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Dear Food Diary

1176000_black_notebook_with_pencil Plenty of experts agree that keeping a food diary is a great way to help you lose weight. But did you know that it can also give you incredible insight into your cravings, moods, snacking habits, and even help you determine if you have a food allergy or sensitivity? Here are the many reasons I suggest keeping a daily food diary, at least until you gain some insight, make some new habits, and meet your goals:
  • Helps with weight loss or weight gain
  • Keeps track of how much water (pure water!) you drink
  • Helps you determine if you are allergic or sensitive to a particular food
  • Shows you what you are craving and when you are craving it
  • Helps you figure out your personal connection between food and mood
  • Helps you get a grip on excess snacking
  • Helps you meet your goals for getting in those veggies, whole grains, and other important foods
  • Keeps you accountable (to yourself) - a food diary can be a real eye-opener!
servingsize_veg300wPutting it all down on paper keeps it smack-dab in front of your face! And this can be the first step you need to make healthy changes. To get started, all you need is a notebook and a pen, computer or a PDA. Just make it something that you can keep with you throughout the day so you can remember to write down the pertinent stuff. Here's a simple step-by step guide to make a food diary:
  • Write down the day and date at the top. This will help you track different patterns depending on whether it's a weekday or weekend.
  • Record the times you eat breakfast, lunch, dinner and all snacks.
  • List the foods you eat and your serving sizes. Serving sizes are important if you want to lose or gain weight, or if portion control is an issue for you. Check out the serving size info later in this post.
  • Note where you are eating: at home, work, fast-food, restaurant, friend's house, etc.?
  • Wrote what is your reason for eating? Are you hungry, bored, foggy-brained, tired, upset about something, craving something?
  • List your beverages as well. How much water? Soda? Coffee? Tea?
  • Write down your mood and/or how you feel about an hour or two after a meal. This can help you figure out if you are eating foods that may not agree with you or did not work best for your body.
servingsize_fruit300w Once you've got your food diary in front of you, now you can look for patterns. If you have a suspicion about a certain food not working for you, try a different food. For example if you notice you don't feel well after eating wheat or rye and you suspect you may be sensitive to gluten, try a gluten-free grain such as brown rice or quinoa. Check to see where you can make improvements. And be aware of your eating habits and patterns. Depending on what you find, you may want to consider consulting with a qualified health care professional. Many doctors these days are paying greater attention to nutrition, and some are incorporating more holistic ways of healing into their practice. I am a big believer that not everybody needs to eat the same way; what's right for one may not be right for another. I'll use myself as an example: Many years ago, it was my daily habit to eat 2 slices of whole grain toast with butter and a little fresh fruit for breakfast. As I would go through my morning, I noticed I wanted to go to sleep or at least close my eyes, and I felt hungry about 2 hours after I ate. I also noticed that I was craving something sweet about 4:00 in the afternoon. I began to journal my food. I learned that when I ate bread or bagels in the morning, I didn't feel well. What I quickly discovered about myself was that I needed protein such as eggs in the morning to feel my best. This gives me good energy, focus, and clarity. Here’s that serving size info I mentioned earlier.
  • One Vegetable Serving Equals: 1/2 cup cut-up raw or cooked vegetables; 1 medium-sized carrot, 1/2 cup vegetable juice, 1 cup raw leafy salad greens
  • One Fruit Serving Equals: 1/2 cup cut-up raw or cooked fruits; 1 medium-sized apple, orange, pear, banana or kiwi fruit; 1/2 cup fruit juice, 1/4 cup dried fruit
  • One Whole Grain Serving Equals: 1 slice of bread, 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal, 1/2 cup of cooked rice or pasta, 1/2 cup cooked cereal
servingsize_grains300w Keeping a food diary will give you the insight you need to make changes. And remember: If something doesn't work for you, change it around until you find what works best for you. Try to remember that no macronutrient food group (proteins, carbs, or fats) are bad. We just need them in different amounts. We are a melting pot of different ancestry. We are at different phases in our lives, we live in different climates, and we are all of different ages and stages of health; as such our dietary needs can vary greatly. If you have some ideas for keeping a food diary, or you are already doing it, I would love to hear how it works it for you!

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Lauren says …

Thanks! This is WONDERFUL advice! I have tried to keep a food diary for years and usually been successful for only about 3 days. Your tips may be just what I need to make it a longer-term success! I'm already envisioning a little template in my head :) Thanks again, Alana!

Jillian says …

Food journals are very effective. However...it is really difficult to write down things like homeade soup or when you go out to eat you basically have to stick to garden salad.

Paul says …

The idea is great, but the execution depends on motivation. Unless there is a specific diet or dietary goal, the motivation will not be there to find the diary and to write in it. It would be cool if someone made an iPhone app that let's you take a photo food diary. At least the phone is likely to be with you all the time.

Inga Lesko says …

Looking forward to eating healthy and adding it to my diary.

Sally says …

I started a food diary due to digestive problems and hoped to determine food sensitivities. Just recently I discovered the problem was too much magnesium in the calcium supplement I had been taking for several years. (A suggestion - periodically ask your health provider to review not just prescription meds. but supplements as well.) I had consulted a nutritionist who gave me a plan with suggested portion sizes and numbers of serving in each food group. This has helped me balance out meals..moods not so much. I have a column for physical and emotional notes but use it mostly for physical. Your suggestion to check in two hours after a meal is a very good one. I'll try to remember to incorporate my mood more often after I've eaten instead of before. Eggs are one of my favorite foods and although my doctor believes eggs raise cholesterol, I find that eating an egg (soft-boiled) along with whole-grain toast and fruit or vegetables is a good start for my day. Regarding Jillian's comment. When makeing a recipe from scratch for my husband and myself I list all of the ingredients of the recipe, include the number of servings and then show one serving. For eating out I list the ingredients and since I always eat half of the serving it stays within my portion size.

Jana says …

this is such a great idea! i'm going to start my food diary tonight!

Jan says …

I use an app on my iphone that lets me enter favorite foods and then keep track of what I eat daily. It will track calories, carbs, nutrient balances, exercise, and your weight. It can also search for common foods and some restaurant items. It's called Nutrition Menu. I've been using it for about a year and really helps me to stay on track.

Sarah says …

One suggestion to add to a food diary: Include number of hours and quality of your sleep from the night before at the beginning of your diary each day. This can help determine how your sleeping habits effect your food cravings and quantity of food consumed. Keeping track of sleep habits will also help you distinguish between when your mood and cravings are food related vs. when they are sleep related.