Should You Keep a Food Diary?

by | Nov 27, 2020 | +STRATEGIES

Adopting healthy eating habits is a process that starts with an awareness of your current habits. If you aren’t clear on exactly what the main challenge is right now, it can be difficult to know where to start. Keeping a food diary can be a helpful tool to increase awareness. Whether your goal is to lose weight, identify allergy triggers, or simply eating healthier, a food journal may be a great place to start.


What is a Food Diary?

A food diary is a log that keeps track of all your meals, snacks, and beverages. This can be done in a smartphone app that can track your calories and nutrition intake, or can be hand-written in a journal.[1] The purpose of the food diary is to bring more awareness to what you are eating so that you know what you need to improve on. 

A food diary can be used for various reasons – for weight management, to identify foods that are triggering a physical intolerance or allergy, or to confirm a reaction to additives in foods. Tracking can identify food-mood behaviors to determine how a person’s mood affects their eating choices.

Oftentimes, many discoveries are found using a food journal that can help break unhealthy habits. For instance, late-night snacking every night in front of the tv may be preventing you from losing weight. A food diary can also help you to keep track of your fasting schedule and see how it is working for you. 

What Should You Log in a Food Diary?

  • What are you eating? Write down the specific foods and beverages consumed and how they are being prepared (baked, broiled, fried, etc.). Make note of any sauces, condiments, dressings, or toppings, being as specific as possible. Include any beverages, both non-alcoholic and alcoholic ones as well.
  • How much are you eating? List the amount in household measures (cups, teaspoons, tablespoons) or in ounces. To increase accuracy, it is best to weigh and measure your food. If you are away from home, do your best to estimate the portion.
  • When are you eating? Noting the time that you’re eating can be very helpful in identifying trends and potential problems, such as late-night snacking.
  • Where are you eating? Record the specific place you are consuming food, whether it’s at the kitchen table, in your bedroom, in the car, walking down the street, at a restaurant, or at a friend’s home.
  • What else are you doing while eating? Are you on the computer, watching TV, or talking with a family member or a friend?
  • Who are you eating with? Are you eating with your spouse, children, friend, or a colleague, or are you alone?
  • How are you feeling as you’re eating? Are you happy, sad, stressed, anxious, lonely, bored, or tired?

Jotting down where you’re eating, what else you’re doing while you’re eating, and how you’re feeling can offer more insight into what is helping you and what is hindering your progress. This can help you better understand your habits and is a critical piece in helping you meet your health goals.

What are the Benefits of a Food Diary?

For many people, keeping a food diary has several benefits:

It holds you accountable. Self-monitoring your food intake can be beneficial, particularly when it comes to weight loss.[2] Logging your food provides a level of accountability to yourself. If you felt like you overdid it, you still have to write it down. This is not intended to evoke guilt, but to remember that it happened and any potential negative effects that occurred. 

The key to losing weight is accountability. You can be accountable to yourself, but having a buddy or a coach review your diary is even more powerful. This will help you be even more likely to consistently log your food even on the not so good days.

It brings awareness and knowledge. Many times we are unaware of our own habits. With busy schedules and distracted eating, it’s easy to forget what or how much we ate. These habits impact our health. However, the first step is becoming aware of them.

It may support weight loss. If your goal is weight loss, some research indicates that those who keep a food diary tend to lose more weight.[3]

It may help identify food intolerances or allergies. If you struggle with any physical discomfort after eating, it can affect your everyday life. Furthermore, it can be difficult to pinpoint which foods are triggering these symptoms. Logging in a food diary to monitor the trends in your symptoms and what you ate prior can help to identify any problem foods.

Who Should Not Use a Food Diary?

While keeping a food diary can be an effective tool for improving eating habits, it is not for everyone. It’s important to evaluate to determine if the food diary is helping you and if it may actually cause more harm than good.

If you have a history of an eating disorder, suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or the thought of keeping a food diary just stresses you out, it may be best to abstain from doing it. In these cases, logging your food can put more pressure on yourself. This can lead to massive guilt, stress, or shame if you feel you didn’t do the right things. 

In your journey to a healthier way of eating, it’s important to do what feels best for you. Engaging in any type of activity that leads to more stress or anxiety over food is counterproductive.  

Keeping a food diary can be a useful tool but is a very personal decision. If you are unsure about what is the best decision for you, seek the help of a qualified health professional to guide you through the process.

Read More:

[1] Comparison of an electronic versus traditional food diary for assessing dietary intake https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1871403X17300236

[2] Self-Monitoring in Weight Loss
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3268700/

[3] Log Often, Lose More: Electronic Dietary Self-Monitoring for Weight Loss
https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/oby.22382

Author:

Melissa Mitri

MELISSA MITRI

Melissa is a health writer with over 12 years of experience in the field of nutrition.  She specializes in helping women move away from restrictive habits that lead to vicious yo-yo weight cycles.  Melissa enjoys writing about health, nutrition, and fitness with the goal of simplifying complex health topics for the reader.  You can find out more about Melissa at www.melissamitri.com.