Food diaries: weight loss?

Tv Chef Nigella Lawson has massively reduced her curves, and tanya sweeney tells of an easy way for you to do the same

Tanya Sweeney

There's no denying that something's afoot with Nigella Lawson. Gone are her pneumatic curves, and in their place is a newly streamlined figure. The brunette certainly cuts a dramatically different figure to her former self, last seen sporting an unflattering burkini on an Australian beach in April.

"There are times when I want to lose weight. I suppose the difference is I don't want to be as thin. Greed always outweighs my vanity," she is quoted as saying earlier this year. But, for now, Nigella is keeping schtum on the secret of her disappearing act. Yet how does someone with a well-publicised love of food go about losing weight?


We've seen Nigella go weak in the presence of a deep-fried Mars bar so what new diet lets the gourmands of this world have their cake and eat it?

The new weight-loss weapon being touted by the experts is a deceptively simple one. It's thought that the mere act of putting pen to paper and keeping a food journal helps curb calorie intake.

A study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, followed almost 1,700 overweight people. For six months, they kept food diaries and were encouraged to eat a healthy diet and be physically active. After six months, participants had shed almost 13 pounds, on average. However, those who kept food records six days a week -- jotting down everything they ate and drank on those days -- lost about twice as much weight as those who kept food records one day a week or less. At the behest of a personal trainer earlier this year, I started to keep my own food diary. No mouthful would go undocumented. The good, the bad and the deep-fried was to be written down, with no exceptions. The trainer said the journal would help the scales fall from my eyes . . . and boy, was he right.


Admitting to a 2am post-club blowout in Eddie Rockets in black and white was, well, a shock to my senses. The pen would wobble in shame as I wrote down "1-3am: 4 glasses of Merlot". I was shocked at how many innocent grazes made up my daily regime. But there is something about being honest in a food diary that makes you a little more honest with yourself.

"People eat on the go and forget many of the things they've eaten," suggests nutritionist Orla Walsh. "Ask most people and they'll tell you they eat lots of fruit and vegetables, but you can't kid yourself when it's all been written down and you've only had two portions a day."

Apart from pinpointing where extra calories were coming from, there is also the issue of accountability. Showing your food diary to someone gives you an incentive to keep your bib relatively clean. This is why the diet tool Tweet What You Eat -- whereby you keep an online food diary on Twitter -- is such a resounding success. With nowhere to hide in big bad cyberspace, users are forced to think about what they put in their mouths. Sounds drastic, but if you're serious about weight loss, often drastic measures are needed.

So far so good. However, within weeks of food journaling, the novelty began to wear off and the halo began to slip. I'd leave off innocent entries (so what if I'd had half of his banoffi pie on a date? I won't be seeing him again, so it's a once-off!), while three glasses of wine became two in print. And, as any seasoned dieter will tell you, denial isn't just a great big river; it's the first pit-stop on the way back to size 16.


At the Dublin Nutrition Centre, Orla recommends food diaries to clients in a bid to pinpoint conditions such as IBS and to monitor blood sugar levels. But between the lines, says Orla, you will find out more about your eating habits than you could ever believe.

"Write down whether you are hungry when you start eating, how full you are when you're finished, and whether you ate fast, or ate because you're upset or bored," she suggests.

Esther Blum, author of Eat, Drink & Be Gorgeous, has pinpointed another good reason to keep a food journal; to see how certain foods make you feel.

"If you've never really believed that food can affect your energy levels and mental acuity, try keeping a food log in which you record how you feel before and after each meal." she writes. "Writing it down will help you eat mindfully and make the connections among food, mood and energy levels. Be as honest as you can; remember, it's just to give you a perspective on how certain foods help or hinder your energy levels."

If the alternative is a life of sit-ups and spinach, I think honesty and self-reflection might be a little easier to swallow in the quest for a new lease of life.