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Eat this, not that. Have more fruits and veggies. Drink more water.

You’ve heard the advice before. But are you doing it?

If you’re not, keeping track of what you eat can help.

In a recent Duke University study:

  • Researchers followed a group of 105 overweight people for 6 months.
  • One group measured their weight every day.
  • Another group tracked everything they ate. And a third group tracked both.

The results: On average, everyone lost weight. But the group that tracked their weight AND food choices lost the most weight (about 7 pounds), and kept it off.

“We have very strong evidence that consistent tracking — particularly of diet, but also one’s weight — is an essential element of successful weight loss,” says lead researcher Dr. Gery Bennett.

Food Tracking Habits: 5 Tips for Success

So how do you keep track of what you eat?

Choose a format that works for you. Research shows mobile apps work well for most people.2 But a paper journal or notebook works, too.

Here are five tips to help you track your food choices to improve your diet.

1. Track everything: No restrictions

  • Keep track of all the food you eat and drink for meals and snacks.
  • Include time and date with each entry to help you identify specific eating patterns.
  • Be honest. Dessert, alcohol, second or third servings all count.

2. Know your daily-calorie data

Apps make this easy and track calories for you. Everyone’s calories needs are different. Men usually need more calories than women. And everyone needs fewer calories as they age. Keep track of how many calories you’re eating per day.

3. Pay attention to what you’re eating

  • Read food labels to find out. Food labels include things like: ingredients, serving size, calories per serving, sodium, sugar, protein, fats, and carbohydrates. Before you buy or eat something, just ask yourself: Is this a healthy choice?
  • Restaurant calories. Check the menu before you order. A typical fast-food meal (burger, fries, and soda) contains 1,000-plus calories. Chain restaurants are required to publish nutrition data about their menu. Smaller restaurants don’t have to.

4. Evaluate your eating habits

Once you’ve kept at least a week of entries about your eating habits, take a closer look at what you’ve been doing. This helps you see what you’re doing well, and where you can improve.

  • Total your daily calories, and make some changes if you need to.
  • Follow a healthy eating plan. Most of your food should come from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and legumes. If you eat meat or dairy, go with fish, skinless poultry, and non-fat options. What you drink counts, too.
  • Share your results with someone you trust. Or review your food choices with your doctor or nutritionist. It’s a smart way to help you be more accountable.

5. Set a goal

Keep a food journal for at least a week. Track everything. Then set a goal to improve, lose weight or eat healthier.

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