How to Keep a Food Diary and Why

By Jim F

how-to-keep-food-diaryMany nutritional experts agree that keeping a food diary is critical to weight loss success. A food diary creates a conscious awareness of food intake and eating patterns.

After keeping a diary many people are often surprised at how that “occasional” big dessert turns out to be a regular occurrence.

While some factors such as age or genetics are outside of our control – we can make choices about what foods we eat.

Basic Guidelines for Keeping a Food Diary

Details you record could include:

  • What you ate or drank: Be specific and include everything.
  • How much: Size, volume, weight, and number of items.
  • Time: Time of day you ate this food or drank this beverage.
  • Where: What location were you in when you ate.
  • Alone or with whom: Were you by yourself or with others.
  • Activity: List activities done while eating (watching TV, driving).
  • Mood: How were you feeling before, during and after eating?

What is your purpose?

What you include in your food diary depends on which area concerns you the most.

  • If your problem is portions: focus on weighing and measuring everything you eat.
  • If you want to focus on a nutritious diet: record the nutritional components (fat, sugar, salt, etc).
    (NOTE: There are some great on-line resources reviewed here).
  • If your problem is habitual eating patterns: Focus on recording time of day, where, with whom, and activity.
  • Emotional eating issues? Log your moods and their connections to eating patterns.

Six Very Good Reasons for Keeping a Diary

  1. Account for all those ‘little extras’

    Many people eat healthily at mealtimes, but snack poorly in between. If you’re aiming to lose a pound a week, just a few extras (eg. a can of coke, a cookie and a packet of crisps) during the day prevents you from seeing results on the scales.

    Writing down everything you eat demonstrates the cost of those ‘occasional’ nibbles…

  2. Know when you can afford to treat yourself

    Conversely, keeping track of your food intake over the course of a day or a week gives you the freedom to enjoy a treat once in a while – guilt-free. If you know you’ve got calories to spare for the day, and no chocolate has passed your lips for six days, you can indulge yourself!

  3. Be aware of when you’re eating

    Keeping a food diary highlights patterns, showing if you overeat at particular times. Perhaps you binge late at night, because you’ve been eating too little all day? Or perhaps you graze constantly? If you don’t keep a food diary because you have no hope of remembering everything you eat … you may need to change your habits.

  4. Fight ‘portion creep’

    Those of us who’ve been dieting or maintaining for a long time often get used to “eyeballing” portions rather than weighing everything out. But if your weight loss has plateaued, or if those pounds are edging back on, keeping a diary means you need to weigh your foods. That “medium” portion of pasta or rice might be bigger than you think…

  5. See your habits changing

    It can be motivational to look back on a food diary from a few months or even years ago and see how your nutritional choices have changed. Perhaps you’ve curbed your chocolate habit, or maybe you now eat proper meals instead of junk-food snacks. And if you’re having a bad day, flicking back to a “perfect” week in your diary is encouraging: if you did it once, you can do it again!

  6. Boost your self-control

    Knowing you have to write down everything you eat makes you think twice about that donut, or that second plateful at a buffet. Even if you’re the only person who’ll see your diary, recording your food intake is a very easy way to improve your self-control.

See Also

Online Food Dairies and Tracking Tools Many with Mobile Apps.

40 Comments

  1. andrea

    I like this one because we need to be cations for what we are eating..

    Reply
  2. Jamal

    What were some of the major things you did to lose 135 pounds because i really need to lose my weight!?

    Reply
  3. sonia

    Hello eveyone,i need help,my weight is 83kilos.what exactly should i been eating,i mean breakfast,lunch,dinner.pls can someone help me out with the names of the food?thanks

    Reply
  4. Nikki

    My husband and I were looking for a free site. Thanks for mentioning Fitday. I checked it out based on your post and it was exactly what we wanted.

