It’s the most low tech weapon you have in your fight to dominate your nutrition. It’s basically free, anyone can use it, it provides instant results, and yet, how many people out there actually use one?

It’s basic. Proven. And works like a son of a gun.

Here are 3 organic, free-range benefits to unleashing a food journal on your diet.

1. Opens your eyes to what you are actually eating.

When you start detailing out your meals, and portion sizes, some things will immediately pop out at you. Most notably: you eat poorly more often than you think, and you eat well far less than you realize.

This moment sucks. I’ll admit it. Realizing that our assumptions were all wrong is a swift kick to the pride.

But it’s necessary. Change only happens when we have the guts to grow some self-awareness and objectively assess what the in the cheese-curd we are putting into our mouth-holes.

In fact, this awareness is so key that dietitians and nutritionists list it numero uno in terms of effective weight loss strategies.

2. You learn that you aren’t always eating because of hunger.

One of the most revelatory moments that comes with journaling your meals is drawing the connection between your mood, environment and even the people you are with and what you are eating.

It might surprise you to see in printed form that you don’t always eat because you are hungry.

Stress, for instance, is one of the more common triggers for mindless eating. So is environment. When you have a bowl of chips sitting out on the counter you are going to peck away at them regardless of whether you are hungry or not.

We eat what we see, after all.

When detailing what you are eating, write down where ya were (i.e. list any environmental factors that contributed to what you ate) and how you were feeling.

This self-awareness (there is that magical word again!) will help you to make smarter decision moving forward.

3. Gives you a feeling of control over your nutrition (finally).

The feeling of having your meal history might stink a little bit at first, as you experience the first stage of food journaling—placid shame and guilt. But something else starts to happen pretty quickly, a feeling that will leave you feeling pretty, well, awesome.

Control.

We all, in some measure and at some point, struggle mightily to manage and control our diet. We allow our cravings to dictate terms to us, leaving us feeling helpless and at the whims of the often-times incomprehensible whims of our hunger pangs. (In my case: A full large pizza in one sitting? Like, really?)

Writing out your meals will give you a sense of control that was lacking when you ate according to what you felt like, or worse, what your blood sugar levels was screaming out for.

How to Make the Most of Your Food Journal

Here are some power tips for making the most of this tool:

1. Keep it simple. Avoid the urge to go bananas with details. Stick to the basics; macros, portions, the “why” and “where” of your meals. Getting crazy with excess details makes the habit of writing out your meals less sustainable over the long term.

2. Accuracy matters. Write out your meals as soon as you can after eating. This will inject mini-bursts of accountability over the course of the day, and also insure that you are doing accurate record keeping. Similar to if you were keeping a log book in the gym, the sooner you measure it, the more accurate your records and results.

3. Note how you were feeling with specific meals. This is particularly key for people who food sensitivities, allergies, or eating a ton of really, really crappy food. Record how you were feeling after each meal. Drawing the connection between how you ate and how you ended up feeling will encourage you to eat with performance in mind, and also reinforce that what you crave isn’t always what your body needs. This aspect is particularly key for you athletes out there—if there are meals that are producing higher-than-expected performances during your workout routines it would be well worth knowing, no?

 

4. Regularly review and share. If you are working with a coach, a trainer, or even better a dietitian, go over your food diary with them regularly. They will be able to provide feedback on top of the knowledge you are gleaning from the pages of the book.