The best way to know where you’re going is to know where you’ve been. If you’re putting on weight and feel under the weather more often than not, it’s possible you’re not eating right.

And if you’re trying to lose weight or feel better, you may be left wondering why your efforts feel so meaningless.

A lot of people take a similar approach to dieting or eating for better health: They change what they eat for breakfast by making some healthier selections or eating a little less, then hold off until their lunchtime salad. A little snack during the afternoon might be on the docket and then a full dinner. For many, however, this method offers little in the way of results. It usually amounts to some extra snacking or indulgences throughout the day and feelings of fatigue and discomfort.

One of the main reasons this method is usually unsuccessful is because you’re rarely actually aware of what and how much you’re eating. People often fail to consider, or even remember, the extra dash of sugar in their coffee, extra scoops of peanut butter, or the other seemingly small and inconsequential “pickings” each day. These calories really add up, especially when you consider that extra glass of wine or beer at dinner!

To get a handle on snacking and successfully eating to lose weight and feel better, keeping a food journal is a great idea. It can show you how much you eat, what you eat, and when you eat, while also helping to identify allergies or “problem foods.” This will allow you to clearly identify what, if any, dietary changes need to take place.

Your diet plays an immeasurable role in your overall health. When you start keeping track of what you eat, you can identify the possible reasons why you’re feeling under the weather. That bloating, cramping, or discomfort might be easier to identify if you can go back and see what you ate. In addition to simply tracking what you eat, it’s important to note how much you ate of each item and what you felt afterwards. You can then try eliminating items that seem problematic to see if it makes a difference.

Tracking your diet can also show how much you ate and the little snacks you may have forgotten about. This information can come as a bit of shock because people have a tendency to think their nutrition is far better than it actually is. But what may initially shock you can actually help shape your future to improve your diet and health. Having documentation of what you eat can answer questions about why you might be having trouble losing weight. There is research indicating that people who track their food are more successful in weight loss programs and actually lose more weight than those who don’t create a food journal.

Tracking meals can also show you how fast you eat. By taking note of the time it takes you to consume a meal, you can get an idea of how food might be making you feel and how many calories you’re taking in. The faster you eat, the more likely you are to go back for more—especially if you’re eating with others. When you eat too quickly, it can result in heartburn, overeating, and digestive problems. Paying attention to how long it takes you to eat a meal—in comparison to others, if possible—is a good way to eat less and feel better.

When you’re aware of your eating habits, it’s far easier to manage them and identify problems and patterns that are influencing your health. It might seem like a lot of unnecessary work, but taking a close look at your relationship with nutrition is an important step to improving your overall health!