Many 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
- 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…
- 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!
- 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.
- 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…
- 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!
- 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.