Losing weight isn’t easy, and there is no magical formula for weight loss that is going to work for everyone.

Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, an Ottawa-based obesity doctor, says, “Ultimately, you need to like the life you’re living food-wise if you’re going to keep living that way. It’s crazy to think with billions of people on the planet that there’s one approach that suits everybody. The best diet for one individual is the worst diet for another individual.”

That being said, keeping a food diary is one method shown through clinical trials and studies to work for a lot of people. One study even showed that people who kept food diaries versus those who didn’t lost twice the amount of weight.

But why does a food diary work so well?

It helps you be mindful (but not obsessive) about calories

It can be difficult to track every little bite you eat throughout the day. It can also be tricky to figure out exactly how many calories are in a meal. The great thing about a food diary is that you can decide how you want to track what you eat.

One of the first steps to take toward being more mindful of what you eat is to simply be aware of which foods are higher or lower in calories rather than counting every calorie if that seems daunting to you. This may not give you quite as accurate a picture of how many calories you are eating, but it will give you a greater awareness of (and help you to be more careful of) how much you consume in a day.

Control your portions

How much you eat is just as important as what you eat, and figuring out what the correct portion is can be tough. Unfortunately, when it comes to calories, assume the worst.

Especially when you are eating out, you want to overestimate your calorie intake because of typically large portions and excess fat in the cooking process. To better understand portions, you might also try downloading an app like Calorific, which shows you pictures of what 200 calories of a given food actually looks like.

When you are keeping track of your calories, keep these tips in mind:

  • 200 calories of lean meat is about the size of a woman’s palm (plus around 120 calories for fat from preparation or cooking method)
  • A cup of starch is about the size of a woman’s fist and ranges from 180 to 220 calories
  • Desserts generally contain around 25 to 50 calories per tablespoon

Use an app tracker

Try using one of these apps to see if they work for you:

  • Lose It! This app asks you a few questions to understand your weight loss and eating goals, sets up a weight plan for you, and gives you a place to log everything you eat and how much you exercise.
  • Calories Counter Diet Tracker by MyFitnessPal. This app provides you with an easy and fast way to use calorie database, counter, and form for your data
  • Evernote. This app isn’t specifically for counting or tracking calories, but once you create an account, you can see your notes from any device. This makes it easy for you to track calories at home, at the office, or on the go.

Have a goal

It’s helpful to have a goal when you start your food diary, whether it’s losing weight or just becoming more aware of what you are eating. Knowing your reasons for starting your food diary will help you figure out exactly what you need to be tracking and how many calories you should be consuming during the day.

The most important thing is to find the food diary method that works for you. Stay with whatever makes sense to you, is easy to stick with, and gives you results. Good luck!