6 Science-Backed Reasons You Need to Rethink Your Food Journal

6 Science-Backed Reasons You Need to Rethink Your Food Journal

What if I told you there was a simple task that you could do several times a week that would make a huge difference in helping you lose weight?

Or keep that weight off, once you reach your goal?

In fact, it’s a task that study after study – dating back to at least the 1970s – has validated. But at the same time, it’s something that almost every course I’ve taken over the years says you likely WILL NOT do.

This tool is absolutely FREE, but the fact people don’t/won’t use it has spawned an entire industry that makes billions of dollars a year. 

You’ve seen the title of this post, so you already know what it is.

It’s keeping a food journal.

But wait! Before you click off, here’s something to know:

If you can just keep a food journal SOME of the time – it doesn’t have to be ALL of the time – it can make a real difference.

See what I did there? Like, kind of beg you NOT to shrug this off?

As a trainer and fitness coach, this is part of my job. I’ve spent years soothing people about this topic. I’ve been apologetic. I’ve clicked my tongue, telling them I know how hard it is, oh and how I wish it wasn’t so. I’ve held their hands and searched desperately to find a spoonful of magic to help this medicine go down.

Some bullet points why food journals kick butt: 

  • You can eat a flexible diet (still enjoy your favorites) while achieving your physique goals.
  • Nothing is banned from your diet.
  • They give you data – you can see little ways to tweak your program to attain maximum results.
  • AND … they help you follow my training/nutrition maxim: How to do the least to get the most.

See why I’m feeling a little tired of soft-selling food journaling?

“But it’s so hard, Wendy. I don’t have time. I’ve tried but I just can’t stick with it.”

Grown-Up Wisdom From My Father

I know it can be challenging, but most worthwhile things are.

Did you ever see the TV show That 70s Show?  Red, the dad in the show, was a lot like my father.

I hated going to school. Like: HATED. And some days he didn’t love his job so much and would have preferred to stay in his garage, tinkering.

And yet every morning he would drive me to school, listening to me complain/whine/beg not to go. And there he’d be, on his way to a job he didn’t always love, listening to me.

He would tell me: “Sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do.”

And it’s true. The way I look at it is this:

  • If you want clean clothes, you have to wash them when they get dirty, even if you’d rather be doing something else.
  • If you want to save up for vacation, you have to cut back on spending elsewhere so you can sock money away.
  • And if you want to earn some money, you have to go to work.

The only guaranteed way to get the results you want is to take the tested-by-time approach.

Like keeping a food journal, yes?

Oh and one more thing before I get into the nut of this: I have to keep a food journal, too. And guess what? I don’t always (ever) feel like it. But when I don’t keep one, my weight starts to creep up.

So I’m not asking you to do anything I don’t do myself. I have to follow the rules, too. 

Science-Backed Proof that Food Journals Work

As science has established, to lose weight you have to create a calorie deficit. That means, basically, burning more calories than you take in. Even if those calories are gluten-, sugar-, dairy-, and even carb-free.

Question: How do you know if you’re eating less than you are burning, unless you keep some kind of record?

Let me ask you another question (or three). Have you ever stood on the scale after “dieting” for a week, praying to see the scale go down?

And then it didn’t?

It’s a total bummer, right? Especially if you’re not sure what went wrong.

This is where a food journal comes in. If you write down everything you eat, then you have a pretty good idea if you’re eating at a calorie deficit.

It only makes sense, because you have actual DATA to work with.

Here’s another thing: it doesn’t matter how fancy your food journal is. You can keep a paper record, although studies show it can be time-consuming and cumbersome. Or you can use an app or website to record your food intake.

You don’t even have to keep a meticulous record every day of the week. Studies show that keeping a record 75 percent of the time seems to be the sweet spot (see study below).

I’m gonna get into the particulars of how to keep a food journal below, but I wanted to share with you some real science. If you don’t want to read it, just scroll on past it. 🙂 

6 Actual Quotes from Actual Scientific Studies/Reviews

There are dozens and dozens of studies showing the efficacy of food journaling. In fact, it was challenging to choose just a few to include here, so I picked 6 at random to show you.

