Food Journaling: Is It Really That Effective? - FitPro Complete

In two words… Hell NO!

One of the BIGGEST mistakes I see fitness professionals make when it comes to nutrition adherence is believing that food journaling is so damn important.

Whereas exercise tracking is straight-forward and also fairly objective (as long as you are standing next to your client, you can count how many reps they perform, how much weight they lift and track visible signs of effort, as well as fatigue), food journaling is a futile exercise.

Unless you plan on following your clients around to every meal and measuring everything they put into their mouths, you have to accept that food journaling involves taking your client’s word for what they are doing.

Now before anyone gets up worked up by my suggestion that food logging is a fool’s errand, consider this:

For the average client who is starting out on improving their nutrition, counting and tracking daily calories is a real chore.

In order for a new client to start tracking calories, they will require measuring devices, food labels, databases and a calculator to keep on top of it all.

  • Clients will regularly underestimate their caloric intake by 20-30% (unintentionally), which defeats the purpose of logging foods in the first place — a fact that many users have caught on to, causing them to become less diligent in their journaling or to quit altogether as a result.
  • Food labels often underestimate the true caloric content of that food by anywhere from 10-15%.
  • The energy cost to digestion of protein is much higher than that of carbohydrates or fat.
  • Calorie counting totally ignores the micronutrient profile of foods, nutrients that are typically necessary to support a healthy metabolism.
  • Most clients eyeball servings, as opposed to accurately measuring them with a scale.
  • Only 3% of people will use a food journal for more than a week.
  • More often than not, what the client logs and what they actually eat are two completely different things.

Not only is food journaling an imprecise science at best, I’ve also seen it lead far too many clients into justifying bad food choices because they are “low calorie.”

It’s easy to see how the process can undermine not only the reliability of a journal, but also the goals and motivations of the client.

As a nutrition coach, you know calories matter in relation to a person’s goals, so you might have certain food/nutrient requirements in mind for your client.

However, throwing numbers at new clients from the starting point may not bring the same results as if it were you or I following the same plan.

When someone is new to good nutrition, numbers are just too complicated and all love is lost in treating food as the fun, social activity that it should be. It becomes just numbers, and if people loved numbers there would be a lot more accountants in the world.

It can also create a lot of anxiety and confusion, which is usually the main reason the client has sought your help – to remove the ‘fear factor’ of nutrition.

And here’s the important thing that most trainers completely miss – someone new to good nutrition does not need this amount of detail to see results.

Truth be told, I care less whether my clients log foods, or not. I know if they’re doing what they are supposed to be doing because I have other forms of tracking, and accountability, built into my programs.

Weight loss nutrition is simple third grade math, and I know the numbers. For example, if I have a client that has a goal of losing 2 pounds per week and after 5 weeks they haven’t lost a single pound… I can hand them a pen and piece of paper and say, “write down the extra 35,000 calories you’ve eaten since we began your program.”

Inevitably they will look me in the eyes and swear that they haven’t eaten an extra 35,000 calories, but THE NUMBERS DON’T LIE.

Simple math tells me that there are 3,500 calories in one pound of fat, and their goal is to lose 2 pounds per week (3,500 x 2 = 7,000 calories). 7,000 calories x 5 weeks equals 35,000 calories.

ANYONE that is in a 35,000 calorie deficit will have lost weight! Yet they haven’t lost a single pound.

See? I didn’t need a food log that may, or may not, be accurate to tell me that the client isn’t following their meal plan.

Now naturally, I don’t wait 5 weeks to check a client’s weight loss progress. At my facility we require weekly weigh-ins for all of our clients because it’s a lot easier to track a client’s goals than their food log.

Simply put, we NEVER log foods, but ALWAYS track adherence to the client’s diet goals.

Although I consider food logging useless for most clients, tracking is an invaluable tool for holding clients accountable. But in order for accountability to have any meaning, it requires that you as a coach effectively communicate expectations as of Day 1.

This system works so well for three reasons…

1. You’ll find that clients are much more willing to track a single diet goal, as opposed to trying to log every single food item they eat in a day.

2. Even if the clients did log their foods, the likelihood is high that the information is very inaccurate.

3. You’re not trying to force a client to do something that is an unnatural and time-consuming process for them.

Over the years, I’ve worked with a lot of physique athletes (bodybuilders and fitness models) and beauty contestants and one of the first things I tell them is that, “I’m not the one who wants to walk across that stage in my underwear. If you lie to me about what you are eating, you are only sabotaging yourself.”

Harsh? Maybe. But it’s a remarkably effective way of getting clients to realize their role and responsibility in the body transformation process.

I use a similar approach with everyday training clients, as well. Before I have even signed a prospect up, I explain to them that “weight loss is simple third grade math and I know the numbers. I’m like your attorney or accountant, because I know the answers before I ask the questions.

Letting clients know that the only way you, as their coach, can help them is if they are truthful with their reporting is something too many coaches overlook.

Remember, our job as coaches isn’t to force our clients to change. At the end of the day, the only person who ultimately determines a client’s success or failure is the client themselves.

However, we do have the responsibility of providing each client an appropriate intervention for their current abilities… and this means helping clients with both exercise AND diet.

So instead of getting in your own way by being caught up with food journaling, and continuing to pull your hair out because of “stubborn” weight loss clients driving you crazy with their non-compliance for their food log, try implementing these nutrition coaching strategies into your personal training practice today.

Don’t be surprised when your client “success stories” start to dwarf your “client frustrations” by a wide margin!

Also, check out the 6-point ROI Calculator below to see how I implement an accountability group for those who don’t follow the criteria above and it brings me an additional $34,000 a year in revenue.

Dedicated to YOUR Success,

Rick Streb

P.S. If you want the perfect nutrition coaching system and if you aren’t afraid to invest in your business, then let’s go.


I’m only taking on a few more clients that I plan to make success stories out of. If that sounds like something you’re ready to do, hit me up and let’s get it going!

Let’s get the process started today


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