How to Keep a Food Diary

  Monday, May 11, 2020

A food diary can reveal a lot about your own personality, especially your eating habits. At my medical practice, I continually encounter people who have benefited greatly from keeping a food diary to overcome obesity while better managing chronic diseases like depression and hypertension. Yet, not many people are aware of the numerous benefits of keeping a diary, especially when they are planning to adopt healthy eating habits to stay fit, lose weight, or any other purpose. 

Maintaining a healthy weight is a lifelong journey. It helps to have a journal to set your goals and track your progress so that you can stick to your weight loss plan and succeed in losing those extra pounds.

If you are trying to lose weight with no luck, read on to find how one small change in your weight loss plan by writing a journal could make things easier for you. We will also have a look at the psychology of weight loss. Counting calories and ramping up exercise can generate results, but the long term maintenance of a healthy weight is anchored in your psychology towards food. A food journal is your secret weapon. 

So, how does a food diary help? 

1. It Helps You Analyze Eating Patterns

All of us have a different eating pattern. The dietary habits of each person are unique. Writing in your journal what you eat and at what time will allow you to keep track of your weekday vs. weekend patterns.  

I have noticed that most patients are able to analyze their eating habits at the end of each day or week when they start writing a journal. Without a journal, they struggle to connect the dots. A journal helps them realize how many calories they had been consuming during meals and more importantly, between meals. 

The effectiveness of maintaining a food diary has been proven with research. Numerous research studies tout the benefits of maintaining a food diary -- from the psychological benefits to the weight loss results achieved on the scale itself. [1] Staying mindful of your food consumption with journaling has a strong impact on how much you eat. [2] Many studies also highlight that keeping track of your meals, mid-meal snacking, and beverage intake helps you pinpoint the source of your weight gain. What's more powerful is tying your food diary to an exercise journal. Often times, people whom exercise regularly will justify additional calories because of the long cardio session they just finished, not realizing the negative impact it is having on their weight loss goals. By correlating your exercise and dietary patterns with JournalOwl Insights, you have the tools to understand cause-and-effect relationships. 

“Don't Compare Yourself to Others. Compare Yourself to the Person from Yesterday.”

— Anonymous

2. It Helps You Track Food Intake Accurately

Do you know the real reason as to why people are not able to lose weight in spite of controlling their calorie intake? It is the lack of tracking. I have noticed in my clinical practice that there is a huge gap between the patient's actual and perceived calorie intake.

Most people fail to lose weight and keep it off because mindfulness is an afterthought. To maintain a level of mindfulness, I always recommend a food diary to my patients so that they are consciously aware of everything that goes into their mouth and the portion sizes. Most often, my patients reveal to me how astonished they are when they review the actual data from a week of consistent food journaling. 

The same has been confirmed during a research study aimed at assessing the behaviors of patients trying to lose weight. The findings of this research have suggested that the chances of a successful outcome of any weight management program could improve if you maintain a journal of your food intake. [3]

Maintaining a food diary and tracking your weight can bolster your motivation by allowing you to self-monitor actual calorie intake while watching how you stack up to others in your same demographic on JournalOwl's Weight-loss Leader Board. The community aspect of JournalOwl, along with the built-in leader boards can compel you to stay on-track with your peers. Healthcare experts not only recommend keeping a journal, but to also to join a support group of people with similar goals and aspirations. For example, if you are a 40 year old male that is 30 pounds overweight with a goal of losing the extra pounds and running your first 10k in 6 months -- it wouldn't make sense to join a support group consisting of 60 year old post-menopausal women seeking to shed 15 pounds. Joining a group of like-minded individuals with similar goals can help propel you further. 

Start Your Food Diary Today

3. It Creates Mindful Eating and Awareness

Being aware of your food habits will help you improve your dietary habits in a more effective way. Tracking your food intake by keeping a food diary will also offer you an effective way to speed up weight loss by creating awareness of your everyday eating patterns. 

For example; I have observed in my clinical practice that each person has their own eating habits. These habits are related to what you eat at a particular time of the day and why. Some people tend to avoid food intake completely when they are busy or stressed. And some people are just the opposite. They tend to eat more when they are stressed or anxious. Eating foods, especially sweets and pastries, is reported by people to help their anxiety and stress levels. [4] However, in reality, the opposite is true over the long-term. Consistent intake of sugary foods leads to elevated cortisol levels, which in turn puts the body into "fight or flight" mode -- causing an adrenaline dump, often leading to increased anxiety levels. It's a trap that most people find themselves in at some point of their lives. 

