Treatment Care & Tips
How to Keep a Food Diary
A food diary is a record of foods that you eat on a meal-by-meal basis. It can help you better understand your eating habits and patterns. It can also help you to identify the foods — good and not-so-good — that you eat on a regular basis.
Writing down every bite of food and sip of water that you consume will make you more accountable for what you are eating and drinking. Plus, there are some surprising benefits to keeping a daily food log:
- Weight loss – Keeping a food diary can help reveal the unhealthy habits that are stopping you from losing weight.
- Detecting food intolerances – Food journals can also help determine if you have a severe reaction to certain foods.
- Portion control – Using a food log will keep you accountable for the size of your meals.
- Better nutrition – Keeping track of your every meal will reveal more than just calorie intake and food intolerances; it can also show whether you are eating enough of each food group.
- Identifying triggers to unhealthy eating – Keeping track of your location, time of day, and mood can reveal how stress, work, or certain people affect your food choices.
If you want to improve your health by tracking what you eat and drink, follow the instructions below to get the most out of your food diary or diet journal.
What should you include in a food journal?
Most experts agree that the secret to successful food tracking is accuracy and consistency. A basic food log should include the following:
1. What are you eating? Write down the specific food and/or drink consumed and log how it is prepared (baked, broiled, fried, etc.). Include any sauces, condiments, dressings or toppings.
2. How much are you eating? List the amount in household measures (cups, teaspoons, tablespoons) or in ounces. If possible, weigh and measure your food. If you are away from home, do your best to estimate the portion.
3. When are you eating? Note the time that you eat to help identify potentially problematic times, such as late-night snacking.
4. Where are you eating? Record the specific place you are eating or drinking. Whether that place be at the kitchen table, in the car, walking down the street, at a restaurant, or at a friend’s home.
5. What else are you doing while eating? Note if you are on the computer, watching TV, or talking with a family member or a friend.
6. Who are you eating with? Note if you are eating alone or with your spouse, children, friend, or a colleague.
7. How are you feeling as you’re eating? Note if you feel happy, sad, stressed, anxious, lonely, bored, tired, etc.
Logging these details will encourage you to consider why and when you’re eating, as well as how hungry or satisfied you feel. You’ll learn more about both the foods you enjoy and don’t enjoy, plus the places and situations that you find yourself eating.
Tips for successful food journaling
Just try to stay as consistent as possible and be patient with yourself when you first begin your food journal. If it feels challenging yet manageable, it’s likely to be beneficial. If you miss a day, don’t sweat it. Just pick it back up the next. And keep in mind that you do not need to log your food and drinks forever.
Here are some tips for keeping a successful food diary:
- Write down the food or drinks as soon as you consume it. Don’t wait until the end of the day because your recollection will be less accurate.
- Be as specific as you can with the food or drink. For example, note the type and size of that coffee you have every afternoon.
- Be sure to include any alcoholic beverages you consume.
- Your diet logs need to tell the truth. You don’t gain anything by cheating to look good.
- A smartphone app like Lose It! or MyFitnessPal can support your efforts. These apps also offer information on calories and other nutrients.
A food diary can help you have a more positive relationship with food in general. If you feel you might benefit from keeping a food journal, talk to your doctor or a dietician. If you don’t want to wait to get started, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/pdf/food_diary_cdc.pdf to download and print a blank food diary so you can start logging your food and drinks today.