    Reply
  5. John Thompson

    This article is right on. I have used the EatSmart Nutrition Scale for the last six months keeping an informal food diary and have seen dramatic effects mostly due to my increased awareness. I doubt my diet would have been as successful otherwise.

    Reply
  6. Healthy Weight Loss Girl

    A weight loss journal is a great idea. Recording your food intake as well as your weight can make it easier to pin-point certain weight loss obstacles.

    Reply
  7. MariaDiletta

    Keeping a food diary is the best thing that I’ve done in terms of being in control and managing a diet and exercise plan. I stay true to myself — it’s easy and fun to track my progress, and see results! My Daily Food and Activity Diary http://www.apowerfultool.com is an easy way to help support any diet plan and it’s not that expensive and really only takes a few extra minutes each day. I also like to list what I’m going to eat and what my exercise goals are for that day in advance and stick w/that plan. By the end of the day I check off the page and feel good about myself and know that I’m on the right path.

    Reply
  8. ashley kozlowski

    keeping a food diary works like a charm for me, I am much more aware of everything I put in my mouth. I am getting into the best shape of my life and it really hasn’t been that hard. I enjoy tracking my food and counting calories, I’m kind of a numbers person. you just have to figure out what works for you and stick with it. my food diary is just part of my daily routine now, its like brushing my teeth, I just do it.

    Reply
  9. Kilo verme

    When I was in my 20’s I would adjust my diet by making sure I didn’t eat everything on my plate. But, after my 30’s that was not possible any more.

    I have been logging my daily consumption for over 5 years. I created an Excel spreadsheet that gives me averages and I try to make sure I beat the averages. When I started I weighed 232 lbs. and now weigh 187. My goal is 175. Logging my diet makes me very aware of what I eat. What is great about it is that I can plan ahead what I’m going to eat. If I know I will be eating over my goal (like Thanksgiving or some celebration), I make sure that my diet returns to normal right after.

    After all these years, I can say that I would not have been able to do without a journal.

    Reply
  10. diyet

    thanks

    Reply
  11. zayiflama

    It really worked for me,

    135 lbs down

    15 to go πŸ™‚

    Reply
  12. Susan

    Could you give me a reference for the study you referred to?
    Thanks

    Reply
  13. yataiblue

    Good to know this blog, I’ve been really enjoyed all these articles on here. I’ve been translating some of them and put them on my blog. Good work, and I appreciate your work. Thanks from Japan.

    Reply
  14. Eat a lil too much

    ok y’all, i lost 73 pounds in 4 months becuz i logged my eating habbits and figured out how much i needed to loose!!!!!!!! i think evry grl knows how hard it is to loose wait but by cutting everything i ate in half, the ponds fell off!!!! luv, sandy k.

    Reply
  15. Sasha Beningfield

    okkk……. i know that most people do this but i have a problem, i eat way to much 1 day then the nxt day i will feel guilty about it and wont eat anything i kept a food diary and i was really suprised at my lack of nutrition. i mean i work out every other day, i run, i do ballet, i do hip hop, but thats not enough to stay healthy. So i created my own little book that has the date, my meal times, my snack portions that i should be eating, and what i should eat. i check mark nxt to the things that i followed that day and it helped me loose 9 pounds in 4 weeks!!!!!

    Reply
  16. ulker

    I started logging my foods too. It feels good to know what I have been eating. http://www.bitelog.com I can see all the vitamins and fiber etc.

    Reply
  17. terry

    This software is really good at helping you keep a food diary and keep you aware of what you are doing. it is geared toward dieting but logs everything and its cheap

    http://www.dietpower.com/try

    Reply
  18. Pondering

    This article makes me wonder… should I start writing?

    In fact, the thought of me writing a food diary has always been on the back of my mind. The last time it happened, it lasted four days. The last time before that, it lasted two months and I got really stressed writing down everything I ate that I eventually started a semi-eating disorder.

    I really wish I could come in peace with eating…

    Reply
  19. Becky

    I tend to get really emotional and scared about what Ive eaten, if I don’t write it down. That leads to under-eating, then bingeing… terrible viscious cycle.