In these cases, losing weight and climbing out of the trap is difficult. People struggle in connecting the dots of what they were eating prior to and during the period of high stress and anxiety. Was it the anxiety & stress that caused the overeating, or was it the sugary foods that caused the anxiety & stress? Or, perhaps it was a little bit of both? Maintaining a food journal can solve these cause-and-effect scenarios. 

Similarly, when patients do not eat anything when they are stressed, they try to make up for the reduced food intake by munching on high-calorie foods once they find some free time. [5] Identifying your peculiar eating habits, especially those linked to your emotional ups and downs, is essential for you to re-set your weight loss program. 

A research study has also revealed that correlating your food intake with the specific time of the day and the emotions you experience could help you identify the real causes for overeating. Once you are able to identify these causes, you will be able to correct those weak links in your weight loss program. Correcting these habits will re-set your journey towards healthier dietary habits and help you lose more pounds in a shorter duration. 

This is why you should make a note in your food diary of how food relates to your emotions, time, and surroundings. For instance, document the following on a day-to-day to understand yourself:

  • The time of the day you eat
  • Your mood at that time
  • Time spent on eating
  • The place where you eat
  • Other activities you performed while eating like watching television or browsing the Internet
  • The intensity or severity of hunger before eating

I recommend using JournalOwl's audio capture feature to quickly speak to your journal about what you ate, your mood, and the emotions you were feeling -- instead of waiting until the end of the day. JournalOwl will automatically transcribe your audio to text and tag key phrases like, "I am feeling anxious after the cup of coffee I had with my Power Breakfast Sandwich from Dunkin' Donuts." With JournalOwl Insights, you can see over the course of time when you were anxious and what foods may have contributed to that feeling. By recording it immediately in your Food Diary, your accuracy and commitment to everyday logging improves.

“Imagine Yourself 6 Months from Now.”

— Anonymous

4. It Uncovers Unhealthy Eating Habits

Most people simply put the blame of their weight gain on their genes. They believe they are obese because of their familial tendency for weight gain. They actually think that their weight gain hasn't much to do with their day-to-day and year-over-year habits. However, the reality is the role of genes is not as significant as you believe. There is a lot you can do to avoid weight gain even when you have a family history of obesity.

You can begin by identifying your unhealthy eating habits. Most people are not able to identify their unhealthy eating habits unless they note down what they eat in their journal.

During my years of clinical practice, I have observed that keeping a journal allows patients to identify unhealthy eating habits such as skipping breakfast and higher portion sizes. Writing a journal also helps them to identify healthy eating habits allowing them to make the right choices in a mindful way. 

A research study has shown that the more consistently you keep a food diary, the more likely you are able to lose weight. During this research study, it was found that the participants who kept track of their food consumption and calorie intake using their preferred method demonstrated a better adherence to healthy eating practices and hence, enjoyed better results. [6]

Identify your bad eating patterns with JournalOwl

5. It Reveals the Secrets Of Weight Loss

Many patients come and ask me what is the secret of faster weight loss. I tell them there are no secrets to weight loss. The rules are easy and known to all.

Anyone and everyone who is able to reduce the calorie intake and increase calorie utilization by the body would be able to lose those extra pounds easily.

However, these rules are so simple that most patients think there must be a catch somewhere. But, there is no catch! 

It is just as simple as you read it! However, patients understand this only when they put these rules into practice and track their progress using a journal. They are able to understand these rules, or should I say secrets for weight loss better only when they write in their journal how much they eat and how much they might have burnt through exercising.

For example; fruits, vegetables, and lean meats possess less calories compared to junk foods having carbohydrates and fats. Patients are able to learn and accept this basic fact only when they write down their intake of these healthy foods and the consequent weight loss.

