Most of us live by beliefs and perceptions of ‘what we eat.’ Most obese people feel that they hardly eat. Many report eating only one or two rotis the entire day. They seem to size up their entire food intake by these numerical counts.

Many focus on what they don’t eat, rather than what they do. A great degree of denial is apparent when it comes to acceptance of food intake.

The first step to improve your diet is to increase awareness — what you eat, when you eat and how much you eat. Virtually a ‘reality check,’ for which there is nothing more powerful than a food diary. A simple objective tool, it helps you track exactly what you eat.

In a study conducted by Harvard Medical School, researchers asked unsuccessful dieters to track what they ate. The dieters then ate exactly what they had listed. This time they all lost weight! A clear indicator of our subjective perceptions about ‘what we eat.’

A food diary will show you whether you include all the food groups in adequate amounts, the variety of foods you consume, the amount of sugar and undesirable foods, and the frequency of intake. After completing your food dairy, you can analyse the foods you’ve listed by comparing them to five recommendations for healthy eating.

Don’t be surprised if your food diary reveals that you’re eating too many fats and too few fruits, vegetables, and grains. Remember, the food diary is a tool to help you. Don’t use it to make yourself feel guilty about your eating habits.

However, the validity of food diaries and self-reports is questionable for research. When researchers checked the validity of food diaries and self-reports, they found that obese people under reported their energy intake by 20-50 per cent and lean people under-reported by 10 – 30 per cent.

In spite of this concern about accuracy, studies show that keeping a food diary was a better predictor of weight loss than were baseline body mass index, exercise, and age. Writing down everything you eat is a powerful technique. It tells you where the calories are coming from and help to develop specific plans to deal with those situations. In addition, a food diary helps hold dieters accountable for what they are eating.

It is not surprising then that a food diary has considerable ‘power as a predictor of success in achieving weight loss’. A study involving 1, 685 middle-aged people, over six months, found those who kept such a diary lost about twice as much weight as those who did not.

A food diary also helps in diet-related conditions like allergies, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and during pregnancy. They can also be used to identify those at risk of under-nutrition and monitor those on nutritional support.

So, the next time you resolve to improve your diet, start by reaching out for a pen and a paper. It works like that mirror on the wall!