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The 8 Things I Learned Keeping a Food Journal

Jan 17, 2018 09:49AM
By Lisa J. Gotto

Certain diets work. Certain diets work well. Certain diets work well for some people. Some people can’t, and probably shouldn’t, “diet” at all. Just by its very nature, any diet can fail the minute you are no longer on it.  

That said, I was once on a highly-priced and very popular subscription diet. Truth be told, I was actually on this diet twice. The first time I was quite successful; lost 13 pounds. The second time, not so much. I struggled to just lose four pounds. I already knew what the difference was though: zero cheating on the first try. The second go-round, I was just hoping to reduce by 10 pounds, so perhaps, psychologically, I thought that a cocktail here and there and a regular dessert instead of a “plan” dessert was okay. (This would be a great place to note that I eventually gained the weight back once I was off the subscription diet.)

I knew I needed another way after that dismal disappointment. I knew all along what I needed to do. I just didn’t. Call me Ms. Resistant, but tracking, counting, adding, and measuring was something I always despised, if only in my mind, since I never actually tried it. I heard through various means over the years that I should list everything I eat and add up the calories just to see what an average day looked like for me. I wanted none of this. But then I believe it was a turn of a phrase at just the right moment that got me—I believe it was, “You’re a writer; why don’t you keep a food journal?” Journaling! Something I love to do! And I had a perfect, new, patterned notebook popping with fresh pages to boot! I was on my way.

Real life eating for me

I took two things from the diet experience and put them to work for my new approach to eating: a sound structure with three meals a day and healthy snacks in between, and if the calorie count was not listed on the package or recipe I was using, I looked up the components online. There are many sites and apps that make this a quick and easy endeavor. (I use the MyFitnessPal app and I have a fitness tracker—like most of us do these days—to record my activity.)

I made a list of the foods I love to eat regularly and gave them all a number. I gave myself the 1,500 calorie-a-day goal. This became a dual goal in the sense that 1,500 were consumed, but also burned off the same day. (Note: most weight-loss diets have a 1,200 calorie-a-day requirement that I knew for me, would not work so I gave myself some wiggle room. After all, it is this 1,200-calorie number that is nearly impossible to stick with long-term.) 

The “Foods I Love” list was key for me. For instance, I drink primarily water and tea all day long. So, I wasn’t thinking I had many beverage calories to worry about in the daily scheme of things. WRONG! I like to drink my tea the way the English do, with milk and sugar. That’s 62 calories a cup and I generally enjoyed three to four cups a day. Not anymore. There would be more room for other foods I loved if I cut that back by two. A small sacrifice to make that saves over 120 calories a day!

It got to be a game to see how many of the foods I loved that I could work into the diet. I am lucky because I love healthy foods like avocados, apples, and tomatoes. (Did you know one cup of fresh, chopped tomatoes has only 27 calories in it?) Now things like avocados can have three times that of tomatoes, so I still have it, but then I cut back something else in the daily menu
to account for it. 

I must say that this is the first time I’ve been watching what I am eating, but I don’t feel deprived. Deprivation is a diet no-no that backfires all the time. I am maintaining a healthy weight, lost that four pounds again…so far—and my legs are more toned than ever from all the extra walking I do. Here are the other takeaways I gained from journaling: 

1) Made me conscious that there were calories for everything! Even gummy vitamins! (I was consuming 65 gummy calories day. I switched and reduced that number to 15.)

2) Showed me how quickly the bad choices could add up. 

3) I could really see how much food could be consumed in a 1,500 per day calorie count. (Depending on what I chose, it could really be an ample amount of food.)

4) Helped me see that many times I could eat what I wanted on my 1,500 calorie a day allotment—I just needed to portion-control it.

5) Made me conscious that heavier eating at night even if I “saved” up calories all day long was a bad thing.

6) I could actually use my tracker for more than steps. I could see what happens when I established a plan to burn off what I ate as opposed to just guessing what my intake vs. output was.

7) I didn’t have to eat “diet” food at all if I really didn’t want to; thereby making this more of a do-able lifestyle change and not an iron-clad diet.

8) It eventually became a habit that I started to look forward to, because sometimes there were enough unspent calories that I could have something small that I really loved. 

Tell us! Do you have a food journaling success story you’d like to share? Send the details to and you might see your story posted on our website or Facebook page!