plan ahead -- create and log diet plans a day or even a week in advance. You may even include specific times for each meal. Many competitors do this, but it works well for anyone trying to be conscious of what they eat. Rather than making choices on the fly, simply follow your plan. This requires that you bring your meals to work, eat at home, or know where you are dining and options for ordering. There will be times when flexibility is necessary. Make notes if you deviate and how. (Tip: Be prepared with go-to dining out options that follow your diet requirements. Mine is a caesar salad with chicken -- easy to find.)

Be portable -- use something you can carry and access readily. I've tried many formats and while there are many websites and apps that I like on my iPhone, I keep going back to a plain notebook. Something about writing vs. typing and seeing it in my own handwriting has a stronger impact on me. (Tip: If you're looking for a way to share your experience with others for motivation, support, or accountability, an online food diary may be for you. Many smartphone apps and online food diaries provide a social networking aspect that enables that important connection.)

Not only what, but how much -- Because we tend to underestimate our caloric intake, making a conscious effort to control portion size is important -- another plug for making meals at home where you have more control. (Tip: In most restaurants, you can cut your meal in half, eat one half there and take the other home for another meal.)

Not only what and how much, but when -- do you tend to reach for a snack mid-morning? When you're bored? In front of your computer? When you're upset? If you don't plan ahead and/or don't follow your plan, these habits can tell you a lot about your emotional and physical patterns and needs and help you address particular concerns and make necessary changes. (Tip: Keep a glass of water by you at all times and grab some sugarless gum if you are craving a snack.)

Don't forget what you drink -- Juice, soda, milk, wine, alcohol, lattes -- all have an impact. Write it all down. You may be surprised how calories, sugar, fat, and other things you may be trying to cut add up through your choice of beverage. (Tip: Always carry a bottle of water with you and stick with water in restaurants -- better and cheaper!)

Be honest -- A study conducted in the UK earlier this year found that women tell 474 lies about their diet. If you truly want to succeed in your diet or healthy eating goals, your food diary is not a place to lie, even if it is just to yourself. (Tip: As the saying goes, "Your body keeps an accurate journal regardless of what you write down." There really is no point to lying to yourself or others. The truth always wins.)

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