Food Journaling Tips

By Heather Irwin, MS, RD, LDN

I often have clients food journal for a couple weeks when I first meet with them. I tell them the main purpose is about creating awareness around what they are eating. A food diary can be a useful tool to help you understand your eating habits and patterns, and help you identify the foods — good and not-so-good — you eat on a regular basis. Research shows that for people interested in losing weight, keeping a journal can be a very effective tool to help change behavior. In one weight loss study of nearly 1,700 participants, those who kept daily food records lost twice as much weight as those who kept no records.

What Should You Keep in a Food Journal?

  • What are you eating? Write down the specific food and beverage consumed and how it is prepared (baked, broiled, fried, etc.). Include any sauces, condiments, dressings, or toppings.
  • How much are you eating? List the amount in household measures (cups, teaspoons, tablespoons) or in ounces. If possible, it is best to weigh and measure your food. If you are away from home, do your best to estimate the portion.
  • When are you eating? Noting the time that you’re eating can be very helpful in identifying potentially problematic times, such as late-night snacking.

Jotting down where you’re eating, what else you’re doing while you’re eating, and how you’re feeling while eating can help you understand some of your habits and offer additional insight.

  • Where are you eating? Record the specific place you are consuming food, whether it’s at the kitchen table, in your bedroom, in the car, walking down the street, at a restaurant, or at a friend’s home.
  • What else are you doing while eating? Are you on the computer, watching TV, or talking with a family member or a friend?
  • Who are you eating with? Are you eating with your spouse, children, friend, or a colleague, or are you alone?
  • How are you feeling as you’re eating? Are you happy, sad, stressed, anxious, lonely, bored, tired?

Tips for Successful Journaling

  • Write down the food or beverage as soon as you consume it. Don’t wait until the end of the day because your recollection is likely to be less accurate.
  • Be as specific as you can with the food or beverage.
  • Be sure to include any alcoholic beverages you consume.
  • A smartphone app like Lose It! or MyFitnessPal can support your efforts. These apps also offer information on calories and other nutrients.

You’ve Kept a Diary, What’s Next?

After completing a week’s worth of food journaling, step back and look at what you’ve recorded. Search for any trends, patterns, or habits. For example, you might consider:

  • How healthy is my diet?
  • Am I eating vegetables and fruit every day? If so, how many servings?
  • Am I eating whole grains each day?
  • Am I eating foods or beverages with added sugar? If so, how frequently?
  • Do my moods affect my eating habits? Do I reach for unhealthy snacks when I’m tired or stressed?
  • How often do I eat on the run?

Keeping a food journal can be very informative and move you toward improving your health. If you aren’t sure where to get started, give us a call we would love to be a part of your health journey.

Heather Irwin, MS, RD, LDN
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