When asked, most people will tell you that they know what they should be eating, they just don’t do it. As a clinician, I asked myself, “How can we help these people make the dietary changes they know will improve their health?” It turns out, the answer was very simple.

Making Eating Conscious

One of the first steps to helping people change their eating habits is making them aware of what they are eating. It’s surprising, but when questioned, a sizable amount of people cannot tell you what they ate even two days prior. It seems that many people are mindlessly reaching for and eating foods without much conscious thought, and this usually leads to poor food decisions.

Using a food journal can help make eating conscious. The trick is to record what you are going to eat before you actually put it in your mouth. By recording what you are going to eat, you have to take a second to think about it. And that little bit of forethought often leads to better decisions.

Confronting Your Choices

Even if you do go ahead and eat one (or several) unhealthy items, having a record of it allows you to confront the unhealthy choices you’ve made. Over time, it may even make you aware of your eating habits. Once you become aware of your habits, you’re in a better position to change them.

For instance, if you notice that every Thursday you have a (virtual) happy hour followed by an unhealthy meal (bar food, whether eaten on site or delivered), you can be proactive in order to change the outcome. Maybe you decide to eat something healthy before you go, or you limit the number of drinks you have, or you make a suggestion for a healthy place to eat afterward. The point is that you now know when you have made unhealthy choices so you can do something about them.

Bonus Weight Loss

One of the best parts about keeping a food journal is that research has shown over and over again that if you write down what you eat, you will lose weight, especially if you routinely share your food journal with someone else.

This makes perfect sense, as you don’t want to write down (and admit) to someone else that you ate an entire package of Oreos, so you don’t do it. If this helps you break bad food habits and incorporate better food choices into your daily life, over time, you’ll lose weight while getting healthier. In fact, most studies show that people lose about two times as much weight when they keep a food journal versus if they don’t!

It doesn’t seem to matter if you keep a food journal online, in a notebook or on scraps of paper. What is important is that you do it consistently (i.e., every meal of every day), try and write the food down before you eat it, review the journal regularly (weekly seems to work well) and share your journal with someone you trust. Even if they don’t say a word, sharing your journal with another person will motivate you to make better choices.

Do these things, and before you know it, you’ll have made most of those dietary decision you know you should have made long ago.