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5 Tips for Weight Loss Journaling

What comes to mind when you think of a weight loss journal?

A succession of photos? A food log? Calorie calculations? Daily reflections? Goal visions? A compendium of successes and setbacks along the way?

The truth is, a weight loss journal can be anything you want it to be. Above all, however, it should be a positive resource that helps you strategize for success.

In the midst of your daily workouts and meal planning, a weight loss journal encourages you to take time to connect with yourself, your behavior patterns, and your developing strengths.

Over time, it becomes a record of discovery – discovery of what thinking motivates you, of what strategies work for you, and of what vision directs your new, healthy life.

1. Use it to track your behavior, not just calories.

I’ve had a number of clients who spent countless hours tracking minute details of their food intake down to the very last calorie. They had a razor sharp focus on the caloric outcome of each day.

Truthfully, their discipline and meticulousness impressed me, but their technical vision lost the forest through the trees. In each case, our discussion revolved around putting aside rigorous calorie counting and focusing on food selection itself. Those single numbers they organized their eating around did them a disservice. They would deliberately restrict calories – but also nutrient dense foods like healthy fats – just to get their target number below a certain amount.

Journaling at its most effective (and encouraging) shouldn’t read like a spreadsheet.

A better approach would be recording compliance to measurable behavior goals like “eat 1 1/2 cups of colorful veggies with every meal” or “drink at least 40 oz of water before noon” or “take at least 15 minutes to finish a meal.” It’s pretty clear when we focus on behaviors, the outcomes are more likely to happen – and stick. These behaviors are designed to cultivate habits that increase nourishment – the opposite of restriction.

If you journal your food, do so with the intent to change behavior rather than restrict calories or fat grams.

2. Look for bright spots (and repeat them).

Too many people scour their records for missteps only to wallow in their shortfalls. The goal of a weight loss journal, however, shouldn’t ever be punative.

Take a more positive approach by focusing on observing successes – and repeating them.

You may have to partner with an optimistic supporter to see these in your own journal, but it will be worth it. An example of a bright spot in your journal would be recognizing that you actually made your dinner and added colorful veggies even though you only had 15 minutes to prepare it!

Let’s break that down: 1) your time was limited, but you still made the choice to avoid the drive-thru, 2) you prepared something yourself, and 3) you added veggies. How did that happen (e.g. what did you tell yourself in that moment, what did you have on hand at home, what planning had you done that made it easier), and – most importantly – how can we make more of that happen in the future?

Reflecting on and recording the how-tos of your past success give you a roadmap for future successes.

3. Read between the lines.

Better yet, record “between the lines.” Go beyond documenting the obvious (e.g. calories, grams, ounces, cups, etc.), and add how you feel, what your mood and energy are like, how much sleep you got, what your stress level is, how fun your workout felt, and the like.

If you do this regularly, you’ll begin to see patterns and connections that will guide you toward making better choices across the board. For example, when you go to bed by 10 o’clock, you’re less likely to get cravings the following day or if you work out over your lunch hour you don’t need that afternoon coffee or sugary snack to make it over the mid-afternoon hump.

Document the way you thrive in the new choices and elements you’re adding to your life.

Likewise, let yourself revel in the focus on yourself. In my experience, people do far too little reflection as they embark on health and fitness journeys. It’s not just about logistical changes.

Appreciate the journey as an investment in genuine self-care. Look at all the angles of that. How does it feel to invest in yourself? Take the chance daily to bask in the glow of your efforts, and be proud of the choice you’ve made and the effort you put into it! Be connected with yourself in this process.

4. Share it with someone who won’t judge.

I’ve had clients who were downright ashamed to share their food records with me. Why? Mostly it’s due to their belief that, as a dietitian, I eat perfectly and I might judge them for their choices. (Confession: I’m not perfect either.)

Some clients have had experiences in other weight loss programs in which a staff member looked over their food journal and simply marked it up with red pen sad faces, exclamation points, or other color commentary.

Let me state definitively: the journal is for you – not a professional you consult. Journaling should be about you developing a process-oriented “how-to” book on caring for yourself.

The dietician or personal trainer should be a helpful resource but not the target audience. Own your journal the way you own your weight loss process.

5. Use it to get ahead.

My favorite trick to throw in once people are seeing even minor successes from journaling is to get them to use their journal as a secret weapon to bullet-proof themselves. If you’re becoming an expert at documenting what you did do (and it’s working), why not try documenting what you will do in anticipation of that tough day of meetings, tricky week of travel, or next trip to the grocery store?

People are often shocked by this activity because these are usually people who carefully anticipate and plan nearly every other facet of their lives. I’m talking about amazing folks who can tell you what their three-year business plan entails or how they plan to get each of their four kids off to different sports tournaments within a two-hour period this weekend. That said, they can’t seem to plan where their next vegetable will come from.

Simple journaling activities and meal planning can have a profound impact on compliance to your goal behaviors. In short, use your journal to write your destiny.

Finally, the “Day-to-Day Journal” is one of the central tools Life Time Weight Loss uses to facilitate reflection and daily compliance with one’s health goals. In this book (or in a blank journal) you can document your behavioral changes and goal compliance on a daily and weekly basis. Participants in LTWL are encouraged to bring their journals to their weekly support groups for personal and positive feedback from one of our knowledgable professionals. Talk to a fitness professional about the weight loss programs offered in Life Time locations near you.

Are you interested in more ideas or support around creating (or making better use of) a weight loss journal? See one of our dietitians or fitness professionals today.

In health, Paul Kriegler, RD – Corporate Registered Dietician

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.