Like, seriously, in less than 10 minutes on a Sunday morning, I came up with these.

If you want to find more of your own, here are some search terms to google: “self-monitoring weight loss nih ncbi,” and “food journal weight loss nih ncbi.” NIH = National Institutes of Health, NCBI = National Center for Biotechnology Information.

The language used by researchers is a little dense, so I’ve included only tidbits, but you can click the links for more.

1. Dietary Self-Monitoring and Long-Term Success with Weight Management

This study looked at weight maintenance AFTER weight loss.

“Higher total frequency of (dietary) self-monitoring was significantly associated with lower percent weight change within individuals who self-monitored consistently, but had little impact on weight change for those who did not self-monitor consistently (1).”

So, those who logged their food gained back less of the weight.

Also in this study, it was noted:

2. The Role of Self-Monitoring in the Maintenance of Weight Loss Success

“… Self-monitoring can play a key role in successful long-term weight management. These initial results support previous research demonstrating self-monitoring as an effective tool to promote weight loss (citing the study above). However, it extends beyond prior studies in illustrating the beneficial impact of self-monitoring on long-term weight loss (2).”

Basically, study participants who self-monitored their food intake for longer periods of time got better results.

3. Comparison of techniques for self-monitoring eating and exercise behaviors on weight loss in a correspondence-based intervention

“Findings suggest the self-monitoring process, rather than the detail of self-monitoring, is important for facilitating weight loss and change in eating and physical activity behaviors …. A reasonable target for consistency for self-monitoring within the context of a professional cognitive-behavioral treatment program may be self-monitoring all foods eaten on at least 75% of the days (3).”

4. The Effect of Electronic Self-Monitoring on Weight Loss and Dietary Intake: A Randomized Behavioral Weight Loss Trial

“In summary, in our study that used 3 different approaches to self-monitoring diet and exercise, each group achieved a significant weight loss … These findings suggest that use of an electronic diary facilitates improved self-monitoring however, the use of an electronic diary plus a daily feedback message that was tailored to what had been entered in the diary was related to the best weight loss (4).”

People in this study who received immediate feedback after they completed a food diary did the best. Some online apps offer this feedback for free, or as part of their premium services (like MyFitnessPal, Fitbit, or more).

5. Can following the caloric restriction recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans help individuals lose weight?

“Individuals who averaged an energy deficit in excess of 500 kcal per day lost nearly four times the weight as individuals whose average energy deficit was below 500 kcal per day. Individuals who lost 5% of their body weight during the intervention self-monitored more than twice as many days than individuals who failed to lose 5% of their body weight.

Individuals interested in losing weight should continue to be advised to regularly self-monitor energy intake and expenditure as well as to create a consistent daily energy deficit (5).”

6. Self-Monitoring and Eating-Related Behaviors Associated with 12-Month Weight Loss in Postmenopausal Overweight-to-Obese Women

“Greater food journal use predicted better weight loss outcomes while skipping meals and eating out more frequently were associated with less weight loss. This study identified specific behaviors linked to weight outcomes that can inform the development of practical, evidence-based weight loss recommendations for overweight/obese postmenopausal women. From a clinical point of view, these findings are promising and suggest fundamentals such as eating out less, eating at regular intervals, and use of food journals are weight loss strategies that may be effective for postmenopausal women (6).”

How To Keep a Food Journal

Pretty convincing stuff, huh?

It’s so convincing that I actually feel guilty about trying to find workarounds my clients will use. I almost feel like I’m selling them short.

Why? Workarounds take longer. They are less precise, so when the weight doesn’t come off, it’s hard to know exactly why.

And it’s super hard to stay motivated when you’re not getting any results.

But before I get into all THAT, here are things to keep in mind when it comes to keeping a food journal.

Rule One: Don’t Judge Yourself

Yes, keeping a food journal does require that you ‘fess up to every bite you eat.

But it doesn’t mean you’re “bad” or “good” or that any kinds of foods are inherently “bad” or “good.” There really are no BAD foods (well, k, maybe trans fats …), but there are foods with better or worse nutritional and health benefits.

