The Weight-Loss Trick That Only Takes 15 Minutes

Lauren Krouse
by Lauren Krouse
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The Weight-Loss Trick That Only Takes 15 Minutes

If you’re trying to lose weight and maintain a healthy lifestyle, you know quick fixes like fad diets and risky cleanses aren’t worth your time — but that doesn’t mean everything has to be such a long slog. Something that’s worth your time (and doesn’t take much time anyway): keeping a food journal. New research published in the journal Obesity found the tried-and-true practice of logging what you eat is key to losing weight. In the study, people who recorded caloriesfat and portion sizes were more apt to be successful in their weight-loss goals than those who didn’t maintain diet diaries. The biggest finding: The effort took less than 15 minutes per day.

Here, expert dietitians explain why food journals work so well and how you can get the most out of using one.


It can be easy to mindlessly eat and drink while driving to work, juggling errands and vegging out at the end of a long day. But “diet diaries require that you pay attention to your food choices every time you eat,” explains Julie Cunningham, RD. Even if you choose something that wouldn’t ordinarily fit into your eating plan (like a frosted doughnut at an office party), you’re reminded of the large portion and extra calories when writing it down — and thus more aware of your intake, she says. Maybe you tweak what you have for lunch or dinner, or you simply get a picture of how to fit a splurge into your plan. Over time, you’ll begin to connect foods with calorie and macro levels and, ideally, make healthier choices.


Ultimately, the best diet diary is one you can stick to, so choose something that suits your routine and lifestyle. It could be a traditional paper journal, an app like MyFitnessPal or a combination of both, says Mindy Haar, PhD, RD, assistant dean of undergraduate affairs at New York Institute of Technology School of Health Professions.

Log your intake as you go, or better yet, before you chow down. Write down the meals (and drinks) you plan to have ahead of time, then use your food journal as a checklist to motivate yourself, says Susan Bowerman, RD, director of worldwide nutrition education and training at Herbalife Nutrition, a nutrition and weight-management company based in Los Angeles. While waiting until the end of the day to log your meals all at once can be tempting, your memory’s likely to fail you, says Cunningham. What’s more, if you’re about to stress eat, pulling up your app can give you the mini-delay you need to think twice before giving into cravings, adds Bowerman. To keep yourself accountable, set a reminder to log at your usual meal times or take a quick pic of your plate if you can’t log it right away.

You can’t just log the good days or forget to add that extra slice of pizza you had on Friday night. The goal of your food log is to get an overall picture of your eating habits, not to pretend you’re perfect, says Cunningham. “Most everyone eats a mixture of nutritious foods and ‘pleasure’ foods, and that’s perfectly normal,” she says. To improve, you’ve got to come face-to-face with your eating behaviors, adds Bowerman, so don’t beat yourself up when you run off-track — it takes time to create healthy habits.

The cream in your coffee, the butter on your toast, the dressing on your salad and the mayo on your sandwich — all those calories add up, so make sure you don’t forget any add-ons, says Bowerman. “I can’t stress enough how important it is to measure everything for a while, until you’re good at making estimations.” Use measuring cups, spoons and kitchen scales to reveal the reality of portion sizes.

“One of the most important things that comes out of a diet diary for many of my patients is how their emotional state impacts their food choices,” says Cunningham. In addition to what you eat, consider recording with whom, the location, your hunger level before and after (1 being ‘super hungry’ and 5 being ‘stuffed’) and how you feel (happy, sad, tired, stressed or bored). You might notice a big work meeting stresses you out and you end up overeating, or a Netflix binge when you’re bored and tired brings on lots of salty snacks — even though you aren’t actually hungry.

Armed with this information, you can combat emotional eating by working on mindfulness techniques or beat boredom eating by adopting new hobbies like walking or reading, says Cunningham.

About the Author

Lauren Krouse
Lauren Krouse

Lauren Krouse is a freelance writer who covers health, domestic violence, and self-advocacy. Her work appears in Women’s Health, Men’s Health, Prevention, Self, HuffPost, and elsewhere. When she’s not writing, you can find her trying to meditate more, weightlifting, or walking in the woods with her partner and black lab.


7 responses to “The Weight-Loss Trick That Only Takes 15 Minutes”

  1. Avatar Kedric says:

    I agree with the sentiment that posting it on here would be pointless but it seems that these articles are posted online or blogged somewhere so it probably reaches other audiences.

    While using the app, I have seen it mention that if you can’t match your exact food choices, try to put the closest thing to it. For example, I had some homecooked chicken and I had to find a generic item to go with it because there wasn’t an exact match. This is my first day using it but I’m pleased so far. Best of luck with all your endeavors 🙂

  2. Avatar Disgruntled52 says:

    If only that were true. 15 minutes? I wish!

    I use MyFitnessPal and trying to locate the foods that I know are in my database takes F-O-R-E-V-E-R.

    And once a food is in the database you cannot get it out, unless it appears in Frequent Food.

    Writing my ‘log’ seems such a chore that I tend to skip it now. Maybe there’s another website out there but MyFitnessPal is rubbish.

    • Avatar Alex says:

      It’s not really that hard. I’ve been doing it for several months and possibility to create your own recipes from basic ingredients, create your own foods and scan basically any barcode is making it super easy. Admittedly I make some shortcuts from time to time, especially when eating in a restaurant, by adding custom food with approximately 1000 cal. Just invest some time learning how app works and I am sure you will find it easy.

      I normaly create recipe while I cook food and then use it to log. When eating in a restaurant I select basics from the plate, like meat, pasta, oil and add some extra by making my “own” food that has proportional amount of macros. For days when I really have no idea how to translate what I see on a plate into a diary I add custom food with high amount of calories. You will hardly have a restaurant meal under 1000 cal and when eating sweets, if you don’t know how it’s made just count it as minimum 500 cal per portion.

      • Avatar Disgruntled52 says:

        Respectfully, I do not see how your reply is at all related to the time it takes to locate something that I know is in my database. Nor have you addressed the fact that it nigh on impossible to remove unwanted items.

  3. Avatar Don Ebberts says:

    I have tried keeping a food log and my biggest problem is that most of the food I eat is prepared at home. I can’t just click Big Mac and Fries! (although, truth be told, I can’t tell you the last time I had a Big Mac.)
    A salad seems pretty simple but by the time you get done adding in the lettuce, onions, cucumber, tomato, chickpeas, dressing, etc., then trying to log all that and get accurate amounts is not a 15 minute a day project, it’s much more. Any suggestions? Thank you.

    • Avatar Carolyn B-G says:

      This is my problem with it as well. Eating food we prepare ourselves is surely healthier than something already prepared, but the logistics of logging it are ridiculous (time involved, computing actual amounts of things used and actual amounts eaten, which are never the same as in a recipe, etc.) I did this for several months a few years ago, and it did help, but by the end I was going crazy with it.

      • Avatar Don Ebberts says:

        You’re a better person than I am. I tried keeping it up for just a few days and it was such a hassle, I gave up.

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