Food Journal Practice

Take the first step: understand your eating habits…Daily Practice linkback

Recording what you eat is hands-down the most powerful way to gain real insight about where you stand in relationship to your diet and nutrition goals.  It is extremely common for us to miscalculate how much we're eating or to eat mindlessly (in the car, in front of the TV or at candy dishes and snack platters everywhere).  A food journal keeps us honest, shows us the easiest places to improve, and reinforces mindfulness of eating in everyday life.  And it isn't hard-try the online tools.  After a week or two of commitment, an honest understanding of what, how much, and when you eat will become second nature.

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You can expect: deeper awareness of your eating habits and relationship to food, weight loss, increased motivation and discipline, a deeper understanding of emotional motivators for eating too much, a great tool for working with your doctor or nutritionist-especially if you're targeting a specific issue.

What the experts are saying: Keeping a food and activity journal are great tools to help with weight loss.  Kristin Kirkpatrick, registered dietitian contends that keeping a food log may help you lose up to 50 percent more weight than you would if you didn't record your daily diet.  Journaling your meals and exercise can do more than just track your calorie intake and output; it can help you discover hidden eating triggers, undo bad habits and learn how to energize your body by eating and staying active.

Level of Effort: Moderate

Time Involved: 5-20 Minutes A Day


Getting Started:

  1. Determine a tracking method. You may want to maintain your food journal online, in paper form or use a combination of both.
  2. Record your goals in your journal prior to getting started.
  3. Commit to a schedule. You may want to enter your food into the on-line journal as you consume it throughout the day or it may work better for you to track your food in a small notebook and enter the information into the on-line journal before you go to bed.
  4. Be sure to record everything you eat and drink.
  5. Review your food journal at the end of each day.


What to Consider:

  • How can keeping a food journal benefit me?
  • At a minimum, try keeping a food journal for a week. In just seven days you can find out a lot about your typical eating habits. With that information, you can make changes in your diet that will help you to get healthy, reduce your risk of certain diseases and loose weight if that is your goal.
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1. Determine a method for tracking

You may want to maintain your journal online, in paper form or use a combination of both. We strongly encourage you to use an on-line food journal for several reasons: easy to maintain; provides you with a list of food and beverages to easily choose from; automatically computes complex nutritional information, custom nutritional needs, suggested calories counts and chart progress to keep you motivated. Recording your data also allows you to share information and receive support from online weight-loss communities.

How do you want to log your foods?


3. Commit to an Schedule

An important aspect of the long-term success of your food journal is the commitment with which you use it. You can either enter what you eat and drink as you go through your day into an on-line food journal or you can keep a small notebook and manually log all your food and drinks during the day and then enter the information into the food journal during the evening or before bed.   The important thing is to find a method that works for you and to stick with it.


4. Record everything you Eat and Drink

In order to get a clear picture of your eating habits you will need to record everything you eat and drink. People tend to underestimate the amount of food they have eaten.  The most important factor in keeping an effective food diary is to make it an honest one.

Suggestions for what to track in your food journal:

  • The types of foods you are eating
  • Your nutritional intake - Fat grams, calories, carbohydrates, protein, fiber, etc.
  • Your underlying reasons for eating - did you feel gut hunger
  • Your appetite and/or cravings
  • Your feelings before and after eating (e.g. satisfied, healthy, guilty)
  • Your portion sizes - For portion sizes you don't need to buy a scale or pull out measuring cups. Use your own measurements (e.g. a salad bowl of popcorn, a fistful of M&Ms, a mug of hot chocolate); a rough estimate is better than not keeping one at all.
  • Who were you with?
  • Did you eat hurriedly or calmly?
  • Were you doing another activity (like watching television) while you were eating?

You will find writing down and acknowledging these questions and your related answers will go a long way in helping you to understand what you eat, why you choose the food you eat and how what you eat makes you feel. (Something as simple as logging how many cans of soda you drink each day may well be an eye-opening experience.) In the beginning focus on recording as much as you can, when you've become accustomed to writing everything down, you'll be ready to start keeping a more in-depth record.