At least to start with, you’re just entering data when you’re keeping a food journal.

Think of it as an educational process.

Every time I revisit my food journal, I’m surprised at how I’ve let my portion sizes creep up, inadvertently taking in more than I thought.

Using a food journal can help you stick with a program because it doesn’t ban specific foods. You don’t have to deprive yourself of your favorites.

If you really want to eat a slice of pizza, you will have to deal with the fact it contains a certain number of calories, and trade them off somewhere else.

But you still get to eat your pizza. It’s a matter of choice.

Rule Two: It’s Not About Perfection

This ties into the rule above.

We’re all human. We have complicated relationships with food.

Contrary to what anyone says, food is not just fuel. We celebrate with it, we enjoy it, we have memories and happy (or not-so-happy) associations with it.

The minute you start trying to be perfect or follow stringent rules is the minute you derail yourself. That’s because your mind starts thinking you’re either “on” a plan or “off” a plan. And when we go “off” a plan, it often means we’ve strapped on the ol’ feedbag.

Food journaling allows you to create a lifestyle that supports your weight goals, where you don’t have to be “on” or “off.”

Rule Three: Foods Are Not Just Calories

It’s very easy to start reducing food to the number of calories it contains. You can start to think that eating a cookie is the equivalent of spending 45 minutes on level 5 of the elliptical.

As I mentioned above, food is more complicated than that.

What you eat forms the building blocks of your body. The kind of food you eats affects how full you feel after you eat it, your mood, and, most importantly, your health.

Certain foods (like sugary and processed foods) can even make you gain weight in your belly. And other foods (like proteins) can help you maintain muscle while you lose weight. Some foods can keep your digestive system happy, others are good for your brain health, and yet others will make your skin glow with health.

So while it might be tempting to start seeing “calorie equivalents” on everything you eat, keep in mind that 150 calories worth of banana is much different to your body than 150 calories worth of chocolate chip cookie.

Simple Steps to Make Food Journaling Work

I highly recommend experimenting till you find a method that works for YOU.

Personally, I like to use the food journals offered by Fitbit or MyFitnessPal. I also happen to prefer the computer version vs. the phone app, because at least in their current forms they break down the info better. But there are dozens of free options available.

I prefer online/app journals because they’re portable and they do a lot of math for you. Plus, once you use them for a couple days, they store the foods you regularly eat, so it becomes increasingly easier/faster to log your foods.

Now, here’s something important to be aware of: most of these sites will try to have you set a daily calorie goal immediately.

I recommend holding off on that for a bit. Sometimes the goals the sites set up for you can be pretty aggressive, setting you up for failure right out of the gate.

My suggestion: for 3 days, record everything you eat. Don’t try to be “good” unless you can’t help yourself. 

Chances are you’ll be a little shocked to see how many calories some of your go-to foods contain.

The next step, if you want to lose weight or change your body composition, is to start to refine your food intake. I’ve created a calculator for women you can find here to help you do this (I am working on one for guys).

But my recommendation with THAT is not to get too spun out about your macronutrient breakdown, especially at first.

Keep It Simple for a Happy Life

If you want to lose weight, experts recommend a 300- to 500-calorie deficit a day, which works out to about 1 pound a week. If you fall into the obese category, you can create a slightly larger deficit.

So, you would try to find ways to cut that number of calories from your average daily food intake, as recorded on your 3 first days. Do that for a few days and see how you feel.

Then, experiment.

You might notice that some breakfasts keep you feeling fuller longer.

Or you might discover if you don’t eat enough during the day, you’re super hungry at night.

You might notice that if you don’t drink enough water during the day, you crave carbs.

When you start paying attention to these things, you’ll start noticing real results.

And THEN, once you master the process, you can start to put together an eating program that works for you and your everyday life.

Flexible Food Journaling Is The Key

This is about creating a healthy lifestyle that supports your weight/body goals, not about depriving yourself.

Why? The more rigid your eating plan is, the harder it is with stick to long-term. And when you go “off” your plan you’re more apt to regain any weight you’ve lost.

