Nutrition Expert- Saba Shaikh, Practicing Clinical Nutritionist, Mumbai.
A food diary is a daily log of what you eat and drink each day. The diary helps you and your doctor understand your eating habits. It can help you realize what you consume. Once you know this, you can make changes to your diet to improve your weight.
A food diary can be a useful tool in this process. It can 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.
Whether you’re trying to lose weight or just attempting to eat healthier, keeping a food journal can help you make positive changes. Writing down every snack, sip of soda, and carb that you consume will make you more accountable for what you are eating. Here are a few benefits of keeping a food diary.
Keeping a food diary can help reveal the unhealthy habits that are stopping you from losing weight. Writing down everything you eat will make you less likely to pick up the handful of M&M’s in the office or order the extra side of ranch for your salad. Often people forget about the little snacks that could potentially be keeping them from losing weight. Maintaining a food diary will help you say no to the extra calories that may be stunting your weight loss.
Detecting food intolerances
Food diaries can also help determine if you have a severe reaction to certain foods. In some cases, reactions to different foods can happen hours after the food has been consumed. Writing down what you eat and how you feel afterwards can help you realize what foods your body reacts negatively towards. If you feel bloated and nauseous after eating eggs, dairy, or gluten, then you may be intolerant to these foods.
Keeping a food diary is also an excellent way to manage the portions of your food. It can be hard to control your portions when restaurants offer enormous plates, and gas stations have jumbo size cups for soda. Even cake tins and dinner plates are larger than ever. Using a food diary will keep you accountable for the size of your meals. Before starting your food diary do some research on the proper portion sizes, then base your meals off of the information you find.
Keeping track of your every meal will reveal more than just calorie intake and food intolerances; it can also show whether you are eating enough of each food group. If your food diary consists of mainly carbohydrates and proteins, then you’re not getting the vitamins you need from fruits and vegetables. Keeping a food diary will allow you to analyze what foods you are not eating enough of, or which ones you’re eating too much.
Identifying triggers to unhealthy eating
It can be beneficial to jot down your location, time of day, and mood when keeping a food journal. Keeping track of these things can reveal how stress, work, or certain people affect your food choices. For example, if you reach for a candy bar each time you enter the office, then stressful environments may cause you to crave sugary foods. If you eat every meal standing up, then you’re probably rushing and eating more calories than if you sat down and took your time. Using a food diary to note certain triggers will help you get rid of the unhealthy habits. (1)
What should you include in a food diary?
Most experts agree that the secret to successful food journaling is accuracy and consistency. So, what should you record? A basic food diary should include the following:
• 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.
• 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 food journaling
Here are more tips for keeping a successful food diary:
• 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. For example, if you are drinking a latte, note the type and size.
• Be sure to include any alcoholic beverages you consume.
You’ve kept a food diary. Now what?
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?
Set SMART healthy eating goals
Once you’ve identified areas for improvement, set one or two healthy eating goals for yourself. In doing so, use the SMART goal format. That means your goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-based. Here are a few examples of SMART goals.
Food diary observation: You average two servings of vegetables per day.
Goal: Eat more vegetables.
SMART goal: Eat three servings of vegetables per day.
Food diary observation: You order takeout three or four nights per week.
Goal: Cook more at home.
SMART goal: Order take out no more than one or two nights per week.
Food diary observation: You eat healthy meals and snacks until about 3 pm, when you hit the office vending machine.
Goal: Eat healthier snacks.
SMART goal: Bring a healthy snack (a piece of fruit and a small handful of nuts) to work every day. (2)
Keeping a food journal can be very informative and move you toward improving your health. Using the data from your food diary to make SMART changes, and continuing to track your progress, is a great place to start your journey for a healthier life.
There many tools available that can help you log your food on your phone. They also can help calculate calories to make sure that you are eating enough to get through the day. Having a dedicated hand-written food journal is also an option.
One thing that most people do not consider is how many calories processed foods have! If you are eating real foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and quality meat; you are actually eating less calories than a diet full of processed foods.