How to Keep a Food Diary

Keeping a food diary (also called a food journal or food log) is one of the most effective methods to help you achieve your health goals. If you want to lose weight, identify foods that trigger your digestive symptoms or improve your eating habits, then keeping a food diary should be one of your priorities.

The Essentials

The most important qualities your food diary should possess are accuracy and honesty; everything else is secondary. Any inaccurate or false entry will compromise the integrity of your food diary. This will make it difficult for you, your physician, dietitian or nutritionist to correctly determine the foods and factors that influence your weight gain or digestive discomfort, which can ultimately lead to a wrong diagnosis and treatment plan. This is why it is important that you practice honesty when recording everything you have eaten for the day.

Finished a bag of chips for breakfast? Gorged on a pint of ice cream after lunch? Had three consecutive cheat days? List them anyway. It is far better to include all the not-so-healthy foods you’ve been eating than to take them out just so anyone reading your food diary will be impressed. Your food diary is not a tool for impressing your healthcare provider, but it is a part of the reflection process about your diet and eating habits.

The Specifics

Including the following specific information in your food diary will help you get the most out of this record-taking habit:

1. Foods you ate and how they were prepared

Examples:

  • Baked blueberry muffin
  • Fried chicken
  • Grilled sausage
  • Caesar salad

2. Drinks you consumed and how they were prepared

Examples:

  • Brewed coffee
  • Homemade iced tea
  • Soda

3. Condiments, dressings, marinades and sauces that came with your food

Examples:

  • Gravy
  • Ranch dressing
  • Sweet chilli sauce

4. Quantity of the foods and drinks you consumed

Examples:

  • One small baked blueberry muffin
  • One quarter-leg fried chicken
  • Two pieces of sausage
  • One regular-sized bowl of Caesar salad
  • Two cups or about 470ml of coffee
  • One tall glass or about 455ml of iced tea

5. Your time of eating

This will help you pinpoint any unhealthy eating habits you may have such as late-night snacking which may be linked to increased weight. Examples:

  • 7:30am for breakfast
  • 1pm for lunch
  • 3pm for an afternoon snack
  • 12:30am for a midnight snack

6. Place where you are eating

Examples:

  • Home kitchen
  • Office canteen
  • Your favourite diner
  • Car
  • Relative or friend’s home

7. Other simultaneous activities you were engaged in while you were eating

This will reveal any particular task or action that may be influencing your eating habits like binge-eating. Examples:

  • Discussing with your spouse your plans for the weekend
  • Watching a movie with the kids
  • Browsing social media on your phone
  • Having a meeting with your colleagues

8. Your companion or who you’re with while you’re eating

This may reveal that your choice of companions may be playing a role in your eating habits.

  • Your spouse
  • Children
  • Colleagues
  • Relatives

9. Your emotions or mood while you are eating, and if possible, the reason that influenced this emotion or mood

Similar to the previous point, this will reveal any particular emotion or state of mind that triggers your eating decisions.

  • Happy spending quality time with the family
  • Anxious about the movie’s ending
  • Angry about a rude neighbour
  • Stressed at work due to deadlines

It’s All in the Details

For best results, we recommend that you list down as much detail as possible about the foods and drinks you consume. For example, if you are drinking coffee with milk, write down the type of milk (e.g., whole milk, non-fat) that was included in preparing it. If you are eating stir-fried vegetables, feel free to indicate if they are organically grown and what type of fats/oil was used for frying them (e.g., butter, canola oil, extra virgin olive oil).

Listing the exact amount (in grams or ml) of the foods and drinks you consume will also yield better results, but if that is not possible, you may just estimate the measurements and list them in terms of spoons, cups, slices or pieces.

The Right Time to Write

We also recommend that you list down the foods and drinks you consumed immediately after you have eaten them. Not after two hours, six hours or just before you sleep, but as soon as you have finished eating them.

This will reduce your chances of forgetting what you ate or drank, or of having to rely on your memory by the end of the day, which could result in faulty records. It will also eliminate any possibility of stress arising from your inability to recall what you ate an hour ago.

Manual or Digital

If the idea of carrying a notebook and pen everywhere you go does not appeal to you, consider going digital. Choose from different smartphone apps such as the locally-made Easy Diet Diary or ControlMyWeight to help you keep track of the foods and drinks you eat while calculating the number of calories going into your body. Another advantage of using these two homegrown apps is you can easily find Australian food products in their databases.

Small Cost, Big Reward

Keeping a record of every single food and drink you consume may sound like a lot of work, or inconvenient to say the least. But if you really want to boost your chances of improving your health, the effort and time required to keep a food diary is a very small price to pay for the biggest reward: a healthier and happier you.

Need Our Help?

Book an appointment with an accredited dietitian or nutritionist by phone on (07) 3071-7405 between 8am and 6pm Monday to Friday or send us an enquiry. Alternatively, learn more about our General Health services.

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