Instead, try using your food journal as a way to let YOU run your food intake, and not let your food intake run you.

Have you had success using a food journal? I’d love to hear about it!

How Many Calories Do You Need? Try This Macronutrient Calculator

How Many Calories Do You Need? Try This Macronutrient Calculator

No matter how “healthy” you eat, if changing your body composition – losing fat, gaining muscle – is a goal, it won’t happen until you get a handle on how you’re fueling your body.

To lose weight (and fat), you have to eat less fuel than you burn.

How Many Calories Do You Need?

I created this calculator to help you see how many calories you actually need during the course of a day, along with a handy macronutrient calculator so you can try to get the ideal amount of protein, fat, and carbs based on your goals.

When it comes to choosing a macronutrient profile that suits you, remember: each one of us has a unique operating system.

If you’re trying to lose weight and are healthy, you can help stay full and maintain muscle by eating a higher (not necessarily high!) protein diet. 

But there’s no need to overload your body with protein (or fat!). Experiment and see what works best for you!

Note: the calculations for women are different than men, so I’ve tailored this specific calculator for women. If there’s enough interest I’ll make one for men too 🙂 

How Do You Track Your Macros?

Exactly how you follow your macros is another post for another day, but a good app to use is either Fitbit’s food log or MyFitnessPal. If you’re overwhelmed by the idea of tracking your macronutrient protocol, just focus on the calories.

I figured out how to do it myself, after monkeying around with some nutrition calculators. Honestly, I think that’s the best way but there can be a high frustration level.

I’ve written a super-cheap book on how to track your macros (the link is in the menu bar) but I’ll also put together an easy-to-follow post in the near future. I just wanted to get this calculator out to you!

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Here’s What to Do When You Don’t Want to Work Out

Here’s What to Do When You Don’t Want to Work Out

It’s snowy and cold out – but you’re nice and toasty inside, bundled up in a warm sweater.

And you really don’t want to go to the gym.

Because going to the gym means loading your gear up into the bag, trudging out to the car, driving to the gym, changing into your workout gear in a cold locker room, then getting sweaty, and then changing again (or not) before shivering on the way home.

Sounds like so much fun, right?

Well, guess what? In a couple months, the results will be fun.

Don’t skip your workouts. 

Consistency Wins the Game

I hate cold winter weather. And some days – especially days when the temp is hovering near zero and my body feels creaky – I don’t feel like working out.

But then I look around me at the people who are crushing their goals. And all of them feel good, have tons of energy, and basically vibrate with life.

Their one unifying trait? They are all consistent in their efforts, day in and day out.

Every person who has ever achieved goals has had to do things they didn’t feel like doing. 

When we were kids, we had parents pushing us along to make sure we did those things.

But as adults, we have to push ourselves – and that’s hard.

The truth is, anyone can do the workouts that they WANT to do, when it’s convenient and easy.

The Secret to Results

But it’s the workouts that you don’t feel like doing that that groove a lifestyle, which in turn creates real, lasting results and a healthy, happy body.

Plus: a workout will pretty much always lift your sagging bad-weather spirits (along with anything else that might be sagging). Exercising actually creates hormonal changes in your body that elevate your mood.

So anyway: don’t skip your workouts. Come May – and shorts and tank top weather – you’ll be glad you made the  effort.

Can you make a commitment to a certain number of workouts over the next week? What’s your number – and what are they going to be? 

Try This Fun Core Exercise That Will Strengthen Your Whole Body

Try This Fun Core Exercise That Will Strengthen Your Whole Body

Back when I was first studying to be a personal trainer in 2000, I hired my own trainer.

His name was Reggie, and he told me he was going to “get me in shape to get in shape.”

Now, the thing was, I thought I already was in pretty good shape.

I was wrong.

The morning after our first session together, I went to get out of bed and realized I couldn’t sit up – my abs hurt too much. I had to roll onto my side and kind of “scoot” out of bed.

But it didn’t take long for my core and abs to become strong.

