"At the beginning of starting a food diary people are much more stringent but as time goes by people start getting bored, then all the bad habits come back." Photo: Getty
It might not sound like the most exciting way to lose weight but Sally Symonds knows it works. She shed 45 kilograms in 33 weeks and kept it off for more than a decade. What's her secret? The answer lies in the five years' worth of food diaries she has on her shelves. “I started keeping a food diary about a third of the way through,” says the weight loss coach. “It was one of the best things that I did. It made it so much easier to keep track of what I was doing and was one of the vital tools on my weight-loss journey.”
Ditch the diet and the gym. Experts agree that one of the more effective ways to lose weight is to write down everything you eat and drink in a food journal. A recent study of weight loss in overweight or obese women published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that women who kept food journals consistently lost more weight than those who did not.
Now keeping tabs on what you consume is even easier with an array of online food journals and smartphone apps to suit every need.
Amanda Rose, a 34-year-old business consultant from Sydney, uses the MyFitnessPal app which she likes because it includes a fitness and food log all in one. Rose says using a food diary changed the way she viewed herself. “Talk about a reality check. I started a food diary a year ago when I wanted to see what I was really eating and when, and found out that I was consuming sugar like it was water. We lie to ourselves on what we consume and how much.”
It doesn't matter whether you write your food intake down on a piece of paper or use an app, says Milena Katz, a Sydney dietitian. “When a person is tracking themselves, they are more careful and are going to lose weight. They are exercising some kind of control over their habits – that is why it is successful. So they say 'oh I'd better not have that' or 'I'm too embarrassed to write that down'. They are being really mindful about what they are doing.” Katz recently launched Food?Sick, a nutrition app that can help diagnose dietary intolerances or be used as a food journal.
She says perseverance is needed for success. “At the beginning of starting a food diary people are much more stringent but as time goes by people start getting bored, then all the bad habits come back. That's just human nature, but to actually create new habits you have to do it for five or six weeks. Most people don't get there, they'll do it for 10 days and then they are over it. If they can keep it up they can build in some good habits like eating frequently, eating smaller portions, eating more vegetables.”
Symonds agrees there can be some resistance to keeping a food diary. “Most people who are overweight are reluctant to keep a food diary, as indeed I was when I began. People feel like it is a giant controlling mechanism and rebel. It can also seem quite patronising, like homework.
"However, the important thing to remember is that the food diary is for them to see — no one else. It is about them taking control over what they eat. I wish I had a dollar for every time someone said to me, 'but I eat well'. A food diary usually reveals to its author that they don't eat as well as they first might have thought.
“Remember – you bite, you write! Your body keeps an accurate journal of what you eat regardless of what you write down so it's better to be 100 per cent honest, because otherwise you are only lying to yourself.”
For a food diary app that suits you try:
MyFitnessPal: One of the largest online databases covering more than 2 million foods and restaurant items.
CalorieKing's ControlMyWeight: Easy-to-use food and exercise log and nutritional research tool.
LoseIt: The basic app is free, allows you to scan the barcodes of packaged foods and offers community support.
Fat Secret: Independent diet and food tracker. Journal allows you to record intake as well as how you are feeling.
Cronometer: A very simple and user-friendly app.