A scientific study has revealed that consuming plenty of vegetables and at least 3 fruits a day can promote weight loss. My experience has also shown that following such healthy dietary habits becomes much easier when you keep a diary. [7]

When you keep a record of the foods you consume, you realize that eating fruits or lean meats in large portions actually supports the weight loss processes significantly. At the same time, you would also be able to keep a check on whether you are consuming the recommended portions of fruits and veggies or not so that you are on the right path toward faster weight loss. 

“Eat for the body you want. Not the body you have.”

— Anonymous

6. It Identifies The Reasons For Overeating

Sometimes, your journal would know more about you than you yourself. for example; it could tell you the reason for your habit of overeating.

A journal would be able to reveal a lot more than just how much food and how many calories you consume when you record the activities associated with eating. 

For example, I have observed that when patients use a food tracker, they are able to trace the pattern of emotional eating. When they record the time they eat high-calorie foods like pastries or burgers and other activities surrounding these eating habits like watching television, it helps them understand why they are not able to lose weight. 

Several patients have also told me that writing a journal helped them realize they had a habit of reaching out to a bag of chips or other unhealthy snacks when they were not getting any sleep. 

You would be able to find such glitches in your food habits only when you write a journal. It would help you locate a consistent pattern in your eating allowing you to adopt appropriate corrective measures to maintain a healthy weight. [8]

I have noticed that once patients understand the mistakes they have been doing, they accept the responsibility of their weight gain. This often motivates them to follow a healthy eating pattern and allows them to lose weight more easily. 

There are several such habits that are linked to the eating pattern of obese patients. For example; watching television while eating can only increase your calorie intake by interfering with your awareness of how much you have consumed. One scientific research study went a step ahead to assess the impact of the specific content of different television programs on the eating pattern of patients. 

This study has revealed that boring TV programs tend to encourage excessive food intake, while engaging content like a comedy show might reduce the consumption to some extent. [9]

These findings have affirmed the role of keeping a journal for identifying unhealthy eating habits. Making a note of the television show you were watching could reveal why your food intake is higher. 

It would also help you understand that your food intake could be reduced significantly if you eat your meals at a dining table. Eating your meals at the table without any distractions would improve your self-awareness and promote conscious eating. This would make you realize how much you are eating and also the kind of foods you are eating and ensure you are able to follow healthy dietary practices. 

“Losing weight is hard. Being overweight is hard. Choose your hard.”

— Anonymous

7. It Helps with Retrospectives

I ask my patients to check their food journal carefully to analyze the possible reasons for why they are not able to lose weight. The journal helps them understand the hidden reasons for the failure of their earlier weight loss programs. 

Keeping a food journal allows them to introspect what possibly went wrong and what worked for them when they tried to lose weight earlier. 

A research study has revealed that keeping a journal could help patients plan the diet in advance based on their past experiences thereby preventing the failure of their weight loss efforts in the future. [10]

8. It Helps With Goal Setting

If you want to lose weight, you need to set a target in terms of how many pounds you need to lose in how many days or weeks or months. You also need to plan how many calories you will need to cut down from your diet to be able to achieve the target.

This is where your food journal can play a vital role. You can use your journal to mark the dates by which you must lose a certain number of pounds. You can also mention your planned daily calorie intake in the journal. 

Sometimes, I advise patients to have one cheat day every week. On this day, they are allowed to increase their calorie intake slightly by including one or two portions of their favorite food. This strategy usually works when the patients are finding it too difficult to control their craving. [11

Writing in the journal that you will be allowed to eat a burger or a pastry on the weekend could motivate you by creating a sense of satisfaction in your mind. This would increase your determination to stick to the low calorie, no-junk-food plan for the entire week and improve the chances of success.

9. It Helps Track Weight vs. Type of Food Intake

A weight-loss journey is marked with ups and downs. On some days, you will be able to control your calorie intake more efficiently, and on other days, your determination will flounder. This is why; you will find your weight-loss track juggling up and down.

Most patients, I have observed, are naturally elated when they are able to lose a few pounds, especially when they have recently started with their low-calorie diet plan. Also, the initial success makes patients take their journey a bit lightly. They think it is not too difficult to lose weight. And so, they stop being careful about how much they eat.

Also, in the initial few days, it is common for patients to have a higher motivation to stick to their reduced food intake. However, as days pass, their determination fades. They find it more and more difficult to control their cravings. At such moments, unless you have a method in place to keep a check on your food intake, there is a risk of your weight loss program going for a toss.

