With research showing that people who keep a food diary lose twice as much weight as those who don’t, there’s never been a better time to put pen to paper.
Many of us haven’t kept a diary since we were whimsical teens, trying to make sense of the world around us.
But with studies consistently showing that writing and reflecting in a targeted way can have an incredibly powerful impact on our health and headspace, it makes sense that anyone with a weight loss or health goal starts a journal.
“Journaling helps to keep you accountable and helps you start to see the rhythm of your day,” wellness coach Lyndall Mitchell, who facilitates the online Daily Rituals To Reduce Stress course, tells Jenny Craig.
“Journaling for tracking [things like food intake, exercise and weight loss] helps you keep your goals front-of-mind, giving you a daily reminder of what is important to you.”
What to write in your weight loss journal
The sky is the limit when it comes to what you might include in your weight loss journal.
At a basic level you want to highlight your weight loss goals and record your food intake and exercise efforts, but you might find you get more out of it if you delve a little deeper beyond straight weight loss tracking.
“One of the big purposes of keeping a journal is to give you a starting point and help you identify what your goals are,” says Karen Stafford, Jenny Craig dietitian.
“It’s also beneficial to [record] your thoughts and feelings and your behaviours around food and activity. [Include] what you ate, but also who you were around, how you were feeling and your hunger gauge. Those things help with behaviour change and mindful eating and help you pinpoint if you have any feelings that trigger emotional eating.”
Mitchell agrees that there is so much to learn when you start writing about your emotional state and energy levels.
“It might be that your energy keeps dropping at 3pm so you can ask, ‘What can I do to support myself?’ or ‘What am I eating at lunch?'” she points out.
Of course, journals are not just a place for reflection – using them to forward plan your day or week ahead can also help you prepare and succeed on your weight loss diet.
“You can think, ‘What am I going to have for dinner?’ or, ‘What is my strategy around going out for drinks?'” Stafford says.
“Then you can track it and reflect, ‘What did I plan to do and how did I do?’ If it didn’t go according to plan, what can you do differently next time?”
And don’t forget to high five yourself when you stick to your plan.
“Every time you tick off the rituals you have done, you get a hit of dopamine, the feel-good hormone,” Mitchell says.
“So your brain says, ‘I like that, that’s worth remembering and I want to do that again’. It gives you the positive momentum to build habits for the long term.”
Do your weight loss tracking daily
We’ve all got enough on our plates without the prospect of more time consuming to-dos, so Mitchell suggests you make journaling a really simple and achievable goal at first.
“Don’t make journaling a chore – don’t try and write a full page,” she says.
“Some days you will feel like writing more and getting [things] out of our head, other days you might only jot down a paragraph or a few dot points.”
Whether you use designer stationary, an app, a creative bullet journal or an old spiral notepad is inconsequential, what matters is getting into the habit of recording your health efforts every day.
“Some people track on a spreadsheet, but it doesn’t have to be complicated,” Stafford says.
“We encourage members to journal on their menu, just keeping things super simple. We recommend doing it every day while it’s fresh in your mind to help you keep mindful about what you are doing.”
Dr Katherine McManus, director of the Department of Nutrition at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in the US, agrees that tracking what you ate as soon as you put down your plate is the best way to go.
“Don’t wait until the end of the day because your recollection is likely to be less accurate,” she writes on the Harvard Health Blog.
As for doing your emotional reflecting, Mitchell suggests pegging your journaling to an existing ritual to help prompt you to get your thoughts out.
“As soon as I get into bed at night, it’s journaling [time] – it’s automatic and I do it every single night,” she says.
“If you want to do it in the morning, think of something you do every single morning and link it to that.”
If you find yourself pressing “ignore” on your calendar alerts or leaving your journal to gather dust, Stafford says you might need to re-visit your big picture goal.
“If you are finding yourself not doing it, you need to think, ‘Why am I pushing this aside? Is this something that is really important to me?'” she says.
“You might also need to reassess when you are journaling. If it’s not working at night, do you need to try doing it as you go?”
Be your own inspiration
If you’re ever feeling you’re facing an uphill weight loss battle, a quick flick back through your weight loss journal can show you how far you have come, whether that’s the distance you can now walk or how much your energy levels have flourished.
“Sometimes you don’t feel like you have made progress, if you haven’t lost weight on the scales but if you look back you can see where you have come from,” Stafford says.
“Sometimes it’s hard to see but you have come forward in leaps and bounds.”
Most importantly, remember your weight loss journal is a place for self compassion and positivity.
“It’s a way to support yourself not to be a sergeant of yourself,” Mitchell says.
“Journaling gives you a sense of achievement. Seventy percent of people are more successful if they write down their goals – you can actually see where you are going.”