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To Manage Your Diet, Tell Food to Say "Cheese!"

If you're trying to lose weight or even just eat more healthfully, one of the pieces of advice you'll most commonly receive is that you keep track of everything you put in your mouth. There's good reason for that: At least one major study has shown that people who regularly record what they eat lose more weight -- and keep it off -- than those who don't.

But keeping a food diary or journal isn't easy. Getting in the habit requires discipline, as does committing to write down EVERYTHING -- yes, even that handful of M&Ms you inhaled when nobody was looking. You also have to remember to write down everything you drink.

Some people manage just fine with plain paper and pencil, designating a special notebook or diary for the purpose. Others might prefer to keep their records electronically, on a hand-held PDA (for which many programs are available), iPhone application or online. You can download some food diaries for free; others cost money, particularly those attached to diet-plan Web sites and those tied to nutrition databases that help calculate calories, carbs and other numbers key to your weight-management approach. (The federal government provides a fairly elaborate system as part of its My Food Pyramid Web site; it's free but requires registration.)

But there's yet another, perhaps simpler and certainly more immediate and graphic, way to record what you eat. As I write in today's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column, registered dietitian Cristin Dillon-Jones has for two years been documenting her every meal on Self magazine's "Eat Like Me" blog. Nothing fancy here: Dillon-Jones simply snaps a shot of whatever she's put together for breakfast, lunch, dinner or a snack and posts it, along with a brief description and some nutrition data, on the blog.

Before starting her blog, Dillon-Jones says, "I had definitely heard about photographing food as a way for a dietitian to follow [a client's] diet more closely. It's still not the standard, but it's really neat.

"With a food log," Dillon-Jones adds, "You can leave out a lot of information, like portion sizes. A picture shows a lot more, and it takes away some of that 'cheat factor' if you're inclined to cheat."

There's some science to support the notion that a photo food diary can help maintain healthy eating habits. Using your cell phone to record what you eat is a good option for folks who aren't likely to remember to write stuff down afterward.

Have you tried keeping a food diary? How has that worked out for you? Vote in today's poll and comment freely below.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  June 9, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Nutrition and Fitness  
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Food logs are helpful in those first few months where you are learning how to change your eating habits. There really isn't anything like seeing a graphical representation of what you're eating to help you really think about it.

The online food diaries, I think, are improving. I've been using FitDay on my current diet, and it really helps me visualize how many calories I eat in a day, especially since you can easily re-add items you eat frequently.

I will note here, though, that I'm an Internet professional. I am on my computer all day long - an online/computer based food log is something I use because it fits into the way my day works.

It's not perfect, but it's a tool. Once you get into the habit of eating better and understanding your limitations, you don't have to keep a food log. But a journal of this type really helps you.

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | June 9, 2009 5:13 PM | Report abuse

Rather than keeping track of what I ate (past tense), I plan out what I'm going to eat. Like most people, I have a repertoire of meals and snacks that I repeat. By modifying the meals so they are as healthy as possible, I don't have to count calories, points, etc.

I keep my small meals to around 200 calories each and my (once per day) large meal to around 600 calories, with a couple of 100 calorie snacks thrown in. Those add up to 1200 calories, but I allow some "fudge factor" in the numbers in case I eat a little more than planned - which means I'm still limiting my intake to around 1400-1500 calories per day. By being fit and staying moderately active every day, my BMR is burning every bit of that and more. So, when I feel like a little splurge, I can "go for it" guilt free.

Tammy Slater-Kendrick
Tens Diet founder

Posted by: TensDiet | June 13, 2009 1:29 PM | Report abuse

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