Are you hoping to curb holiday feasting this year? Maybe you’re ready to nix a snacking habit. Or possibly you’re worried you’re not eating enough.
Food journaling can help with these food-related goals and concerns.
Read on to find out how a food journal can help you and how to get started.
Benefits of Food Journaling
A food journal can help you break bad habits, eat healthier, and watch your weight. It can help you understand your eating habits, identify triggers, and notice if meals provide enough sustenance to last for hours. Food journaling is additionally helpful for identifying food sensitivities and intolerances.
Simply, a food journal is a diary of what you eat throughout the day. You’ll record:
- What you eat
- When you eat
- How much you eat
- What you’re doing
- Where you’re eating
- Who you’re eating with
- How you feel before and after
At this stage, you don’t need to count calories or judge. Allow the journal to create awareness of your habits and the foods you eat. Entries don’t need to be long, yet it’s important to note specifics like dressing, toppings, and condiments. Recording beverages is equally essential. Yes, water too!
An example a journal entry:
- At 1:36 p.m., ate a chicken sandwich with spinach, tomato, and mayo. The chicken breast was not breaded and hand-sized. Drank unsweetened iced tea with it.
- Stood in the kitchen, eating aloe and quickly. Was starving because it was a late lunch.
- Felt rushed to get back to work. Felt full after but not totally satiated.
- An hour and a half later, 3ish, felt hungry again. Ate an apple, a tablespoon of peanut butter, and drank another glass of iced tea.
Using Your Food Diary Data
Keep a food journal for three days to a week. It doesn’t matter if you use paper or a phone app. Choose a method that makes it easy.
However, stop if you notice you’re condemning yourself or becoming obsessed with journaling. It may not be the best practice for you. It’ worth noting that food journaling is not recommended for people who’ve struggled with an eating disorder.
After the handful of days or week, look at your records for patterns and habits.
- Do you eat at different times every day?
- Do you skip meals?
- How healthy is your diet?
- Do you eat enough vegetables, fruit, and whole grains?
- Are you eating or drinking sugary foods, naturally sweetened or with added sugar?
- How does your mood affect your eating?
- When are you most likely to snack? Are the snacks healthy?
- Do you crave certain foods?
- Any foods cause gastric distress or mood changes?
What you do with this information depends on your goals and concerns. The food journal provides data to help you set SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) to eat healthier, snack smarter, or change your weight.
It may also alert you to a need to buy and prep more heathy foods or use a meal delivery service to accommodate a busy schedule.
Likewise, your food journal can shed light on undermining habits and the factors that lead to them. Maybe you’re diligent about eating healthy unless you’ve had alcoholic drinks. Maybe you don’t mean to skip breakfast but run out of time every morning. Possibly, you rarely sit and eat slowly without other distractions.
Get Help from a Nutrition Expert
If your food journal stirs questions about your diet like “am I getting enough micronutrients,” “how many daily calories do I need,” or “what changes would help my medical condition,” you might enlist some help.
Dieticians and nutritionists help people understand nutrition and eat better. A registered dietician (RD) or a registered dietician nutritionist (RDN) holds a degree, has completed an internship, and has passed a national certification exam. Because of their expertise, they can be part of a treatment plan for people who have health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, or eating disorders.
A licensed dietician (LD) or licensed dietician nutritionist (LDN) holds both a bachelor’s and master’s degree and must pass exams to be licensed and certified in their state. They may also hold advanced degrees in specific areas. They can help with many areas of nutrition but cannot diagnose or treat medical conditions.
Your doctor may be able to recommend a nutrition expert who fits your needs. You can also search the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website for an expert in your area.