Keeping a food diary

Whether your goal is to lose weight or you simply want to try eat a healthier diet, keeping a food diary can help you achieve your goal.

Several studies have shown that people who keep a food diary are more likely to be successful in losing weight and keeping it off. In fact, a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, concluded that people keeping a food diary six days a week lost almost twice as much weight as those who didn’t.

Both Michelle and I found that keeping a food diary really works well for us in the past. As part of implementing our “action plan” to regain our happy, healthy selves and shift (some very) unwanted weight, we are both again using a food diary. Here’s why and some tips to make sure you get the most out of your food tracking.



Even if you’ve consulted a nutritionist, a food diary is the only way to really know what and how much you’re actually consuming on a daily basis.


It lifts the veil on actual calorie intake

Tracking what you eat with calorie counters will reveal just how many calories are in your favorite meals, snacks and drinks. You’re likely to be surprised to learn how many calories you’re actually consuming each day.


You can manage your macronutrient ratio

While reducing calories is important for healthy weight management, you need to look at the macronutrient ratio (protein vs. carbs vs. fats) of your diet as well. This affects your ability to stick to your healthy diet and lose weight. While there are certain guidelines of ideal ratio’s, what works depends on you and your goals. Keeping a food diary will help you track this. Here’s an article on Macronutrient ratio’s for weight management to tell you more about this and finding your ideal ratio.

Macronutrient ratios

Image: Mengenics Sports Nutrition

The easiest way to track your macronutrient ratio is with a food tracking app like myfitnesspal. After you’ve logged all the foods you’ve eaten, the app automatically calculates this for you. However, if you want to keep a manual journal, click here to see how to interpret food labels and calculate this yourself.


A food diary can help manage binge-eating by identifying emotional or other triggers

Most of us binge-eat or overeat at some point during the week. Regardless of your nemesis, keeping a food diary can help identify your weakness so that you can better manage them by unveiling patterns of overeating. It can also reveal triggers to avoid, e.g. not eating enough throughout the day and then overeating at night, or overeating when drinking alcohol.


Minimise mindless munching

Aside from overeating, sometimes we tend to mindlessly nibble because we think we “need” something or a simply bored. Keeping a food diary makes you more mindful. It raises your awareness of everything you’re eating, drinking and snacking on and makes you think twice about what you’re putting in your mouth.




Get a diary or phone app you can easily update

Track what you eat and drink in a hand-written diary or using a food tracking app on your phone. You want to be able to keep updating your diary throughout the day. Whichever you choose, you’ll ideally want to be able to keep track of the date, time, item eaten, quantity and calories consumed, as well as some space for extra notes.

I previously preferred a hand-written journal approach. However, I’ve recently started using the myfitnesspal app on my IPhone which I’m finding very convenient. Click here for some more really useful food tracking app suggestions.

Keeping a food diary

Record everything!

To reap the benefits of keeping a food diary, it needs to be accurate. This means you have to write down everything you put into your mouth. All meals, drinks, snacks and even nibbles of food you eat while you cook. No exceptions!

You should also keep track of the water you drink. This will help you make sure you’re drinking enough each day.


Be specific and accurate

Be very specific, and break your meal down by ingredient. For example, if you’re eating a “chicken salad”, you need to write down the quantity (weight) of chicken, and itemise and quantify each of the salad ingredients as well as the salad dressing components. (Only 1 tablespoon of olive oil has 120 calories!) This also helps you to focus on everything on your plate and allows you to accurately measure your macronutrients.


Note when you eat and how you feel before and after eating

If you want to identify “lifestyle triggers” to overeating, try taking notes on your hunger level and how you feel prior to and after eating.

Taking notes before you eat may help you identify emotional or other eating issues. You may notice you eat larger portions or higher fat foods when stressed, or larger portions of carb-dense foods when sleep deprived.  If you’re ravenous before eating you may tend to increase portion sizes. This could be managed by making sure to have a satisfying mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack. After eating, wait a while and then record how well your meal has satisfied you. (It takes about 10-20 minutes for your body to know you’re satisfied.)


Keeping a food diary can be as simple or as complex as you’d like it to be. It can merely be a tool for counting calories. Or you can use it to identify causes and triggers of overeating and bad habits. Either way, the simple act of being mindful of everything you consume is almost certain to improve your chances of achieving your health goals.


(RELATED POST: A day in the life of a rainbow diet; Spring clean your wellness)

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