Keep Track of Your Health with a Food Journal

If you want to get healthier and feel better, a food journal is an invaluable tool to include in your wellness routine.  A new year is upon us and along with that comes New Year’s resolutions. This is when people set all sorts of goals about what they wish to accomplish in the coming year. Perhaps it has less to do with starting fresh in the New Year, and it’s more about taking better care of yourself.  If you have a health concern that you are trying to improve, and are interested in keeping track of what you eat, then a food journal is just what you need. 

What is a Food Journal?

A food journal aka a food diary, is a log that is used to write down the meals, drinks and snacks that are eaten during the course of a day. Sometimes it’s hard to think back to what you ate 2 or 3 days ago, never mind a week ago.  This is when a food journal comes to mind. When everything is written down you can look back days, even weeks to see if any patterns show up in your eating habits. 

As a dietitian, I think that food journals are very important because they often provide a snapshot of the type of foods that are eaten on a regular basis. It helps me to provide targeted counseling on the areas of an individual’s diet that they need to focus on, in order to improve their health. There are plenty of reasons to use a food journal, some of these will be discussed in this article. 


You Get a Better Understanding of Your Eating Habits

A food journal can be used to keep track of your meals so that you can make healthier food choices. You are able to visually see everything you’ve had to eat over a certain time period. Sometimes people don’t pay attention to the amount or type of foods they are eating as long as they are fed. For example, late night eating could be contributing to heartburn issues. By writing in a food journal, it can help them to see what habits are likely aggravating their heartburn symptoms.  Now they can take action and do something about it. 

It Can Help with Food Intolerances

Let’s say you get the worst case of bloating after meals, but you have no idea what is causing it. A food diary can help to get to the bottom of what ails you. When you keep a food journal along with details on symptoms that you are experiencing, it becomes easier to narrow down the possible cause. For example, a person may not realize that products that contain lactose are causing them to have digestive distress. By using a food journal and the process of elimination, these foods can be identified and avoided altogether. Now they are able to feel like their old self again, free of digestive discomfort.

In more complex cases, working with a registered dietitian in addition to completing a food journal, can help to identify possible food intolerances. Information obtained from the food journal can be used to modify your diet leading to an improved sense of well-being.

It Helps with Weight Management

The type of information you collect in your food journal depends on your goals and personal preference. Some journals are designed specifically to keep track of all of the calories that are consumed at every meal. This is useful especially if you are trying to lose weight. You can switch out certain foods or eat smaller portions to lower your calorie consumption. Studies have shown that food journaling is effective and promotes weight loss, when used in combination with dietary modifications and other methods (1). Maybe you notice that your diet lacks fruits and vegetables which are an essential part of a healthy lifestyle (2). Or maybe you keep eating the same thing over and over. When it’s time to go food shopping, you can buy extra fruits and vegetables to add more variety and nutrients to your diet. 

How to Complete a Food Journal to Get the Best Results

It might seem fairly straightforward, but here are some things you can do to get the most out of keeping a food journal: 

  1. Time- every time you have something to eat or drink, make note of the time. This is especially important if you tend to skip meals or consume small meals throughout the day.                                                                                                        
  2. Food intake- Write what you eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Include information such as portion size, quantity, the recipe name (for easy reference), and the cooking method e.g. baked or grilled. It might also be helpful to include the ingredients. If you eat at a restaurant then write that down too.                                                                 
  3. Beverage intake-  List everything you have had to drink, including water. Is it a cup, or a bottle and what is the amount?                                                                           
  4. Hunger and fullness- Describe your hunger before and after meals. Do you feel full or are you still hungry after eating?                                                                             
  5. Exercise regimen- If you engage in any form of exercise then write down the time it starts, the duration, and the type of exercise. Do you feel energized or tired afterwards?                                                                                                           
  6. Mood or Feelings- What mood were you in when you began eating? Examples include happy, angry, sad, or anxious. Depending on the current mood, it can affect the timing, food choice and how much you choose to eat.                                                                                             
  7. Digestive symptoms- Do you experience any digestive issues such as bloating, indigestion, heartburn, nausea, diarrhea etc?                                                             
  8. Allergy-type symptoms- Have you experienced any unusual symptoms such as itchy skin, rash or pain?  Keep note of what happens so that you can discuss this with your healthcare provider.  Allergic reactions may not show up right away.                                           
  9. Sleep- Are you exhausted and don’t have the energy to cook because you don’t get enough sleep? Do you sleep during the day but are awake when you would normally be asleep?

As you can see, food journals are useful for a variety of reasons. You can also use it to log information about blood sugars, bowel movements, supplements, energy levels, emotional eating plus much more.  An exception to using food journals is with individuals who have eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia (3). In those cases, food journaling and calorie counting might be triggering and its use is not usually recommended. Food intake can be recorded on paper, digitally or in an app. 

If you decide to start recording in a food journal, choose a set time to complete the journal everyday. Remember, consistency is key and try to be as detailed as you can.  So let’s get started. 

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