7 Benefits of Journaling Your Weight Loss Journey
I lost 90 pounds in 2014. Much of my success I attribute to keeping a food and exercise diary. I believe that if you burn more calories than you eat, you will lose weight. And there is no better way to keep track of all this than to write it down.
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I am a fan of journaling
It is no secret that I love to write and keep journals. I have journals, lists, logs and spreadsheets for most things that are important to me. I have done this since my first days in grade school when I started my first diary. And now, with chemo brain and aging, it is ever so important that I write things down. I keep a notebook beside me at most times. It is an eclectic book of meanderings, but, more importantly, it also keeps my food log handy.
Over the years, I have struggled with weight maintenance. I have done my fair share of fad diets and not-so-fad diets. The weight comes off… and then it comes right back on, sometimes with a vengeance, when I stop dieting.
So, in 2014, I decided NOT to diet. Instead, I lost my 90 pounds the old fashion way… controlling my portion size and calories, along with making healthy food choices and exercising. It is completely possible to do it this way.
And I lost this weight through hard work and journaling my weight loss journey.
7 Benefits of Journaling for Weight Loss
A study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that people who kept a food diary doubled the amount of weight they lost. More than two thirds of the study participants who journaled lost enough weight to reduce their risk for heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
Let’s explore more benefits of keeping a weight loss journal.
1. Tracking Weight Loss Math
Calories In – Calories Out
I know there is controversy about whether weight issues are solely a matter calories in – calories out. And I do know that metabolism and how we process our food is very complex. There are so many hormones, gut microbiome and other factors involved in weight loss, gain and maintenance, that it is impossible to go through it all in one blog post. Perhaps I will try to tackle that in a series of posts one day.
In the meantime, for most people, eating too many calories means weight gain. But we can burn off some of the calories we eat with exercise. Taking this simple concept, because I like to simplify things in my life, I lost 90 pounds by maintaining a calorie deficit.
What do I mean by calorie deficit? It means burning off more calories than you take in. It does not mean that you go hungry. I can’t stand the feeling of hunger. It means that you plan your meals, make wise food choices, exercise and write everything down. So, at the end of the day, you have burned more than you have consumed. Tracking all your calories in and calories out is necessary for this to work. But it does work. I am a living example.
When I said that I made wise food choices, balancing nutrition is what I meant. Eating a balance of protein, fat, carbohydrates and fibre is important to stay healthy.
I also needed to ensure that I ate enough calcium and iron, as the medications I was on robbed my body of these nutrients. So, I tracked my food to ensure that I was eating enough of these two minerals. There was no other way to ensure I was getting enough.
Or maybe it is worse. Getting too much of one nutrient can be just as bad for our health. I was bad with sugary foods in the beginning and my food logs alerted me to that fact every single day until I learned to be better at it.
2. Accountability in Weight Loss
We have a responsibility to ourselves for our health. No one can make us lose weight or choose healthy foods. We must decide this for ourselves.
We know we should be losing weight. Everywhere we look, in the news, doctor’s office, social media, we are told that it is not healthy to be overweight. Certainly, obesity has been linked to many diseases, including diabetes, heart disease and cancers. We know this! So, why don’t we stick to the plan and lose the weight?
Part of it is that we don’t hold ourselves accountable. In fairness, most of us don’t really know how to hold ourselves accountable. We seek out the help of organizations, such as Weight Watchers, to hold us accountable through weigh-ins and support groups.
But how do we do this ourselves without joining a program? If we can internalize our own accountability, we don’t rely on others to do it for us. This is the path to sustained weight loss and a healthier life.
Journaling is a tool to do this. We can hold ourselves accountable by logging our progress, pitfalls, and successes. It is easier to be responsible for our choices and progress if we see it in front of us.
These TrainRite Compact Fitness Journals are great.
I bought one to track my weight training.
3. Keeps Us Honest
Writing down our weight or calories consumed makes it real. That may sound silly; of course it’s real. This is data. These are facts. They are real whether we write them down or not.
However, if we don’t log the numbers, our minds can play tricks with us. We can more easily rationalize away those french fries or jelly-filled donuts we want to eat, for example. “I only had an egg and toast for breakfast, its okay to have this donut for a snack.” But those extra calories add up quickly. Especially when we forgot about all that extra fat we ate in the form of a fried egg and buttered toast.
And exercise can be easily manipulated. I get it. You are tired. So, doing less is too easy to hide and forget when it is not logged. “I went to the gym today. I am good!” But, you only did half the squats you were suppose to and only did 2/3 the cardio you were planning.
Maybe you excused it by saying that tomorrow you would do extra. But tomorrow comes, you are tired again and don’t do those extra squats or that extra cardio. These little minuses add up, leaving you wondering why the weight isn’t coming off.
Be honest with yourself. Use a journal to help keep you honest.
4. Identifies Areas of Struggle
I struggled with weight loss most of my adult life. I was a yo-yo-er. The weight came off. Then I stopped dieting and exercising, went back to my old habits and the weight came back on. I was frustrated with myself. It wasn’t until I logged my food that I saw where the problems were.