The Reggie

I credit this fun core exercise in this post – the stability ball rollout – with helping to get me strong.

Reggie made me do hundreds of these over the course of the time I worked out with him.

In fact, I now call this exercise “The Reggie.” (I love making up fun names for exercises and workouts – like the Booty Call Workout.)

I love this move because not only does it work your abs, but also your entire core from your shoulders to your hips.

If you sit a lot at work – as I did back in those days – The Reggie helps to fix your posture by forcing you to use your upper body to stabilize yourself. Keeping your back flat and strong is also a great posture reset.

It’s also a great “active recovery” move that I like to use with clients (and myself!) during a larger workout.

Here’s a quick video of me during today’s workout, doing “The Reggie.”

Turn It Into a Fat-Burner

Here’s how I used this exercise as part of my workout, for a total-body fat-burning circuit:

  • 5 minutes cardio intervals
  • 5 “Reggies”
  • 5 Pullups
  • 5 Low Bodyweight Rows
  • 5 Hip Dip Planks Each Side
  • 25 Ball Crunches
  • 2 Minutes Punching Drills (you could also do step-ups, jumping jacks, burpees, jump rope – anything that gets your heart rate up)
    Repeat 4 times.

Fun, Effective Exercise

Kids love to do stability ball rollouts – in fact, when I train them, it’s something they actually request. If you want to get your kids moving, have them try this.

And try it yourself and let me know how you make out!

(Note: if you want that strong core to look like a sculpted six-pack, you’ll need to revise your diet a bit so that you chisel off any fat that’s hiding your midsection.)

Want a Stronger Core?

It takes a two-pronged approach – internal and external.

The 6-Day Stronger Core Challenge attacks your core from both directions, in just a few minutes a day. Employ just a couple nutrition and exercise tweaks and you will feel a noticeable difference in less than a week.

Join the free challenge right now by filling out the form below.

Destroy More Fat with this Killer Metabolic Circuit Workout

Destroy More Fat with this Killer Metabolic Circuit Workout

When I set out to do the workout in this post, I had no intention of sharing it with you. I just wanted to do a kickass workout.

But it made me feel so good, I can’t help myself! In fact, I’m still under the influence of post-exercise afterglow.

This workout came about because I needed a total-body workout that revved up my metabolism to burn off some fat – and not just burn it off now, but throughout the rest of the day.

You see, I’m in a little weight loss challenge with someone, trying to get to a certain number on the scale in eight weeks. (Personal aside: Holy cow. I just did the math. I need to stay serious about this!)

Anyway: To get to my goal, I need to be tactical in both my workouts and nutrition.

So I’m going to be doing a lot of metabolic resistance training, along with some intervals, agility and speed workouts. Plus, ample recovery work because too much stress = fat storage.

Metabolic Resistance Training

Today was a metabolic circuit workout, which involved doing big weighted “compound” exercises involving different parts of the body, sandwiched between some recovery cycles.

Compound exercises – like deadlifts, pull-ups, and wood chops – use several different muscle groups at once, elevating the fat burn AND the intensity.

The idea is to go as hard and fast as possible with excellent form during the exercises, and use the cardio sessions as active recovery. 

Here’s the workout, which (true confessions) I pieced together during the first 5 minutes on the stairclimber:

  • 5 minutes stairclimber
  • 5 Stability Ball Walkouts
  • 15 Kettlebell Sumo Deadlifts
  • 15 Box Jumps (with step down) (note: I avoid swinging my arms during these, so the power comes from my lower body)
  • Pullups, to failure, from dead hang
  • 10 Single-Leg Deadlifts holding kettlebells, each side
  • 15 Triceps Band Press Downs 
  • 10 Kettlebell Woodchops, each side, strict form

I did the circuit (including the stairclimber) 3 times through, and then finished with a final 5-minute cardio cool down on the stationary bike. It took about 40 minutes to get through, with a little break to refill the water bottle.

My heart rate spiked into the “peak” category a few times, which is awesome because that means I’m going to get the afterburn affect, as my body burns even more calories over the next several hours returning the body systems to normal.