5. Review Your Food Journal At The End of Each Day.

Interpreting your journal will provide you with valuable insight into your eating habits. Questions to help you interpret your journal:

  • Determine your motivation for eating. Are you truly hungry when you eat? If not, are you eating for emotional reasons?
  • Compare the types of food and portions you eat with the food pyramid. Do you eat well-balanced meals with good serving sizes? Do some areas have room for improvement?
  • Take note of your eating habits. Do you eat regularly, or do you eat a little and then overindulge later?
  • Use the above as guidelines to determine your problem areas, and brainstorm ways to repair those problems.


Do you want to share your food journal with others, or do you want social support from a community? If yes, then these services might be of interest to you:

  • Weight Watchers
  • My Fitness Pal
  • Spark People



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How can keeping a food journal benefit me?

  • Allows you to monitor your caloric intake. - Losing weight is a simple equation - take in fewer calories than you expend. Monitoring your caloric intake is the first step in lowering it.
  • Encourages you to focus on your food choices. - More often than not we overeat because we are focusing on something other than what we are eating. Writing down what you eat in a food diary forces you to focus on what you are doing.
  • Provides a record you can share with your health care provider. -- Your health care provider can look at your food diary and provide insight and information on what you can do to eat healthier. Also, what you are eating may be impacting your health in other ways.
  • Helps you control the urge to binge. - Knowing you are going to have to write down what you eat can stop you from reaching for the second helping of potato chips. If you tend to binge due to stress, or you regularly give in to emotional eating, your food diary can help you cope. When you catch yourself eating when you're not hungry or giving into a binge, spend some time in reflection so you can figure out why it happened. Then, as tough as this may be to admit -- write down why you ate (hunger, boredom, etc.) and how you felt afterward (guilty, deserving, etc.). You may find it helpful to record when you tend to overeat so you can plan to arrange other activities in the future that will take your mind off of food.
  • Allows you to track your progress. - A food diary can serve as evidence of how far you have come in this journey. It also feels great to look back and see you are eating better today than you did days, weeks or years ago.
  • Encourages mindful eating. - Writing down what you eat encourages you to think about what you are eating. The more you think, the less and better you eat.  Food journals will help identify hidden calories in your diet. Keep notes on reasons for eating: stress, boredom, emotions or hunger.
  • Creates a means of evaluating the connection between what you eat and how you feel. - You can use a food diary to examine the circumstances and feelings, which trigger overeating. Once you identify the causes you can begin doing something about them.
  • Helps you be sure you are getting enough of each food group. -- It is important to eat a balanced diet. A food diary can provide clues as to what foods you have been neglecting and need to add to your diet.
  • Assists you in acknowledging the reality of how much you eat. - Keeping a food diary will help you confront the truth about how much you eat. Once you stop kidding yourself about how much you eat, you can begin making the necessary changes.
  • Reinforces your commitment to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. - Each time you make an entry in your food diary you are expressing your intention and desire to do what needs to be done in order to live well.
  • Awareness of what you eat or don't eat. Many people skip breakfast. With a food journal, you can see what skipping breakfast does to your eating habits throughout the rest of the day. You may be eating more high calorie or high fat foods to compensate for a lack of energy.

  • You can discern emotional issues. Some people eat more when they get emotional. No one wants to admit that they are emotional eaters, but keeping a food journal may bear out that you are one. Once you know, you can get help to overcome it and learn to deal with any issues in a more constructive way.
  • You can make changes in your diet that stick. With a food journal, you can take what you are currently eating and make substitutions that are better for your health. For instance, if you eat a lot of pasta, switching to whole wheat pasta and lowering your portion size can lower your cholesterol and your weight. You can change one thing at a time and evaluate how well it is working for you.

  • You can see what nutrients you are lacking. Sometimes it is not how much you eat but what types of foods you are eating. You can be thin and still have an unhealthy body. If your food journal shows a lack of green vegetables, you are probably missing out on several nutrients like Vitamin E, zinc, folic acid, B vitamins, Magnesium, iron and others that your body needs to function properly. Lack of certain vitamins and minerals can cause hair to fall out or skin to look pale.


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