If you're looking for a way to understand your relationship with food better, keeping a food diary is a terrific option to consider. Whether you're looking to lose weight, make better dietary choices or identify foods that trigger sensitivities, maintaining a log of what you consume, when and where you consume it and how you feel before, during and after can be incredibly enlightening.
The idea of tracking every single thing you eat or drink can be daunting, to be sure. However, as with any habit, keeping a food journal is more difficult to start than to maintain.
With accuracy and consistency, logging your food and drink intake can reveal a lot about you, your habits and your relationship with food, helping you realize many exciting benefits along the way.
What Are the Benefits of Maintaining a Food Diary?
Although keeping a food journal is yet another thing to add to an already busy day, the benefits far outweigh the effort that goes into doing so. Here are some of the top advantages of keeping track of what you eat and drink throughout the day:
Make More Conscious Dietary Choices
Logging everything you eat and drink is an excellent way to be more mindful about what you consume.
Mindfulness, a behavioral technique that helps put habits into perspective, is a useful way to analyze intake and make more conscious choices. For example, it can help you realize when you're mindlessly grazing on food despite not being hungry, making it easier to avoid taking in too many calories throughout the day.
Hold Yourself Accountable
Keeping a food diary is a great way to hold yourself accountable for your dietary choices, allowing you to develop healthier eating habits more easily and effectively.
The diary is an observant yet nonjudgmental party, and you don't have to share it with anyone – unless you want to.
Maintain Better Weight Control
In today's world of fast food and processed meals, it's surprisingly easy to overdo it with calorie intake. According to a review of 15 scientific studies, dietary self-monitoring methods like food journals are linked to significant weight loss.
Consistently journaling your intake can help you identify external factors that may cause you to consume foods that are high in fat, sugar and calories. It's also an effective tool for those who need to gain weight, such as athletes who want to gain muscle mass, because it can help you identify healthy ways to increase intake.
Identify Gaps in Your Eating Patterns
Keeping a food journal can help you identify deficiencies in your daily diet. For example, you may realize that you're not taking in enough fiber or protein.
By pinpointing areas that need improvement, you can make conscious changes to help boost overall health and wellbeing.
Identify Problem Foods
Many people are introduced to the concept of food journaling while trying to figure out digestive problems and other issues. A registered dietitian may even ask you to track your food intake to pinpoint foods and drinks that trigger your condition.
For example, if you have IBS – irritable bowel syndrome – keeping a food diary can help you identify foods that trigger symptoms like stomach pain, bloating and diarrhea.
It Only Takes 15 Minutes Per Day
Finally, contrary to popular belief, maintaining a food journal doesn't require a major time commitment. In fact, according to a study in the journal Obesity, doing so only requires about 15 minutes per day.
In the beginning, you may find yourself spending more time on it. After a while, though, most people whittle it down to a manageable amount of time and hardly have to think about it.
Tips for Making the Most of Your Food Journaling Experience
There's no right or wrong way to maintain a food diary. Here are some tips to help you make the most of the experience:
- Track As You Go – As hectic as life is, it can be tempting to hold off on logging your meals until the end of the day. However, food amnesia is a real thing; studies have shown that people underestimate how many calories they consume by up to 40%. Therefore, it's best to log food and drinks as you go. Keeping a paper food journal with you can help, or you can jot notes in your smartphone and log them properly later. Some people even snap quick photos of their meals while on the go. Just do what works for you.
- Log Everything – Get into the habit of logging every single thing you eat or drink during the day – even quick bites here and there, which can add up. Logging everything not only ensures accuracy, but it can help you become more aware of the factors that trigger you to want to eat even when you're not hungry.
- Be Specific – Include as many details as possible with each entry. Note what you ate or drank and how much. You can record the amount by volume, with a measuring cup; by weight, with a food scale; by the number of items or by comparing it to something like a deck of cards. Document any extras like sauces and condiments. Record the time of day and where you ate your meal – don't just write "at home," but record the exact room. Note what you were doing during the meal and whether you ate alone or with others.
- Monitor Your Mood – Jot down how you felt before, during and after your meal to identify patterns and understand how your diet affects your mental health. Ask yourself, "Why am I eating right now?" Over time, these details can provide insights into what may trigger you to want to eat even when you're not actually hungry.
