04/30/2014 11:57 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Why Keeping a Food Journal Is Better Than Going on a Diet

I have a personal confession to make. Let me just preface the confession with letting you know that I make my living helping people lose weight, both in my private practice and via by book, Foodaholic, The Seven Stages to Permanent Weight Loss. I have also been maintaining my own 50-pound weight loss for 24 years now. So on to that confession...

My dog Cody is almost 10. She is a gorgeous Australian Shepherd. This is Cody!


Photo by Irene Keller

Everywhere we go, people go crazy over her. They ask what kind of dog she is, if they can pet her, where we got her, and most just stare open-mouthed as we walk by. She has literally stopped traffic with people in cars rolling down their windows to ask about her. She is a supermodel.

Recently Cody has been panting a lot, having trouble jumping up on the beds and getting more fatigued on our daily walks. I was worried as I was sure something was very wrong and so off to the vet we went. After a thorough exam, the vet and I had this conversation:

"She is fine, but she is obese."


"She was last here in August, and then she was 39 pounds, which is a good weight for her. Today she weighs 48 pounds. She is fat, and most of her problems are stemming from the extra weight."

"OMG! How could that be? I'm not feeding her more."

"Well, you know, calories in/calories out."

I was sure they had missed something, and so we did a bunch of tests. Meanwhile, waiting for the results, Cody and I started a doggy food journal. I was shocked. She had been 39 pounds steadily for some time, and so I stopped paying attention to what I was feeding her, figuring we had it nailed. What happened gradually, quietly and somewhat slowly was that I started feeding her more. Instead of measuring her food out at one cup, twice a day, I started guestimating. Once we started paying attention, and I put the amount of food I was giving her in a measuring cup, it was 1.5 cups. I was giving this to her twice a day.

Then, I started giving her some peanut butter in the morning because I always eat peanut butter toast for breakfast. I had been just letting her lick the plate, but I started putting a little in a bowl for her. Not much, but at 100 calories a tablespoon, it doesn't take much. Then, we added some small treats to her walk to get her to heel better. After that, when my husband would have chicken for dinner, she would get the leftovers. In our defense, Cody should win the Academy Award for best actress. She acts like she is starving all the time. When we eat she is right there, begging, putting her paw on our legs, shaking and looking at us with those pathetic doggy eyes like she hasn't eaten in six weeks. She is hard to resist.

So once I started paying close attention to what she was eating each day, it became clear that it was my fault that she had gained all that weight and that in fact the vet was right about calories in/calories out.

How does this apply to humans? It's the same idea for sure. When we write down what we eat, the amount and the calories, we get very clear on what we are doing. I do this and I teach my clients how to do this too. It's better than any diet you could go on because any diet you go on, you go off. Keeping track of what you put in your mouth is a practice you can keep up for life.

When you keep a food journal, you will learn what calories the foods you typically eat have in them. It's unwise to try and completely change your diet and lifestyle if you want to be successful at losing weight and keeping it off long term. It's best to work with what you are doing now and modify it slightly in such a way that you can keep that up for the rest of your life. If you can do that, whatever weight you lose you can then keep off. Unless, of course, you stop keeping track and fall asleep at the wheel, like I did with Cody. At that point, you will need to go back to paying attention or the weight will come back on.

So now Cody and I are measuring her meals, limiting extra treats and working out. It's doggy boot camp over here. It has only been a week and she already seems better. She can jump up easier and is panting less. Extra weight is as dangerous for dogs as it is for us.

If you want to lose weight, just keep a food journal. Give yourself a period of time in which to try it. Say, two weeks for example. Most people can do it for that long. During that time write down everything you eat (and drink, if there are calories in the drinks) and keep track of how much you are taking in. I guarantee you will learn things about yourself and may just be able to figure out how to change what you are doing to create the body and life you want to live. It's great to be able to jump up on the bed after all!

That's it for now! Good luck and let me know how you are doing!