Celebrity Trainer Harley Pasternak: A Weight-Loss Secret That Doesn’t Require a Workout

07/01/2015 at 02:55 PM ET

Harley Pasternak
Courtesy Harley Pasternak

Harley Pasternak is a celebrity trainer and nutrition expert who has worked with stars from Halle Berry and Lady Gaga to Robert Pattinson and Robert Downey Jr. He’s also a New York Times best-selling author, with titles including The Body Reset Diet and The 5-Factor Diet. His new book 5 Pounds is out now. Tweet him @harleypasternak.

Studies consistently reveal that people who keep a journal of their thoughts and actions are more successful at making permanent changes in their lives — specifically in losing weight and keeping it off — when compared with people who don’t do so.

Write Your Way to Success
In a 2008 study, almost 1,700 heavy individuals were told to keep a food journal over a six-month period. They were also advised to be physically active and eat healthy foods. People who recorded their meals in their journals for six days a week lost, on average, almost twice as much weight as those who wrote in their journals only one day a week or less.

In a 2012 study, 123 overweight post-menopausal women participated in a 12-month program, in which half were assigned to a diet-only regimen, while the other half reduced calories and engaged in an exercise program. After a year, women in both groups lost an average of 19 lbs. However, those who wrote down everything they ate lost on average about 6 lbs. more than the other dieters.

Why Does Journaling Work?
There’s something about putting words down on paper or entering them on your computer that makes them more tangible — and even holds us more accountable. Journaling seems to moderate behavior that could be counterproductive to weight loss. Another recent study that looked specifically at self-monitoring over a yearlong weight-loss program found that women who weighed themselves regularly, kept a food journal and monitored their food intake were also less likely to engage in binge eating than individuals who did not.

The Unvarnished Truth
It takes only a few minutes a day to make basic entries in a journal, although you may want to also note whether you took a three-mile walk or even if you went to the green market and found amazing arugula. By documenting your new habits, as well as your occasional departures, you’ll begin to see patterns emerge. Learning how to avoid the situations that sidetracked you on previous occasions will help you avoid repeating them.

5 Tips for Successful Journaling
1. Write it down ASAP. Don’t rely on your memory. The best time to record what you ate is right after you finish. Include the quantity as well. If you’re on the run, be sure to make your entry later in the day.

2. Use the format that works for you. Whether it’s a spiral-bound pad, a PDA or a program on your tablet, the best journal is the one that you’ll use, and use regularly. Ideally, keep it with you at all times.

3. Tell the whole truth. Even if you’ve fallen off the wagon, write down what you ate. Remember, it’s for your eyes only. It’s also a good idea to elaborate on what prompted your actions.

4. Don’t skip the small stuff. Write down everything, including snacks, beverages, sauces, condiments, etc. Little things can add up fast.

5. Review the past. Occasionally, take a look through previous entries to see if you’re changing your eating habits. Are you becoming more proactive about not putting yourself in temptation’s way? Getting into a regular pattern of exercise?

If this sounds like a lot of work to you, my book 5 Pounds relies on a more simplified version of journaling: the “report card.” It’s a basic checklist of five daily behaviors that you either have completed or haven’t. You can write notes, but it’s a way of self-monitoring without the commitment to a ton of journaling.

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Want to lose weight?
Eat less, move more. There’s really no secret. Journaling works because you’re more accountable for what goes into your mouth.

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