Food Journaling 101: Why it Works and How to Stick to It

food journal
Unless you enter everything, the food journal won't be able to help you. See what not to do in these diet fads pictures.

Sometimes overeating isn't so much a matter of control, or lack of control, as it is lack of awareness. People can lose sight of how much they're eating and gain weight almost by accident. For those who do have a problem with eating for the wrong reasons (to celebrate, commiserate or compensate), understanding the when, what and how can be important in changing entrenched habits and starting on a healthier dietary path.

Putting It All in Writing


Keeping a food journal isn't a punishment; it's a tool for self-discovery. Most good things require a little research, and this is research about your relationship with food. If you do it right, you'll come away with a fuller understanding of yourself and some insight into eating better.

A food journal will tell you the truth -- if you let it. If you eat three meals a day, nibble while you're cooking dinner, have a couple of snacks during the afternoon and drink two calorie-laden beverages in a day, you're probably taking in a lot more sugar, salt, fat and calories than you think you are. Keeping a food journal will give you an accurate picture of what you're eating so you can determine if it's too much, or just too much of the wrong foods. Calories aren't the only issue here. Too much sodium and sugar and too little fiber, vitamins and minerals have an impact on your overall health, too. Keep a journal for two weeks without changing your routine. It'll be an eye-opener.

Entering Data

There are a number of online and hard copy food journals you can employ to get the job done. Whatever format you use, keep track of:

  • What you eat
  • When you eat
  • How much
  • Where
  • With whom
  • Why

To help you keep the process of entering information in a food journal fast and easy, visit a few food journaling sites or invest in a couple of books that will give you the nutritional content of the prepared foods and raw ingredients you eat most often. The easier it is to enter the data, the more you're likely to keep the journal current. Don't summarize your food intake at the end of the day. Make a journal entry as soon after eating as possible [source: Family Doctor].

You'll want to track quantities that will translate to calories and nutrients consumed. If you use an online resource, it will be easier to get a detailed breakdown of exactly what's going into your system by just making a simple entry and letting the software do the rest. Using a hard copy resource will teach you quite a bit about nutrition, but it'll be more time-consuming.

After you get into the habit of making entries in your food journal, you'll start to notice a couple of things. First, if you know you'll have to make an entry later, you'll start becoming more aware of what you're putting in your mouth. Second, some unexpected patterns will begin to emerge.

Track the Trends

When you eat between meals, you're probably doing it for a reason. Your snacking may be stress related, caused by a change in your mood, or a result of poor nutrition during your last meal. If you tend to eat at a certain time of the day or night, like in the evening while watching television, that may also be significant. Eating while distracted by the television, reading or listening to music can cause a delay in your brain telling you that you're full. When you overeat, are you alone, bored, angry, sad or happy? A food journal will help to reveal your eating triggers and give you clues about how to make small adjustments that will help you eat better.

The longer you keep a food journal and the more detailed it is, the more you will be able to learn about the mind-body connection in your dietary habits. Armed with that information, you'll be able to develop a more successful strategy for eating right.


Lots More Information

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  • Family Doctor. "Keeping a Food Diary. 10/07. 11/1/09.
  • Hale, Ali. "Six Reasons to Keep a Food Diary." Undated. 11/1/09.
  • Paddock, Catharine, PhD. "Want to Lose Weight? Keep a Food diary." Medical News Today. 7/8/08. 11/2/09.
  • U. C. Davis Cancer Center. "How to Keep a Food Diary." 12/04. 11/1/09.
  • Your Personal Nutrition. "Food Diary Template." Undated. 11/1/09.