I am a carboholic. Logging my food through the day for a couple of weeks helped me to recognize this. I love carbs and I ate a lot of them in my previous years. It became very apparent in my journaling.
The other thing I noticed about myself is that I eat at night. I seem to have an uncontrollable appetite in the evening hours. It was through journaling that I was able to recognize this. Over half of my calories and carbs were consumed between 6:00 – 10:00pm. Recognizing this was the first step towards correcting it.
So, logging can help us figure out where we are struggling and why. Once I figured out where my issues were, I did a little self reflection to determine why. I could then take steps to correct the problem.
This little journal got rave reviews.
Hello New Me: 90 day food and activity tracker
5. A Daily Reminder
Making the commitment to log food and exercise daily can keep healthy habits in the front of our minds. Every time we make a log entry, we are reminded of our commitment to health.
Logging daily is important. Skipping a day here and there makes it easier to skip 2 days, then 3 days. Then, before you know it, you’ve stopped and you are back to your old habits.
Logging daily keeps us on track daily. You can’t stay on track today if you are writing it all down tomorrow.
6. Tracks Goals & Rewards
This is the best part of journaling; setting out some goals and rewards for achieving them. We all love to be rewarded for our efforts. Writing down some strategic and easily obtainable goals helps us keep an interest in our weight loss journey.
I wrote about setting goals for success in my article on Turn Dreams Into Reality with Goals Not Resolutions. In this article I show you how to develop actionable goals that are achievable. And it shouldn’t be a surprise that I tell you to write your goals and action steps down.
Journaling can increase our success rate by as much as 70%.
Some examples for reward levels may be:
- Time: daily, weekly, biweekly or monthly rewards for sticking with the plan
- Weight: losing 3, 5, 10, 15 or 20 pounds can all be rewarded along the journey
- Strength: bench pressing 50, 100, 125 or 150 pounds can be rewarded for improvements
- Cardio: running 1 mile, 3 miles, 6 miles or 10 miles can be rewarded as progress is made
Log your progress and reward yourself for a job well done. Try to pick non-food rewards.
7. Establishes Healthy Habits
Keeping a daily food and exercise journal has been the way to establishing healthy habits for me. Not only is it a daily reminder for me to eat healthy foods and to exercise, but it also helped me establish these things as habits.
Over time, I just did these things without even thinking about them. I just knew my calorie allowances. My meal calories became easier to calculate. I was able to keep my food choices within these calories. And I knew what exercises I needed to do to burn extra calories so I could eat the calories I loved.
It all became so instinctive for me. Logging helped me to form healthy food and exercise habits.
How to Journal for Weight Loss
There are so many different ways to journal our weight loss journeys. Old fashioned pen on paper, fancy bullet journals, computer spreadsheets and electronic apps are all valid ways to keep track of food and exercise.
Let’s briefly explore the pros and cons of each of these methods.
Diaries or Notebooks
Keeping a weight loss diary can be as simple as writing in a notebook. To help me get motivated, I like to purchase a pretty journal, but that isn’t necessary.
I have also used post-it notes that I place inside a notebook.
I write my food, exercise, calories, how I am feeling, goals, quotes or inspirations into my notebooks. I like blank page notebooks for this very reason; flexibility.
- Can be custom built for specific needs
- Can easily add goals, thoughts, ideas
- Keeps everything in one place
- Blank pages are not beginner friendly
- Need to learn what to track
- Calorie values are not readily available
To help get you started, I created a Personal Weight Loss Planner that you can download and print out. Click here for access to all the Pink Ribbon Runner printable templates.
If you search online for “Bullet Journal” or “BuJo” for short, you will see amazing pictures of what other people have come up with. Some of these journals are stunning and beautiful. I wish I had these skills.
A bullet journal is essentially a notebook with a specific system of personal organization developed by Ryder Carroll. It keeps all your lists, reminders, schedules, tasks, etc. in one notebook.
The one key feature of this type of journaling is an index, so that you can easily find what you need inside. Since food and exercise logging is a lifetime endeavour, having an index is a great help.
If you want to learn more about bullet journaling check out bulletjournal.com
- Has an index
- Can be custom built for specific needs
- Pretty (if you are artistic and have time)
- Keeps everything in one place
- Blank pages are not beginner friendly
- Can be time consuming to set up and use
- May require some graphing and art skills (optional)
- Must look up food and exercise calories separately
I have used computer spreadsheets before. I found them quick and easy to set up and use. But before I had Office products on my cell phone and tablet, I had to be sitting at my computer to input my data. I found I was doing double logging. I would write my food on a sticky note and then type it into the computer later in the day.
So, I ditched the computer spreadsheet. Just keeping a manual notebook was enough for me.
But if you love computer spreadsheets, then this is the method for you.
