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Keep A Food Diary

Oct 14, 2011

Keep A Food Diary

From Jennifer R. Scott

A food diary is an excellent first step in assessing how you eat. It can also help you understand why you eat the way you do, which is often just as important when it comes to long-term weight management.

The most important factor in keeping an effective food diary is to make it an honest one. A study showed that women in particular tend to fudge when keeping a food record -- coming up short by close to 1,000 calories wasn't unusual.

Why go to the trouble of keeping a food diary if you aren't going to be honest with yourself? Remember, no one has to see it but you, so do yourself a favor and stay truthful.

What to Include

Here are some ideas on what you can track with a food diary:

In order to track your fat and/or caloric intake, keep a nutrient guide book handy or use a food database like's Calorie Count.

Using your computer or just an old-fashioned notebook, simply create a column for the name of the food and the required number of columns for each nutrient you will track. Divide the columns into sections according to meal and/or time of day so you can stay organized.

Do You have Portion Distortion?

If you're not ready to keep tally of your fat and calories yet, try just writing down how much you eat over the course of the day. (If you can't figure out where your extra weight is coming from, it may be that you are overeating and don't know it.)

You don't need to buy a scale or pull out measuring cups. Why overcomplicate it when you're just starting out? Use your own measurements (e.g. a salad bowl of popcorn, a fistful of M&Ms, a mug of hot chocolate) for now.

Remember, a rough estimate as you start keeping a record is better than not keeping one at all. (Something as simple as logging how many cans of soda you drink each day may well be an eye-opening experience.)

In a few weeks, when you've become accustomed to writing everything down, you'll be ready to start keeping a more in-depth record.

Get to the Heart of It

If you tend to binge due to stress, or you regularly give in to emotional eating, your food diary can help you cope.

When you catch yourself eating when you're not hungry or giving into a binge, spend some time in reflection so you can figure out why it happened.

Then -- as tough as this may be to admit -- write down why you ate (hunger, boredom, etc.) and how you felt afterward (guilty, deserving, etc.). You may find it helpful to record when you tend to overeat so you can plan to arrange other activities in the future that will take your mind off of food.

Here are some examples of questions you may want to answer when you eat for emotional reasons:

  • How were you feeling before you ate?
  • Did you feel gut hunger?
  • Who were you with?
  • Did you eat hurriedly or calmly?
  • Can you recall everything you ate?
  • Did you eat normal portions?
  • Were you doing another activity (like watching television) while you were eating?
  • How do you feel now (e.g. satisfied, healthy, guilty)?
  • Overall, was this a positive or negative eating experience?

You will find writing down and acknowledging these questions and answers will go a long way in helping you understand and prevent emotional eating.

When you see everything you can do with a food diary, there's no reason not to do one! You don't have to wait for a special day or a special meal. Just do it.


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