by Joshua Danker-Dake
Have you ever struggled to lose weight? Have you ever tried but failed entirely? Have you ever gone on a diet, lost a bunch of weight, and then gained it all back when you got off the diet? Have you ever found yourself confused, resigned, discouraged about your weight? Let’s talk.
The key to weight loss is the food you eat, not exercise. You’ve heard the old cliché that you can’t out-exercise a bad diet. Like so many clichés, it’s true. The simple truth is, if you consume less energy than you burn, you’re going to lose weight, and if you consume more than you burn, your body is going to store it as fat. That’s just physics.*
I think a lot of us have no real idea how much we consume—for the better part of my life, I never thought about it. And if forced to think about it, most of us severely underestimate just how much we eat.
It’s easy to say, “Eat less and move more,” but without specific, practical tools and methods, that’s kind of like trying to teach a kid to swim by telling him to stop drowning.
Enter the food journal. Studies have shown again and again that people who consistently make a record of the food they eat lose more weight than those who don’t. Logging your food is easier than ever because of free apps like Lose It! (my app of choice), which let you set a daily caloric budget and make it easy to track what you eat from your computer or phone.
I’ve logged my food for years, and I am absolutely convinced that anyone who has ever been troubled by his or her weight would benefit from logging. Apart from the clear indicator of how much I should be (and am) eating, I’ve found two main benefits in logging. First, logging makes me think about everything I put in my mouth, making me ask myself questions like, “Do I really want/need to eat this?” “Am I actually hungry right now?” and “How on earth is this little thing 800 calories?”
The second benefit is that I’ve learned a lot. We all have an idea in our heads of about how many calories various foods are. Most of those ideas are woefully wrong. We all know that restaurant food and sugared coffee drinks have obscene numbers of calories, because those sorts of things trend on Facebook. But we also tend to underestimate the quantities of what we eat at home—the portions of things we eyeball—like chips, ice cream, mayonnaise, cheese, and butter. Logging accurately is a good way to identify obvious ways we can improve our diet because it shows us exactly where the overeating is happening. A bag of chips becomes somewhat less appealing when I can essentially quantify its effect on my waistline. Healthier alternatives, in turn, become more attractive.
Regularly logging my food and the knowledge I’ve gained from doing so have enabled me to form healthier eating habits—and our bodies, naturally, follow our habits.
I’d never ask you to commit to a lifetime of logging, but I do challenge you to try it yourself for two weeks. That’s enough time to get a pretty good snapshot of what you’re eating. I challenge you to download one of the free apps or to sign up on one of the free sites and to honestly and accurately log every single thing you eat and drink for two weeks. It’s only a tiny bit of work: logging requires a couple of minutes at every meal, and it takes a few days to get into the habit of doing it.
I bet you’ll find it worthwhile, though, and I promise you’ll learn something. Give it a try, and then come back and let us know in the comments what you learned and what changes, if any, you were inspired to make.
* Obviously, things are much different for those with obesity-linked conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, etc., for which many of the drugs used for treatment can cause weight gain. If in doubt, see a doctor.
Joshua Danker-Dake is the author of the acclaimed comic novel The Retail. A writer and editor by trade, he also serves as the Strategy and Tactics Editor for Diplomacy World, the flagship publication of the Diplomacy hobby. Beyond health and fitness, other things he gets rather excited about include He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, bombastic European power metal, and St. Louis Cardinals baseball.
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