- Most people have a computer, tablet or smart phone
- Can be set up quickly
- Easy to log
- Can easily correct errors or change plan as needed
- Computers are costly
- Not always handy
- Technical knowledge of spreadsheet software
- Must look up food and exercise calories separately
Then I found apps on my phone and tablet that would do it all for me! Instead of looking up calorie and nutrient data separately, these wonderful and industrious web developers designed some apps to do it for us.
My favourite is MyFitnessPal, as it connects with my Garmin Connects account and automatically downloads my exercise calories. I am currently using the free version of this app to track my food and exercise.
I have also used SparkPeople and MyPlate. But I know there are others out there too. I just haven’t tried any others.
The photo to the right is a screenshot from my food diary on MyFitnessPal. > > >
- Easy to set up and use
- Math done for you
- Doesn’t take a lot of time
- Food nutrient and calories data readily available
- Some automatically add calories burned
- Some have badges as rewards for hitting milestones
- some need purchase or paid subscription
- limited in adding goals, thoughts and ideas
- many require different apps for exercise and food logging
What Should You Log in Your Weight Loss Journal?
I am currently using apps to log my exercise and food. But I use a notebook to log my goals, thoughts, ideas, inspirations and feelings. Even though I use two methods, I find it is the most time efficient method for me. But you need to do what works for you.
You don’t have to log everything, of course. Pick what works for you.
Here are some ideas of what you can log:
- what you ate for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, drinks
- calories of each food item or each meal
- total daily calories consumed
- macronutrients: protein, fat, carbohydrates, fiber
- specific micronutrients (e.g. vitamins and minerals) that are important to you
- menu plans
- grocery lists
- number of glasses of water consumed
- Cardio workouts
- Strength workouts
- Specific area of body worked on: legs, arms, core, etc.
- Calories burned each exercise
- Total daily calories burned
- Reps, data or statistics of each specific workout
Goals & Rewards
- End weight loss goal
- Weight loss goals broken down into smaller chunks
- Promises to yourself
- Action steps or to-do lists
- Reward levels and award when achieved
- Weigh-in data: weight, inches lost, measurements, BMI, etc.
How You Feel
- Daily emotions
- Inspirations & motivational quotes
- Energy levels
- Ideas for change
I hope you find a journaling method that works for you.
If you want more weight loss tips, check out the Pink Ribbon Runner Weight Loss Archives.
Great idea! Journaling can make a huge difference in your life.
I will have to give this a try! I’ve been wanting to lose weight since I had my baby in January, so this would really help with my motivation. Thanks for sharing!
Love this! Thank you for sharing such an incredible story! 🙂
So many great tips, I love how you have given so many options and the pros and cons of each to help make the best decision. Journalling is such a great way to stay on task! Great post!
Journaling is such a great way of being open and honest with ourselves. Really enjoyed the wealth of information here.
Quite comprehensive article, it’s hard to make handwritten notes in today’s time with so many apps but I guess you are right. I have struggled with weight since childhood and have reduced it 3-4 times only to gain it again. Maybe if I would have written down my struggles and feelings in reducing my weight the first time I wouldn’t have gained again.
I use myfitnesspal to track my food. Truly, keeping track makes a huge difference.
Helpful blog! I love tracking my food on “My Fitness Pal” app! I do however tell people to get rid of their scale because the number can change all the time due to so many different reasons. Water weight, bathroom experience, ect. Progress pictures are life! 🙂
Good point about the number on the scale. Yes, that number can fluctuate due to so many factors. Hoping to write a blog post about that some day. Soon!
I could not agree more! Fail to plan and plan to fail, especially when it comes to nutrition and weight loss goals. If i plan out what I’m eating in my journal the night before, I don’t grab mindless snacks out of the pantry or forget to eat because nothing is prepared. You’ve got some really great points in here that I will be adding to my current practice too. Thanks!
I too am a big fan of journaling! (I’ve published 3 so far on Amazon), I realize it is a definite benefit when tracking weight loss goals. Thank you for sharing such an insightful post.
Love this, I too journal with both a little book I keep in my purse and then when I have time, I add to an app. I need to get better at taking pictures to show progress. I’ve lost 24 so far but want to lose another 20 and whenever I take pics I hate them and delete…
I do track my food on My Fitness pal. It’s a great way to keep track of your macros and see how much protein,fats,carbs you’re actually eating! 🙂 Great blog post!
I love journaling. While your post dealt with journaling and weight loss, keeping a journal is a great way to work your way through problems.
I’m doing WW, so I’m definitely recording everything I eat and all of the activity I do. It really makes you reflect on what you’re putting into your system. I think it’s a great idea to journal and include more in-depth information about the food journey.
Wow this is great I’m actually on a calorie deficit now and I’m tracking stuff every day
Journaling is certainly a great tool that can aid us in our weight loss journeys. Too often do we find ourselves stuck when trying to lose weight but being able to look back and see where can improve is a big help in getting over past those plateaus. Thanks for sharing these helpful tips for weight loss journaling.
This is a very insightful post!!
Journaling is helpful in many ways. Never thought of it in the context of losing weight. I’ll start doing this. Thank you!