Food logging is a commonality among successful weight losers and could make the immediate difference you’re looking for. For some it might seem like a hassle. But there’s a science behind keeping tabs on what you eat. This healthy habit works for 3 reasons: the psychology of cognitive dissonance, awareness, and accuracy If you’re stuck in a rut, let these tips help you get back on track.
How do we know food logging works? The National Weight Control Registry is an exclusive group of successful dieters. Its members need to have lost 30 lbs and then kept it off- for a minimum of 1 year. This means they’re consistent and do things the right way for long-term results. Through observation and research, their behaviors and habits can teach and guide future weight loss efforts. Exploration into the findings of this group shows they use behavioral strategies like food logging for weight loss and maintenance. They do more than this, and you can learn a lot from them. Check out research on the NWCR (National Weight Control Registry) here.
Why Food Logging Works
When you log your foods, you have the powers of psychology, awareness, and accuracy working in your favor. The most powerful of these 3 is the first- the psychological principle of cognitive dissonance. The other 2 are equally important and work in a feedback loop with the first.
Your brain loves consistency. It loves it so much; it never wants to be wrong. This is the basis for cognitive dissonance and one of the reasons food tracking works. Cognitive dissonance is a feeling of mental discomfort when the brain perceives inconsistency. For example, if you consciously know you want to lose weight you also know nutrition is a big part of it. When logging unhealthy foods, your brain gets uncomfortable with the inconsistency between your thoughts and actions. It doesn’t want to process, “I’m trying to lose weight and I’m going to sabotage that effort”. By entering your foods, you’ll indirectly influence yourself to make better nutrition choices.
Furthermore, your brain doesn’t like to lie. This means, as much as you can control it, you’ll tell the truth in your food tracker, especially if it’s not just for you. If you don’t know exactly how many calories certain foods are, then your awareness will start increasing.
When you commit to tracking everything you consume, you increase your awareness. You start to realize it matters if you ate 4 oz or 6 oz of chicken breast. You start to see wine calories better be worth it because they add up so fast. As your awareness increases, it loops back to the risk of cognitive dissonance. Then you become even more concerned with the consistency of thoughts and actions.
As awareness fuels cognitive dissonance, it also fuels accuracy. Because your self-awareness is increasing, you realize the importance of accuracy more. You go from guessing on how much chicken you had to weighing it or looking it up for reference. Accuracy becomes an important component in avoiding mental discomfort.
With the increase in awareness and the continued risk of cognitive discontent, accuracy becomes important. You can’t truly know how much you’re consuming if you don’t make sure through measurement or research. Your habits of estimating food intake improve and further fuel the cycle. Accuracy in food logging gets results because now you’re educated. You know exactly what you’re putting into your body and the weight loss or gain on the scale is more predictable. With accuracy, you can set better, more realistic goals. More realistic goals spark motivation as you continue to see results.
The sum, and interrelated function, of cognitive dissonance, awareness, and accuracy take the guess work out of weight management. They initiate feelings of control over achieving your health and fitness related goals.
Tips for Logging Foods
Logging foods doesn’t have to be hard. In fact, it should be easy so you can do it long term and make it part of your lifestyle. You can be efficient at it, just like members of the NWCR. Here are some tips to get you going.
- Find a logging method that works best for you. You don’t have to use an app, although they make it easy. Myfitnesspal.com is always impressive. If you don’t like technology, just write it down.
- When eating out, take a picture of your food to help with accuracy when logging later.
- Log your foods before you eat to increase your commitment to portion control.
- If you can’t find your food online- do the best you can to find something similar. Or, break down the foods one by one.
- Make sure you look up mixed cocktails. Those calories from mixers add up fast with alcohol.
- Choose restaurants or foods with calories displayed.
- Double and triple check portion sizes.
- Commit to accurately logging your foods for 2 weeks before deciding if it works for you.
- Premack logging your foods to make it a more likely habit (learn more about Premack in this quick read).
Practice these tips and comment on the ones that work best for you and help your fellow loggers by providing some other tips of your own.