- Choose a Method That's Right for You – With food journaling, some people swear by snazzy smartphone apps while others prefer putting pen to paper. Experiment with different options to figure out the one that's right for you.
- Be Honest – There's no point in glossing over details in your food journal. Even if you're unhappy about something you snacked on, omitting it will only hold you back. Remember: You don't have to share your diary with anyone else, so it's okay to be completely open and honest.
- Be Consistent, Patient and Flexible – Maintaining a food journal should make you more aware – not more rigid – about your eating habits. Early on, it's easy to be discouraged. Be gentle with yourself. If you forget to document a meal or even an entire day's worth of them, pick back up where you left off.
- Use Your Food Diary as a Food Library – A great perk of maintaining a food journal is that you can go back and remind yourself of meals you especially enjoyed so that you can enjoy them again later. You can also recall variations you made to different meals to incorporate them again in the future.
- Try Journaling with a Buddy – If you're overwhelmed by the idea of keeping a food journal, buddying up with someone else can be a terrific way to make it more accessible and inviting. Much like going to the gym with a friend, journaling your food intake with someone else can be inspiring, allowing you to motivate each other and to discuss the benefits you've noticed along the way. For some people, a little moral support goes a very long way.
- Set Reminders to Log Meals – Especially initially, it can be easy to forget to log a quick snack or even an entire meal. If you're using a paper journal, setting reminders on your phone alerting you to log your meals can be beneficial. You might set reminders for around mealtimes or just one time per day – it's totally up to you and your situation.
- Review Your Journal Occasionally – Avoid obsessiveness regarding your diet by reviewing your food diary once a week or so. Weekly reviews make it easier to identify patterns, trends and habits, allowing you to analyze your intake more effectively. During these reviews, ask yourself how your mood seems to affect your eating. How often do you eat on the run? How healthy is your diet in general?
- Set Goals, If You Want – After reviewing your food journal for the week, you may decide to set new goals for yourself. If you decide to do that, make them SMART goals: They should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Based. For example, if you are eating takeout more often than you'd like, set a goal to limit yourself to just one or two times per week.
Tools for Effective Food Journaling
You're more likely to be consistent about journaling your diet when you use the right tools. However, what works for one person may not work for the next, so it's essential to try out a few different things to see what clicks for you.
Not surprisingly, there are tons of mobile apps out there to help you maintain a food diary. There's a lot to be said for being able to whip out your smartphone to document your meals, but it's not for everyone.
One advantage of using a food diary app is that many of them include databases of popular foods and ingredients, making it easier to delve more deeply into what you're consuming. If you want to track macronutrients, using this type of app is probably the way to go.
On the other hand, not everyone is technically savvy or interested in using their devices more than they already do, and that's okay!
Paper Food Diaries
For many people, the act of putting pen to paper is more effective than relying on digital devices. In that case, all you need is a notebook and a pen, and you're good to go.
Consider investing in a dedicated paper food journal like the Clever Fox Food Journal to make things easier and more enjoyable. This daily food diary and meal planner is specifically designed for people who want to track their diets, and it adds a dash of flair to the experience with its colorful, engaging design.
Here's a quick pro-tip: You can supplement using a paper journal by jotting notes or snapping photos with your smartphone throughout the day while on the go. Later, you can log those entries into your journal.
Food Journaling May Not Be Right for Everyone
Although maintaining a food diary is a useful tool for many people, it's not right for everyone.
If you have suffered from eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia in the past, documenting your food intake can be triggering. Consult with a psychologist before proceeding.
Pay attention to how you're reacting to maintaining a food diary. For some people, doing so can trigger obsessive thoughts and negative feelings. If you find yourself focusing more on numbers and details instead of improving the quality of your diet and making healthier choices, reconsider keeping a food diary. Ultimately, doing this should improve your relationship with food – not make you feel bad.
Start Your Food Journaling Journey Today!
You're probably excited to get started now that you know the basics of maintaining a food diary. There's no time like the present, and you can get going with just a piece of paper and a pen. Upgrading to an official paper food journal like the ones designed by Clever Fox can be a great way to stay organized about things, so consider doing so to keep on track with your efforts. Good luck and happy food journaling!