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How to Make Food Journaling Work for You

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Pay a visit to any nutritionist and they'll most likely ask you to start logging the food you eat. It's a no-brainer tool if you're trying to lose weight, determine food allergies or triggers, or manage certain health conditions. "Hands down, those that record their food intake in detail are far more successful than those who don’t," says Stephanie Middleberg, R.D. and founder of Middleberg Nutrition in NYC. "It shows a level of commitment, mindfulness, reflection, and honesty."

Keeping a food diary can also double a person's weight loss, according to a study from Kaiser Permanente's Center for Health Research. Another study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that women who consistently wrote down the foods they ate lost about six pounds more than those who didn't. But you'll only see the benefits of food logging if you actually stick with it, which the most recent research points out is tough for many. “People come to self-tracking but burn out very quickly, because there are several barriers that prevent them from keeping it up, like the reliability of their entries and the time commitment,” says James A. Fogarty, who co-authored the study. Despite the challenges, it is possible to persevere. Turn tedious tracking into your own success story with fresh ideas for keeping at it.

Go Forth With Positivity
Like anything, if you go in dreading it, you're probably going to have a less pleasant experience. Think on the bright side from the start, says Glennis Coursey, lead coach at MyFitnessPal. "We've actually found that people who track for just seven days are 88 percent more likely to lose weight—so that is motivation to keep going!"

Match Your Method to Your Goals
People bring different goals to food journaling, explains Fogarty, and simply journaling is never the end goal, so it's important to focus on what you want to get out of your tracking and choose a method that matches that. Not every person needs to track everything in their diet, so eliminating some of the extraneous content can make journaling feel more approachable. "Depending on your goals, different approaches to journaling are going to be a better or worse fit," he says. If you have a very simple goal, like increasing veggies and fruits in your diet, the pen and paper method might be your best bet. But if your goal requires a complete breakdown of the food you're eating—from calories to grams of fiber—web-based apps can take away the burden of tracking nutrients by hand. (Find out The Right Way to Use Weight Loss Apps.)

Map Your Week in Advance
Meal planning might seem like an extra step, but it's actually a short cut to making food journaling easier. Writing down your plan for the week makes your food intake structured and predictable, says Middleberg, so when you actually do get to that day, there aren't as many changes to log and you can simply match up your plan to your log. "Plus, if you know what you should be eating, you're more likely to stick with it," she adds. (Try these 10 No-Sweat Meal Prep Tips from Pros.) 

Don't Let Setbacks Stop You
Planning ahead for time when you know tracking will be a challenge is a great way to make sure a party, wedding, or vacation won't totally derail you from your goals, says Coursey. Remind yourself that missing one day of tracking isn't the end of your healthy eating, but letting that one day turn into one month might send you back to square one. Using MyFitnessPal's new premium feature, you can even adjust for big events—like setting your calorie count a little higher (but not too high!) during a family trip, and going back to your regular goals when vacation ends. The new MyFitnessPal update also makes logging foods easier thanks to new verified food listings, so you'll never second guess if the nutrient and calorie information in the item you're adding is correct.

Set Reminders
"If you know you have breakfast at 6 a.m. every morning, you can set a reminder for yourself at 6:22 a.m. to log your breakfast before you head out the door if you haven't done so," says Coursey. These alerts might seem annoying at first, but after a while you'll start anticipating your alarm going off, so you'll log right after you eat without thinking about it. Soon, it will become a healthy habit, as easy to remember as brushing your teeth, and you can ditch the reminders.

Give Context to Your Food
No matter what method of food journaling you use, just looking at numbers may not keep you motivated to track. Understand how the food you're eating impacts you is another part of the puzzle that can keep you curious, explains Middleberg. "A helpful journal should include details of your day and relevant context, like if you skipped lunch that day because you were stuck in a meeting. The data alone doesn't tell the complete picture." Take notes on everything from how you're feeling that day, what time and where you eat, and if you're having your period. Doing this gives you a great tool to reflect and analyze why you feel a certain way or why something may not be working in your diet, says Middleberg. 

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