    Reply
  20. Deirdre

    I think I’ll do this. I like the idea of tracking my eating without counting calories, which I’ve always done and which has always been a real challenge. I find it too onerous as I cook from scratch and buy whole foods, and the calorie books and websites are more geared toward processed and fast food.

    I’ve also been wanting to come up with my own “diet book,” where I figure out the calories of foods I eat regularly and stick mostly to those for a while. A food journal will help me keep track of what meals I eat regularly.

    Reply
  21. Ren

    i keep track everyday!

    Reply
  22. Israel

    this is so correct. after I started keeping track of my eating, i noticed that A LOT of things that I thought I had under control, I didnt have under control.

    its helped me manage my eating habits.

    Reply
  23. Bob

    When I was in my 20’s I would adjust my diet by making sure I didn’t eat everything on my plate. But, after my 30’s that was not possible any more.

    I have been logging my daily consumption for over 5 years. I created an Excel spreadsheet that gives me averages and I try to make sure I beat the averages. When I started I weighed 232 lbs. and now weigh 187. My goal is 175. Logging my diet makes me very aware of what I eat. What is great about it is that I can plan ahead what I’m going to eat. If I know I will be eating over my goal (like Thanksgiving or some celebration), I make sure that my diet returns to normal right after.

    After all these years, I can say that I would not have been able to do without a journal.

    Reply
  24. bambi

    Want to loose weight? Don’t bring any deserts into the house at all. Well it worked for me

    Reply
  25. DrMaheshwari

    As a weight loss doctor, I tell all of my patients to use a food diary because I find the ones who use one can lose upto 3 times as much weight as those that don’t.

    Perhaps it’s a sign of their level of motivation, but I also think that it causes them to pay more attention to what they are eating. It is a great tool to prevent overeating.

    It also helps me to decipher what the cause of their weight gain might be (not eating regularly, eating too much of one particular food group, etc).

    Anil Maheshwari, MD

    Reply
  26. Alexandra

    I just logged my food intake on thedailyplate.com. I was interested to note that although I’ve eaten entirely different things in the past 3 days, the calorie count before exercise was 1773, 1789, 1770 for those days, in other words, I apparently am gravitating toward that exact level of food consumption and fullness. I want to lose some weight so I want to lower that, but seeing it in black and white really clarifies what I’m doing.

    Reply
  27. Quito

    oceans11 said:

    Who even would think of how many chips they eat unless they have to record it later?

    Yes! For me it was crackers. Those little things add up fast…

    Reply
  28. Entangled

    I’m the opposite. I’m trying to stop over-analyzing and feeling guilty over what I eat. I think a food journal is great for building awareness, but if you’re already hyper-aware, anxious and guilty over everything you eat, it’s kind of counter-productive.

    But I guess I’m kind of rare (I mean, how many people are making a conscious effort to *cut down* on fiber and vegetables… and having trouble). I just want to point out that there are people out there who are aware of what they are eating and should not be making themselves even more conscious of it…

    Even my nutritionist thinks a food diary is a terrible idea, which at least is somewhat reassuring in my goal to be less anal-retentive and guilt-ridden.

    Reply
  29. oceans11

    I’ve heard of this tip before but was never sold on it till I tried it myself. I believe it’s been key to the success of my most recent diet – which followed many bouts of failures.

    My first realization was food that comes in a bag was a big no-no. Try listing the number of chips you eat on paper and you start to realize that it’s easy to inhale 1,000 cals in front of the TV from those innocuous looking little chips. Who even would think of how many chips they eat unless they have to record it later? I don’t even eat popcorn at the movies anymore all due to food journal. Talk about mindless munching.

    Some of my friends say recording what you eat seems neurotic, but I say the way some of us tend to eat is neurotic. Food journals keep eating in check.

