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I tried many times to “go on a diet” as a teenager, banning chocolate, crisps, fizzy drinks, and other school-day staples. This usually lasted until morning break…
Diet plans have never worked for me. You know the sort of thing, found in every magazine and newspaper supplement at the start of January… They tend not to be practical if you lead a busy life, working in an office without access to state-of-the-art kitchen facilities at lunchtime, and cooking for people other than just yourself in the evening.
Eventually, I lost weight by keeping a food diary. This doesn’t have to be complicated: you just need to jot down what you eat, and how much. (And there’s even some food diary templates at the bottom of this post to make life even easier for you!) You can log what you eat for several purposes:
Weight loss – record calories
If you’re aiming to lose weight, you need to keep track of calories. I had a couple of abortive attempts at dieting via food-diary when I didn’t do this – and my efforts petered out after a few days.
Almost all products have calorie information on the packaging, usually by portion as well as by 100g. Fresh fruit and veggies, fresh bread, and so on appear in tables of calories – just make sure you weigh the portions. You might want to invest in a book (try the magazine shelves) with calorie counts.
If the maths all seems a bit complicated or time consuming, there are online tools which can help. My favourite website is www.weightlossresources.co.uk – I’ve joined it on and off over the years when trying to drop a few pounds. You can also find a number of already-calorie-counted recipies to the recipes section of The Office Diet.
Eating more healthily – look for patterns
It’s unfortunately very possible to have a poor diet despite being in an “OK” weight range. Perhaps your new years’ resolution was to cut down on fat, or up your fibre intake. In this case, recording calories is fairly redundant, but you should keep track of grams of fat/sugar/fibre or units of alcohol per day. Writing down the time of day that you ate each meal or snack means you can look back and identify patterns: maybe you prepare good food at home but eat sugary snacks in the office, or perhaps your best source of fibre is the cereal you usually skip for breakfast.
Food and mood – how do you feel?
I’ve noticed over the past few weeks how strongly what I eat affects my mood. If I have a lot of chocolate (which happened on more than a couple of occasions over the festive period), I feel lethargic and mentally foggy for the next few hours. Conversely, when I eat fresh fruit and vegetables, I feel focused and enthused.
If you feel unmotivated, down, or lacklustre, it might be to do with the foods you’re eating. Try keeping a “food and mood” diary: write down the times you eat, and also write down your mood at different times of the day. After a week, assess it: do you turn to chocolate when you’re feeling down? Or do you eat chocolate when you’re bored, then feel sleepy and sick half-an-hour later?
Food diary templates
I’ve created three simple versions of a food diary template, for a Monday-Sunday week. You can download it in Word or Excel format. These are the templates that I use for my own food tracking, and I hope you find them as useful as I do!
- Weight loss (with calorie column) Word – Excel
- Healthier eating (with total grams/units column) Word – Excel
- Food and mood (with a column for mood) Word – Excel
Want to know more about food diaries and healthy eating?
My ebook Dieting Basics has a section on “Keeping a food and exercise diary”, and is packed with 88 pages of advice on good nutrition, exercise and motivation. Grab your copy today – it’s just $4.