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Keeping a Food Journal

Keeping track of what you eat and drink provides invaluable weight-management help.

Do you really know how much you eat in a day? You might be tempted to say yes. But the difference between what you think you're eating and what you actually consume can be significant.

Which is why food journals are an important tool for helping people track and better understand their eating habits. A study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association concluded that food journals are a better predictor of weight loss than body mass index, age, and exercise level. "They can really help people identify whether they're eating as a diversion, as a way to satisfy an emotional need, or because they're hungry," says Lola O'Rourke, M.S., R.D., a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. A written record helps dieters identify bad eating habits -- and take action to change them.

Whether your journal is a spiral notebook or a computer program, the key is to record what you eat, the number of calories it contains, and any physical exercise you do. Since memory is not always reliable, experts recommend jotting down notes immediately after each meal or snack. Remember that every sip also counts; when it comes to calories, even liquids count.