Of the many things you can do to start getting healthy, one of the simplest ways is to just start writing down what you eat throughout the day. Not just breakfast, lunch and dinner, but all the little snacks and bites in between. You don’t need some fancy or expensive journal to do this either – it can be a simple notebook or even just loose leaf paper.

food-journalI like Moleskine notebooks, so I generally keep one with me throughout the day. As I’m eating, I write down what it is I’m having. This way, I don’t have to try and remember everything I had throughout the day. It only takes a quick second and I can then flip back through my daily entries to see how I did. I generally divide the page by meal (including mid-morning, mid-afternoon and late night snacks as necessary) and I also like to put a little “emoji” next to each section to indicate how I felt about what I ate. (Smiley face, sad face, “bleh” face, etc.)

A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine shows that out of nearly 1,700 people who participated in a weight loss program, those that wrote down what they ate in a food diary at least six days per week lost twice as much weight as those who only wrote down their nutritional intake one day per week.

Why does it work? Well, for one, if you have to write down “4 Krispy Kreme Donuts” in your food journal then you might think twice about having all four of them. There’s a level of accountability that you create for yourself. You’ll find that within a couple of days, you’re thinking a little more about your choices. Within a couple of weeks, that “thinking” becomes almost subconscious and you’ll make better choices more naturally.

I’ve also found that my little “emojis” next to each section help me to understand how I feel after eating that food (and therefore how I feel about eating that food). When I know that a given food makes me feel really tired or sluggish, upsets my stomach or just isn’t all that enjoyable, then I’m a lot less likely to repeat that. Writing it down helps to reinforce that.

My last bit of advice is to start with pen and paper, not an app. Eventually you may decide that you want to use an app to make things easier. But as you get started, I’ve found that the physical act of writing down what I eat actually helps me think about it more. It’s easy to delete an entry from an app, but once you write it down in your notebook, you’ll have to physically rip that page out and throw it away to get rid of it. Something about the “permanence” of ink and paper is a good motivator.