Food Journaling 101
By Enza Garcia, RD, CDN, CPT
Keeping a food journal or diary gives you an accurate picture of what you eat every day. It’s a good way to gain more control over your diet, without recording what you eat you might not notice how many calories you’re consuming or if you have indigestion or another medical issue, keeping a food diary can help you figure out what ingredient might be causing that problem.
- Set up your diary. The simplest way to track what you eat and drink is by setting up your diary i n a note book or electronic device that you can always carry with you. You can use an app or a n on line tracking device if you prefer, since food journaling has become so popular there a re a variety of good apps to choose from.
- Record everything you eat and drink. Be very specific.
- Write down accurate quantities. Writing d own the exact quantities you eat and the exact a mount of fluids consumed is important data to include i n you r diary. You might want to purchase a food scale to help ensure your quantities a re correct. That way you can weigh out ingredients you use and record the exact amount you eat.
- Write down the date, time, and place you ate and who you were with.
- Record how you feel before, during, and after eating. Certain emotions can trigger certain eating behaviors. Wait 10 – 20 minutes after eating to assess how you feel, since it takes about that long for food to have an effect on your system.
- Analyze the data. Look for patterns i n the meals you eat. After a few weeks of keeping track of everything you eat and drink, you’ll probably see some patterns emerge. Are there patterns related to how foods affect your mood? Which meals seem to leave you hungry, and which a re more satisfying? During what situations do you tend to overeat? These questions can be answered by reviewing you r food journal.
- Assess your snacking ha bits. Ask yourself, do your snacks leave you satisfied or do they just make you hungrier? Do you tend to choose healthy snacks, or grab whatever’s nearby? If you tend to be on the go and don’t have time to pre pa re fresh food every time you need a snack, try thinking a head and bringing snacks a long with you instead of heading for snack machines when you’re hungry
- See if you eat differently on days off. For most people, work and school have a big effect on their eating ha bits. You might find it hard to make time for cooking on work days, but spend more time i n the kitchen on you r days off. See if you can find patterns that might influence your eating ha bits. Use the information to help you plan out your meals. If you know you’re not going to feel like cooking on a certain night, try planning a head to have something healthy in the refrigerator
- Look at the relationship between what you eat and how you feel. Figure out what life situations might have influenced your eating for any given day or week. You might notice a pattern in the food choices you make during times that are stressful. Maybe you can’t sleep well so you eat a mid night snack, or you turn to comfort foods to make yourself feel better. Knowing this about yourself can be useful when it comes to planning out your diet. See if there’s an issue with overeating when you’re upset. If so, try having a backup plan instead of turning to food when you’re stressed. On the flip side, if there are certain foods that seem responsible for negative emotions, you might want to try giving them up to see what happens. For example, you may feel stressed or angry after drinking too much coffee.
- See if a certain ingredient seems to be having a negative physical effect. Look for patterns i n the way foods impact your system. See what foods make you feel bloated, gassy, have a headache, nauseous, or just generally too full. Try eliminating the ingredient for a few days to see if the symptoms clear up.
- Consider recording your physical activity. If you’re keeping your food diary as a way to track calories and get i n shape, it makes sense to write down your physical activity, too.
That way you can see how many calories you’ve burned i n comparison to how many you’ve consumed. Record the type of activity and time spent doing it. See how your level of exercise affects your hunger level and what you eat.
- Track your progress toward a goal. A food diary can be a motivating tool when you have a goal you want to reach that’s related to you r diet. Whether you want to lose weight or you 1 re just trying to eat more fruit and vegetables, tracking your progress will inspire you to keep going and show you where there 1 s still room for improvement. Here are a few ways you can track it Record you r weight. Write it down at the end of each week so you can see how it has fluctuated. Note important milestones. If you’ve successfully eliminated gluten from your diet for a month, note it in your diary.
- Use your food diary to track food expenses. Since you’re al ready writing down everything you eat, why not also write down how much it costs? I t’s a great way to stay within you r food budget for each day, week and month. You might be surprised when you find out where you tend to spend the most money.