"For example, it's a very common pattern that people tend to skip breakfast. They don't eat until lunchtime, and then they may overeat at that meal or overeat at dinner."
Bartfield added, "Once you start writing that down -- what you're eating and the timing of the food -- you begin to pick up on some of these patterns that can be changed."
Studies in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Journal of Preventive Medicine also support the benefits of journaling, although weight loss in both studies was modest.
However, Bartfield said modest weight loss is "underappreciated."
"A lot of patients that I see come in with very high weight loss expectations and very few people say that their goal is only 5% to 10% of their body weight," she said.
"Actually, that amount of weight loss has been shown very clearly to have considerable health benefits, including preventing future disease, reducing current diseases that are associated with obesity and helping patients decrease the number of medications they're on."
She added, "That's actually my first goal for all patients -- modest weight loss, or simply 5% to 10% -- and I think that every pound counts."
Many times, Bartfield said, journaling is "the No. 1 goal we start working on" with patients.
'Road map' to success
An alternative to pen-and-paper journaling could be an application on your smartphone, said Marisa Moore, registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Either way, Moore said she thinks of a journal as a "personal road map" to weight loss, healthier eating and behavior change.
"Regardless of whether you're eating something healthy or not, you're forced to think about it. When we look at mindful eating practices, it's about being aware," she said. "Using a food journal helps you to become more aware of what you're doing."
For Jackson, mindful eating practices are a way of life.
"It's saying, 'I owe this to myself.' I need to be responsible for me and take care of me, and that's something I never did," she said.
She has no plans to stop journaling but said she may soon begin record keeping online.
"Now it's part of my daily habits, like brushing my teeth," she said.
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