Give this one a try and let me know how it goes!

You can save the image below to your phone so you can keep it nearby for reference during your workout. Simply click the image for the full-size version and save it for later use.
Metabolic Conditioning Circuit

 

Want Flat Abs and a Stronger Core?

It takes a two-pronged approach – internal and external.

The external is sculpting your ab muscles from the inside out. The internal is your nutrition.

The 6-Day Stronger Core Challenge helps address both. And you can do it anywhere, even at home, in just a few minutes a day.

And it’s FREE! Sign up for the email challenge today by clicking the image below.

How To: Flipping Tires and Pulling Cars Like a Badass

How To: Flipping Tires and Pulling Cars Like a Badass

Hate cardio? Love working out outside?

What if I told you I had a couple of awesome exercises that will not only get you into shape fast, burn calories like crazy (especially fat), but will make you feel incredibly badass?

How about flipping tires and pulling a car or truck?

With the nice weather, it’s fun to get out of the gym and put your winter muscles to work.

Strongman exercises like flipping tires and pulling cars are growing in popularity, but they’re challenging and it’s really important to get the form down before you go crazy with them.

When you’re trying something new and fun, it’s really easy to get carried away and get injured. I’ve seen a lot of people with jacked-up forearms/elbows and shoulders as well as strained low backs and hips when they did just a few too many reps their first time out.

Also: because of the intensity of these exercises, I recommend doing them 2 times a week, tops, with at least two days in between. Your body needs time to recover (remember: the actual building of fitness and strength happens between your workouts, during the recovery phase).

You can do other kinds of workouts in between, though – just back off on the intensity a little.

Now that the warning is over with, here we go.

Flipping Tires

Tire flipping is an explosive, total-body exercise that will work your legs, glutes, hips, back, and upper body.

It’ll also get your heart rate up high, making it an awesome conditioning exercise for high intensity interval training workouts – and, according to a 2010 study published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, it puts your body under a fairly high degree of physiological stress (1).

To do this exercise, you’ll want a large tire. I recommend calling around to tire suppliers to see if any can provide you access to scrap/junk tires. The tires can weigh up to 500 pounds based on their size. The one we’re using in the videos isn’t quite that heavy. 

Because of the heft of these tires, you’ll definitely need a truck and at least one friend to help you get it to your tire-flipping location.

You’ll want to be completely warm before doing tire flips: jog/run/do kettlebell swings or other sort of cardio exercise to get your cardiovascular system warmed up, and then perform a complete dynamic warmup first – lunges, squats, arm and leg swing, inchworms, etc.

Now, for the process:

You want to bend down as if you’re doing a deadlift, bending from the knees, butt low, and then grab the bottom of the tire, and lift using your legs. You’ll pull up the tire and then flip your grip to a push, and then shove it forward.

Repeat for reps, making sure you to keep some tension between your shoulder blades (don’t hunch forward).

The first time you do flips, stop at 10, and do only 2 sets. See how you feel the next day, and then progress during your next workout.

Pulling a Car or Truck

This exercise requires some solid equipment: in addition to a vehicle, you need a length of chain and a padded pulling harness. 

You’ll want to attach one end of the chain to the vehicle and the other end to the harness – I know some people use heavy-duty rubber bands for this but a harness will likely not cause as much pressure on your body (hello, next-day bruises).

You’ll want to have a friend in the car, which is in neutral, as you pull. You won’t believe the lower body workout you’ll get from this, along with how high your heart rate will get. 

Again: This can be an amazing part of a HIIT conditioning workout.

In the video, Logan and Brandon played with the emergency brake to add and reduce resistance. Also, Brandon – who used belt, not a pulling harness – changed his position halfway through his pull to not only change up the muscles being worked, but also the pressure on his hips.

Want a Stronger Core (and Better Butt)?

It takes a two-pronged approach – internal and external.

The 6-Day Stronger Core Challenge attacks your core from both directions, in just a few minutes a day. Employ just a couple nutrition and exercise tweaks and you will feel a noticeable difference in less than a week.

Join the free challenge right now by filling out the form below.