    Reply
  30. Amy

    I’ve been keeping a food diary for over 5 years now. It’s just become a part of my daily routine, like brushing my teeth. It helps me plan ahead – I use Fitday and will often “pre-log” my food since I eat pretty much the same breakfast lunch and snacks, only dinner changes. It also allows me to figure out, based on what is planned for dinner, what I have left for my own discretion throughout the day. My food log serves as an important anchor for me. In the beginning it was a paper journal on the counter and when I saw it, it provided a reminder. Now, I log online, but in my mind whenever I eat a food, I see my log and what it will add to the total. It also allows me to look back at times when I was successful in weight loss and review what I was eating or to see averages over a period of time. Things you just can’t get by tracking in your head.

    Reply
  31. Spectra

    I kept a food diary BEFORE I started losing weight so I could see where I was getting most of my calories. I realized that I was eating sometimes 4500 calories a day or so just by making nutritionally poor choices. I’ve never really been an emotional eater, but I did eat a lot of junk before I decided to lose weight simply because it tasted good. When I realized that I was eating almost 600 calories just for a breakfast of poptarts and a 20 oz sweetened juice drink, I started making better choices and the pounds came off.

    Now, I don’t keep a journal every day, but if the pounds creep on, I analyze what I’m eating and cut out the things I don’t need (like Quaker rice snacks and Skittles and too much beer). Works pretty well, but you do have to be brutally honest or it won’t work for you.

    Reply
  32. Quito

    bambi said:

    You honestly do not need to write a food diary in order to loose [sic] weight.

    JimK said:

    You just don’t think about what exactly it is that you’re eating most of the time.

    It really does depend on the person. I’m in JimK’s camp. If I don’t watch it, and I let my exercise drop, then I can gain weight on a low fat (but high calorie) diet. But, we’re all different…

    Reply
  33. bambi

    You honestly do not need to write a food diary in order to loose weight. Isn’t it time consuming anyways? If you want to be thin for life it’s pretty obvious that you will have to abandon macaroni and cheese, cookies and other high fat items.

    Reply
  34. rpm2004

    It really worked for me,

    135 lbs down

    15 to go πŸ™‚

    Reply
  35. cheri

    I have an unusual issue. I switched to an organic diet earlier this year. After calculating the amount of calories I need to support my level of working out, it turns out that I was undereating( sometimes as low as 800 cal) Some may say that I’m lucky to not have portion control issues, but I ate little enough to slow my metabolism and it will take as much as 3 months for my body to ajust.
    A food journal is a good idea for anyone who is interested in supplying what the body needs.

    Reply
  36. JimK

    I’ve been using My-Calorie-Counter.com religiously for two months now, and it;s totally changed my life, my views on food, portions, etc. What I was eating before was, simply put, a nightmare. And – unknown to me, really. You just don’t think about what exactly it is that you’re eating most of the time.

    Now I do.

    No affiliated with the site, BTW, just a happy member.

    Reply
  37. Ashley Wagner

    Instead of doing a food diary when I was losing weight, I did a weight loss journal. It was on a sheet of paper and simple because that’s what I had time for. Each day I got on the scale, I’d write down my weight, and then I’d include my body fat percentage because my scale offeres that information. Seeing the progress every day was enough motivation for me to continue eating healthy foods. I mentally kept track of what I ate which worked for me and I got results the results that I wanted. πŸ™‚

    Reply
  38. Teresa

    August 21, I started to write down everithing I ate. I’ve lost 1.5 kg* πŸ™‚ I bought a little note book and have it at hand in my purse.

    (* I don’t know how to convert it to your system)

    Reply
  39. kathyj333

    Keeping a food diary is one the best things that I have ever done.

    Reply
  40. Qingfang

    Studies have been shown that the β€œawareness” itself could reduce body weight about 5%. “Keep the food diary” is the good way to keep alert what people eat.
    How to keep write a food items in daily base, it’s a big challenge.

    Reply