Most people have a love/hate relationship with food logging. Some view it as cumbersome, time consuming, and simply difficult to remember to do. Others find it quite helpful, allowing them to stay on track and achieve their goals.
As a registered dietitian, I am aware of the research supporting the benefits of food logging. In a 2008 study, researchers found that one of the “significant predictors” of weight loss “included… more food records kept per week.” Another study from 2018 concluded that “The frequency of self-monitoring is significantly related to weight loss.”
I am also aware, however, that many patients find being consistent with food logging a challenge for a variety of reasons. Despite the challenges, I encourage tracking food intake for everyone, even if just for a week. Following are some of the benefits patients can get from food logging.
Tracking food intake makes people stop and think, ‘Do I want to write that down?’ before they consume a food item. When a food journal is shared with a dietitian or other trusted support person, it can encourage people to stay on track: knowing that someone else will be looking at their food intake is a form of accountability. Even if the food journal is kept private, the act of writing food down can be enough to help a motivated patient stay on track.
Awareness & Insight
When mindless eating is an obstacle, food tracking can be a helpful solution. Tracking food requires an individual to become aware of when, what and how much they are eating. It can be an eye-opening experience to discover that eating 1 cup of trail mix will add over 600 calories to the day.
Tracking can also help provide insight for emotional and boredom eaters. In addition to tracking food type and amount, I encourage patients to track hunger level and emotions when eating. Is eating out of hunger alone? Or are hunger levels low, and emotions high, especially when consuming more indulgent foods? Increasing awareness of when and where these situations occur is the first step in finding solutions.
Many people are often unaware of the nutritional content of the foods they consume. When someone is not an avid reader of nutrition facts labels, they may be unaware that Vitamin D milk is significantly higher in calories than skim, or that almond milk does not contribute the healthy fats, fiber and protein that whole almonds do, or the high fat and calorie content of their favorite fast food meals. When food tracking is initiated, more time is spent on reading nutrition facts labels and looking up nutrition information, which will in turn increase knowledge (both good and bad) of all foods consumed.
The purpose of food logging is not to encourage a strict diet with no ‘cheating.’ Food logging can help a person look at their overall diet and find ways to incorporate ‘fun’ foods on occasion. When the majority of food choices are nutritious, there can be room for small amounts of less nutritious foods, even after bariatric surgery.
Food logging can offer an opportunity for planning. Some of my patients have found it helpful to enter food the night before. Using this method, the day is already outlined, which takes a lot of the challenging ‘food decisions’ out of the day.
Food logging is one of the best ways surgery patients can find success, both before and after surgery. Food logging establishes accountability. Food logging increasing awareness, insight and knowledge. Food logging encourages planning while allowing for flexibility. All of these benefits are why food logging is one of the most important tools in a patient’s weight loss journey.
By: Jennifer Tveitnes, RD, LD
 Hollis, Jack et. al. Weight Loss During the Intensive Intervention Phase of the Weight-Loss Maintenance Trial. American Journal of Preventative Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2515566/ August 2008. Accessed 18 August 2021.
 Harvey, Jean et. al. Log Often, Lose More: Electronic Dietary Self-Monitoring for Weight Loss. Obesity. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/oby.22382 25 February 2019. Accessed 18 August 2021.