Finish this sentence. “Today I ate _____.” Do you know? Can you even remember? After a long day of work, you may find it hard to remember where you parked much less what you had for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and in between. Many of us are so busy that we go through the day not paying much attention to what or when we eat. Unfortunately, this lack of attention has led to many expanded waistlines. If you're struggling with extra weight and are ready to make a change, a food journal is a must.

Keeping a food journal is an important tool for any weight loss program as well as lifelong maintenance. It not only helps you monitor your caloric intake, but it also gives you insight into why, when, where, and how you eat. Being aware of your eating patterns can make it easier for you to identify the issues that may be holding you back from reaching your goal weight, and, in turn, help you make the necessary diet and lifestyle changes. Your food journal should include:

  • Food Log — Record what you eat throughout the day. Be specific and include everything, even condiments, chewing gum, and candy. Many people eat healthily at mealtime but don’t choose the right snacks. Every mini Snickers, handful of nuts, or spoonful of ice cream can add up to unwanted pounds.
  • Liquid Calories — Record everything you drink, including water. Remember, everything counts
  • Calorie Consumption — List the item, serving size, and calories of each item. Although you may just want to eyeball it and guess, if you want to make a change, you need to weigh the food. This way you know exactly how many servings you're eating. Compare your food journal to the USDA's MyPlate guide. Are you eating a well-balanced diet? Where do you have room to improve?
  • Time — When do you eat? Do you binge at night because you have not eaten all day? Recording this can help you better see patterns in your eating habits.
  • Social Level — Are you alone or with someone when you eat? Sometimes what we eat is affected by whom we are with at the time.
  • Activity and Location — What are you doing when you are eating? Do you eat breakfast in the car, lunch at your desk, and dinner in front of the television? Are you paying attention when you are eating?
  • Mood — How do you feel before, during, and after eating? Paying attention to your moods can help you better determine why you are making the food choices you are making or eating at the times you are.
  • Calories Burned — In addition to recording calories consumed, you should record the calories you are burning through exercise. Record your daily activity, the duration of the activity, and the calories burned during the exercise.