Stay Determined with a Food Journal

If you have written down in your journal the diet plan you need to follow including the foods you may eat and the total calorie intake, you are more likely to stick to it. The initial success and the temptation to satisfy your cravings would no longer be able to interfere in your program if you have written the diet plan in the journal. 

It would tell you what you may eat for breakfast, lunch, or dinner thereby ensuring you do not go overboard to celebrate your initial success. 

A weight loss journal would keep you grounded to the fact that you have a long way to go before you can achieve your weight loss goals. This would improve your determination to control cravings and your food intake.

Maintaining a journal would also allow you to keep a watch on where you are in terms of your goals so that you can track your progress. This would also help you assess your progress in measurable terms by being aware of the actual number of calories you have reduced from your diet. 

This has been reiterated by the findings of a research study. This research has indicated that self-monitoring your dietary habits could ensure you stay on the right path towards your weight loss goals. [12

10. It Helps Re-Assess an Existing Diet Plan

Keeping a journal would also help you know for sure whether you are able to lose weight as planned or not. If your journal shows you are falling short of the number of pounds you should have lost by a particular date, it is the time to re-analyze your diet plan. 

Your journal may also be able to help you assess why you could not attain your target. 

Whether it is that chocolate bar you eat after dinner every day or the habit of mid-meal snacking, or binge eating while watching television…. Your journal would reveal the cracks in your diet plan against what you actually did and help you correct your future course of action. [13]

In my clinical practice, there were numerous instances when the journal revealed the facts about the patient’s dietary habits. Keeping a journal helped them realize that their perception of calorie consumption was underrated and not based on reality. 

A research study has shown that a food journal could provide a record of all the foods and beverages you consume. This would reveal the loads of hidden calories in your diet such as those from candies, beverages, or mid-meal snacking that we often ignore while considering the daily calorie intake. [14]

11. It Highlights Empty Beverage Calories

A research study has shown that keeping a food journal can help you lose weight by revealing the calories you consume from liquids and sweetened beverages. [15]

Patients often find it hard to believe that beverages could be responsible for their weight gain. However, keeping a journal often helps them realize that their weight loss process could speed up considerably if they control their intake of beverages. 

This also helps them accept that sweetened beverages do nothing to satiate their hunger and that they only add loads of hidden calories to their diet. 

This is why; I ask patients to keep a journal to note everything they consume, including the beverages. It is only when they note down how many cans of soda and juices or cups of coffee and tea they had during the day that they realize the huge amount of calories entering their body. 

A journal helps them to keep track of these calories and allows them to control their total daily calorie intake. 

12. It Promotes Mindful Eating

According to a research study, eating home-cooked meals instills mindful eating practices. Patients have also confessed that their weight loss results improved when they switched from ready-packaged meals to home-cooked foods. The home-cooked foods are healthier and often customized to suit your taste buds. Hence, the chances that they would satisfy your cravings are high. 

The ready meals or packaged foods usually contain too many calories, especially from unhealthy fats and carbohydrates that could lead your weight loss journey to nowhere near success. 

The difference between the impact of eating home-cooked meals vs packaged meals could become clearer if you note down your food intake in the journal. This would help you make healthier choices and promote faster weight loss. [16]

Keeping a diary could facilitate the task of making dietary changes and improving your attitude toward weight loss much easier. Writing a journal would enable you to be aware of your actual food intake. This is expected to produce a favorable impact on your ability and determination to modify your dietary practices and thus, enhance your chances of success. 

Also, since you know that you have a food journal tracking your progress, your newly adopted healthier eating habits are more likely to become a part of your routine. Writing your progress in the journal would also ensure you do not feel deprived of your favorite foods. [17]

13. It Regulates Physical Activities

Weight-loss studies have revealed that cranking up the intensity of physical activities could allow you to burn more calories and accelerate the weight loss processes. Regular exercises controls your appetite and reduces your total calorie intake. [18]

I advise patients trying to lose weight to maintain a record of not just their food intake but also of their physical activities. I have observed that patients who make a note of their diet and exercise routine are able to make positive changes to their lifestyle more efficiently. 

