Whether you’re trying to lose weight, track food sensitivities, or you’re simply trying to develop a healthier relationship with food, keeping a food diary could help you to reach your goals. Many of the issues we have with food today revolve around a “passive” or “mindless” approach to what we eat.
In other words, people aren’t often mindful about the food they consume. We sit in front of the television while eating, and forget to pay attention to things like flavours, sensation, how we feel after eating certain foods, and even how full we get. It’s this kind of inattentive eating that often leads us to overeat, consume too much of the wrong foods, or expose ourselves to ingredients that harm our health. Lack of mindfulness can also contribute to an unhealthy relationship with food.
A food diary allows you to regain control over your diet, by prompting you to pay more attention to every food and drink you consume by logging your consumption. Here’s how it works:
What is a Food Diary? The Basics
A food diary is simply a log of the food and drinks you eat each day. It doesn’t have to be a traditional diary (written in a notebook), as you can keep it on your phone, or track your food on an app.
The more detailed your food diary is, the more helpful it becomes. Ideally, your food diary should eventually become a map of which foods to avoid, which to get more of, and even how you should portion your meal. Whenever you eat or drink something, you should log:
- How much food you ate: The exact quantity of food and drink, such as one cup of milk, or 2 ounces of pasta. You could even write the number of items, like 12 fries. You can log the calories if you like, if your dietician has suggested that calorie counting could help with weight loss.
- The type of food: Name the items you eat as specifically as possible. Don’t just write “pasta”, write “spaghetti carbonara”. Include all ingredients, from butter, to salt and pepper, to give yourself an insight into the full meal.
- The time of day: Keep track of the times of day you eat and drink, and when you’re most likely to eat your largest portions of food.
- Your activity while eating: Tracking what you’re doing when you’re eating (Such as being bored watching tv), can help you to decide whether you’re being mindful enough with your meals.
- How you felt after eating: How did you feel before you ate or drank? What kind of sensations did you experience during the process of eating or drinking? How did you feel afterwards? It’s important to note which foods give you more energy, which foods make you feel sick, which foods make you feel tired, etc.
Keep a note of any physical sensations you have after eating (as well as emotional ones). This can help you to track whether you have any specific intolerances to foods. If you notice you always feel sick a little while after eating dairy, for instance, you know you may have lactose intolerance.
Why Should You Keep a Food Diary?
If tracking all the details of your meals and snacks doesn’t sound like fun, you may be wondering why you would consider keeping a food diary at all. The most common reason to keep a food journal is that it helps you develop better-eating habits. You can track your calorie intake if you’re trying to lose weight, and you’re more likely to notice if you’re eating a lot of unhealthy foods. You build awareness with a food diary.
Food diaries prompt you to pay attention to what you’re eating, so you can make active decisions on how to change your diet. These tools help with:
- Disordered eating: Highlighting where you might have issues with things like stress eating, or guilty eating. If you eat more when you feel down emotionally, this could be a sign you need to speak to someone about ways of managing stress.
- Weight management: Seeing what you eat, how many calories you consume each day, and what types of food you’re drawn to can help you to reduce your calorie intake. It’s a great way to start making more strategic decisions for your diet.
- Social eating issues: Sometimes the people we eat with can affect what we choose to eat. If you tend to eat more when you’re alone than you do with other people, it might be a good idea to explore what the reasons for that are.
- Mindless eating: Keeping a food diary shows you when you’re likely to eat more because you’re not paying attention to your food. Learning how to be more mindful about what you eat can ensure you stay within the right calorie guidelines.
- Food intolerances: Sometimes we don’t realize we have an issue with certain foods, until we slow down and pay attention to the patterns. Examining how you feel after eating certain foods can give you a head start on understanding your sensitivities.
- Matching reality and perceptions: You might believe you eat lots of fruit and vegetables all the time, but in reality, you’re not getting enough whole produce into your diet. Your food diary will demonstrate whether your perceptions really match reality.
Crucially, keeping a food diary really can work. One study found that dieters keeping a diary of their food for six months lost double the weight of people who didn’t.
Tips for Keeping a Food Journal
If you think keeping a food diary could be beneficial for you, you’ll be pleased to know it’s not too complicated. The more you get into the habit of tracking which foods you eat, the more natural the process becomes. Start by finding a notepad you can keep with you at all times. You can even use the “Notes” app on your phone.
Try to be as consistent as possible with the information you jot down and commit to collecting the information after every meal. The following tips should help:
- Log foods quickly: Writing down the foods and drinks you eat as soon as you have them, before you forget. This will mean you don’t have to struggle to remember the exact details later.
- Write while you’re eating: You could even consider writing down what you eat as you eat it. This way, you’re being mindful of your food, rather than paying attention to something else.
- Be mindful: Pay attention to the sensation of eating. What is the texture of the food like? Are you enjoying the smell and flavor? Be as detailed as you can.
- Note when you miss meals: If your hectic schedule means you end up missing a meal one day, make a note of this. Try to be aware of whether you’re skipping meals often.
- Be honest: If you’re using a food diary but you’re only writing down some of what you eat because you’re embarrassed, it’s not going to work. Be honest about what you eat. You don’t have to show this diary to anyone else.
What to Do with Your Food Diary
Once you’ve gotten into the habit of keeping your food diary, you should begin to notice some patterns in the foods you eat, how you feel, and your general eating behaviours. With this information, you can start to create some “action plan” ideas. Think about:
- What you’d like to change: What about your eating habits are you unhappy with? Do you want to eat more healthy produce? Do you think you might be low on antioxidants? Look for potential problems and come up with ideas on how to fix them.
- Investigations: If you’ve noticed you don’t feel your best after eating certain foods, consider taking a DNA test to see whether you might have any intolerances lurking in your genetics. You could also speak to your doctor about having sensitivity tests done.
- Tracking your success: As you implement changes to your diet, keep track of how your behaviors change over time. Reward yourself for making positive changes and remember to celebrate those little wins.
A food diary isn’t just a tool for losing weight, it can be a powerful resource in improving your relationship with food and changing the way you manage your diet. You might even understand how your body reacts to certain foods which you didn’t know. To dig deeper into why you have those reactions, you can take a Circle Snapshot Food Sensitivity Test. Why not give it a try? A food diary in combination with the personalized nutrition reports from your CircleDNA test can help you fine-tune your diet in a way that improves your health.
“The Benefits of Food Journaling.” Beebe Healthcare, 20 December 2019, https://www.beebehealthcare.org/health-hub/nutrition/benefits-food-journaling. Accessed 25 Nov 2021.