The Benefits of Keeping a Food Diary

Dr. Jeffrey Heit Health Guide
  • There is a plain, simple and unfortunate truth about dieting: most people underestimate the number of calories they take in on a daily basis. There are all kinds of bizarre excuses for this. Some of them are classics: "If you eat standing up, it doesn't count as much," "...if you eat cake out of the box, it's less calories...," "...Trying other peoples' food doesn't pack on the pounds..." Sure, these are ridiculous, but I'm bringing them up to illustrate a point. Unless you keep track of everything you eat, you're likely to have a difficult time shedding pounds.


    The numbers of patients I've seen in my office that "can't understand" why they're "not losing weight" is staggering. I'd always say, "If you are truly taking in fewer calories than you are burning up, and you are not losing weight (assuming normal thyroid function and good health otherwise), you are truly a freak of nature, and I'd like you to tour the US with me as a miracle of science."

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    Here's what you need to do: start keeping a written record of the food you eat on a daily basis - A Food Diary. I know that may sound like a burden, and, to some extent, it is. However, I believe it is truly the best way to actually get a handle on what you are eating.


    Sneaking afternoon snacks at work? Those two chocolate chip cookies may go in and out of your head, but if you write it down in your food diary, you'll see a couple of hundred calories that, if done on a somewhat regular basis can be packing on a couple of extra pounds, or, at least, preventing more significant weight loss. How about one of my Sunday afternoon favorites- a cold beer while watching some football or baseball? Furthermore, it's summertime. How many cookouts have you gone to and had a couple of beers? Watch out! - That beer can be packed with as many as 150-200 calories per glass. Toss back a few of those, and you're looking at 450-600 calories before the grilling starts.


    Keeping a food diary might allow you to actually see this in action. If, for instance, you see you're sneaking several hundred calories per week, with stuff you never would have realized you're eating, you might be able to hone in on eliminating some bad habits. One calorie source I had completely overlooked when I started keeping a food diary was coffee. "But coffee has no calories," you might say. You would be right. However, I like my coffee with "extra extra," as it is known in the Mid Atlantic states. Translation? Extra cream and extra sugar...extra calories!! Considering a tablespoon of cream can be 40 calories, extra cream could easily be an overlooked source of calories, not to mention the extra sugar - especially if it was a 2-3 cup of coffee day. Summertime can be even worse, as I am a big fan of iced coffee. Once I started using sugar substitute and whole milk instead of cream, I was able to ditch over 500 calories a week!


    Losing weight is hard - harder than it seems. If you are determined to shed the pounds, get serious about knowing what and how you eat. Unless you have a clear understanding, you're likely to miss opportunities to cut calories you didn't even know about. In other words, if it goes in your mouth, write it down. Seeing it in black and white may be an invaluable tool. Of course, always discuss any dieting and weight loss issues with your primary care provider.


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Published On: July 30, 2008