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!
Putting 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.
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
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!