A research study has recommended keeping a log of the intensity, frequency, and duration of physical activities. You may increase the intensity and duration of your exercises if your journal indicates you are lagging behind while trying to reach the weight loss goal. [19]

Writing a journal may also make your weight loss journey a kind of a game or competition with self. Setting goals, attaining your targets, and trying to outdo yourself would boost your confidence and support your quest to put in extra efforts for losing more pounds. 

14. It Controls Impulsive Eating

In recent years, I have observed that the common reason for obesity is impulsive eating. I also came across a scientific study that has revealed impulsive eating as a common cause of obesity. [20]

The findings of this study have suggested that obese people often have a tendency to overeat or consume junk foods only to relieve their negative emotions like stress and anxiety. This tendency often causes them to pile up several pounds resulting in obesity. 

Keeping a food journal would reveal your habit of reaching out to junk foods to relieve stress or beat boredom. This would allow you to make appropriate changes in your eating pattern and stimulate faster weight loss. 

Writing in your journal what you were passing through on the emotional front at the time you consumed junk foods could help you tie your emotional "ups and downs" to overeating.

Writing a food journal may also help you master your mind and break the emotional eating pattern. It could help you overcome negative eating patterns such as impulsive eating and allow you to adopt healthier measures like yoga and meditation to avoid stress.

Summary

I strongly recommend maintaining a food journal as a powerful tool to lose weight. I have observed in my clinical practice that patients who maintain a record of their calorie intake are able to lose weight in a shorter duration. 

A journal also allows adherence to the self-monitoring of the diet and timeliness in the recording of your food intake. A food diary could be a great way for you to track your weight loss with measurable terms. It would also support mindful eating habits and speed up your weight loss. 

So, if you think your weight loss efforts are not yielding any fruitful results, a food journal is what you might need right now to track your food intake and support your journey. 

References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3225890/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK221839/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3936599/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6886952/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6296480/
  6. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1471015309000610?via%3Dihub
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3488810/
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5556586/
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4077693/
  10. https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2018/03/creating-healthy-habits
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5111772/
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20956609
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3242470/
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25719769
  15. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/199317
  16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26627097
  17. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diet-nutrition/changing-habits-better-health
  18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2991639/
  19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2829716/
  20. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5573809/

HEALTH DISCLAIMER

This blog provides general information and discussions about health and related subjects. The information and other content provided in this blog, or in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment.

If you or any other person has a medical concern, you should consult with your health care provider or seek other professional medical treatment. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something that have read on this blog or in any linked materials. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or emergency services immediately.

The opinions and views expressed on this blog and website have no relation to those of any academic, hospital, health practice or other institution.

About Dr. Jyothi Shenoy

Dr. Jyothi Shenoy is a health & wellness writer for JournalOwl as well as a practicing homeopathic doctor (B.H.M.S.) with more than 15 years of clinical experience. She believes in treating her patients holistically with a focus on identifying the root cause of their problems, instead of band-aiding the symptoms. 

Dr. Shenoy aims at educating her patients about their illness, while also providing common sense tips to overcoming ailments with a better lifestyle, healthier eating habits, and more effective mental coping strategies, such as gratitude journaling. Her aim is to help people identify the root cause of their ailment, treat it accordingly, and prevent reoccurence. Dr. Shenoy has successfully treated mental health disorders like anxiety and depression, while also helping patients with acute and chronic conditions like osteoporosis, arthritis, autoimmune disorders, obesity, asthma, autism, ADHD, hypertension, diabetes, allergies, cancer, and skin diseases.

In addition to writing health & wellness guides for JournalOwl, Dr. Shenoy has instructed medical students at the university level, in addition to helping both children and adults with learning and behavioral disorders like ADHD and autism. Her many years of clinical experience allow her to provide practical tips to patients to help them manage their health issues in a more effective way. The bottom line is that Dr. Shenoy believes in creating awareness about the benefits of journaling as one of many tools in helping people overcome bad habits, establish new patterns, and identify the root cause of existing ailments that continually plague them. She can be reached at info@journalowl.com. 

Health Disclaimer

JournalOwl is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, medication, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptoms or conditions. JournalOwl is not authorized to make recommendations about medication or serve as a substitute for professional advice. You should never disregard professional psychological or medical advice, or delay in seeking treatment, based on anything you read on JournalOwl’s website or platform.

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