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How keeping a food diary can help improve your eating habits

Plus, how it can assist your weight loss efforts.

The Benefits of Keeping a Food Diary | Juniper

Starting a food diary can transform how you approach your meals and overall well-being. Quick to maintain and easy to interpret, a food diary provides insights that can lead to profound changes in your diet and health.

In today's article, we'll show you why a food diary can be such a great tool in your weight loss journey, and provide easy tips for starting one that you can actually maintain in the long run.

Benefits of having a food journal

A food journal is an effective tool for anyone looking to gain a better understanding of their eating habits. Writing down everything you eat can:

  • Make you more aware of your dietary patterns and help you notice trends and triggers
  • Increase your accountability and encourage you to make healthier choices
  • Help you learn proper portion sizes and identify when you might be overeating
  • Help you ensure you're getting a balanced mix of protein, fats, and carbs, as well as vitamins and minerals
  • Help pinpoint foods that may be causing adverse reactions or discomfort (particularly if you struggle with IBS, acid reflux, or allergies)
  • Reveal and help to unpack connections between your feelings and your eating habits

How a food journal can assist your weight loss

If you're on a weight loss journey, a food journal can help you reach your goal weight in many ways:

  • Calorie tracking: By documenting each meal, you can calculate your daily caloric intake to align with your weight loss goals.
  • Meal planning: Planning your meals in advance can prevent impulsive, unhealthy eating and help you stick to a diet plan.
  • Progress tracking: Monitoring your weight alongside your food intake can show the impact of your dietary changes and motivate you to stay on track.
  • Behavioural patterns: Recognising patterns in your eating behaviours is the first step to changing unhealthy habits that may be hindering your weight loss efforts.

And these benefits are backed by research.

In fact, a weight loss study of almost 1700 participants found that those who kept a daily track of their food intake lost twice as much as those who didn't [1].

Plus, another review of 15 studies found that using dietary self-monitoring techniques — including both paper and electronic food diaries — is linked to significant weight loss [2].

Tips for starting a food journal

Keeping a food diary goes beyond merely writing what you eat. It's a reflection of your eating habits and it can help you achieve healthy eating (and weight loss) goals by highlighting necessary dietary changes.

Now, one of the biggest challenges when it comes to keeping a food diary is consistency.

Maybe you've even tried to have one before only to stop tracking your meals a few weeks (or even days) in.

So, what's the secret to food diary success?

Know your purpose

What are you hoping to achieve by starting a food diary?

Do you want to stop emotional or boredom eating? Perhaps lose a few kilos? Or simply adopt healthier eating habits?

Knowing what your objectives are from the get-go will help you decide what information to include (more on this soon), as well as track your progress, know when you've accomplished your goal, and understand when your food diary is no longer serving its purpose.

Choose the right format for you

From physical notebooks to digital apps and printable templates, each tool has its pros and cons, but it’s about finding what works best for you.

For example, digital food diaries often have customisation options to fit each user's needs and preferences, and may even offer additional features to help with things like meal planning or exercise logging.

However, for some people, writing in a physical notebook can be more personal and therapeutic.

The key is to choose a format based on how it fits into your lifestyle for longer-term consistency.

Know what essential information to include

Having chosen your format, you might wonder what exactly should be tracked in your food diary.

As we mentioned before, the answer goes beyond merely listing down the foods you consume.

The details you track should accurately reflect your eating habits and be useful to you. This will vary from person to person, but it can include specifics like:

  • The type and preparation of foods
  • Portion sizes
  • Calories and macros
  • Consumption times
  • Eating locations
  • What you were doing while eating
  • Who you were with
  • Emotional states while eating

You can go as thorough as you'd like, but if recording only a couple of details means you'll keep the diary going, do that instead. It's consistency over perfection here.

Don't rely on your memory

Look, we're not saying you should obsessively track everything you eat right as you're eating it, especially if you're at a family dinner or out for brunch with your girlfriends.

But as much as possible, try not to rely on your memory. For better accuracy, track your meals right after you've eaten them.

Be sure, as well, to track everything, no matter how small it seems.

That spoonful of peanut butter you had when you needed a quick snack, the milk in your morning cappuccino, the cheeky Aperol Spritz you sipped on during the weekend, the indulgent dessert you had at the end of the day — it should all go in the diary.

You may struggle with feelings of guilt as you track some of these foods, but it's only by doing so that you'll understand when you may be overeating or emotionally eating.

Plus, there's nothing wrong with having an indulgent dessert here and there.

Review your entries

Taking time to reflect on what you wrote will make your food diary a lot more useful.

It will help you understand where there is space for improvement and what steps you can take to achieve your goals.

You can do this reflection by yourself or share your entries with a professional, perhaps a therapist or a dietitian, who can then provide you with expert advice and actionable next steps.

Add motivational elements

Incorporating motivational elements can be a great way to personalise your food journal, whether that is by including inspirational quotes, adding images of healthy and delicious food, or dedicating pages to goal-tracking.

Remember, the goal is to make your food diary something you look forward to updating and reviewing each day.

Organise with colours and categories

Assigning different colours for different types of food or meals can make your diary visually appealing and easy to scan. This can be particularly useful if you’re using a physical diary.

For digital diaries, many templates and apps come as colourful checklists to track meals, snacks, calories and macros, adding to the diary’s visual appeal.

Adding exercise and mindfulness to your food-tracking process

Incorporating exercise and mindfulness insights into your food diary can be a game-changer for your weight loss journey.

By logging your workouts alongside your meals, you can see the direct impact of exercise on your appetite and food choices.

This can help you understand and manage your caloric intake more effectively, ensuring that you're not eating more than what you've burned off during exercise, which is crucial for weight loss.

Mindfulness techniques, on the other hand, can help you recognise and overcome emotional eating patterns.

By being more aware of why you're making certain food choices, you can learn to make decisions that align with your weight loss goals instead of giving in to temporary cravings or stress-related snacking.

Together, these insights contribute to a more holistic approach to weight loss, where you're not just counting calories, but also taking care of your physical and mental well-being, leading to sustainable and healthy weight management.

Logging your physical activity

Logging exercise involves more than just recording your morning run or gym session.

Effective exercise logging in your food diary should include specifics like the type of exercise performed, duration, and intensity level.

You can also write down the estimated number of calories you burned with a specific workout (which you can get by wearing a fitness tracker).

Although this number is never 100% accurate, it can offer valuable insights into your hunger levels and how different types of exercise can influence your food intake decisions.

Incorporating mindfulness techniques

Practices like meditation and gratitude journaling can foster a positive mental state.

This can be incredibly useful since when you’re in a healthier mental state, you’re more likely to make mindful eating choices and stay consistent with your weight loss efforts (it is a psychological game just as much as it is physical, after all).

So, how can you add mindfulness to the food journalling process? A few easy ideas include:

  • Adopting mindful eating habits
  • Ending each day with a quick meditation session
  • Jotting down a few things you’re grateful for

Food diary resources to consider

There are so many food-tracking apps, templates and physical journals out there, that it can be tricky to find the right one for you.

Whichever format you prefer, the key is to find resources that meet your needs and align with your lifestyle to make the process seamless throughout the week.

Apps and websites

Whether you’re focused on calorie counting, meal planning, weight loss, or simply tracking your eating habits, there’s a digital tool out there that can support your journey.

Some of the most well-known options include Calorie Counter PRO, ControlMyWeight, Apple Health, and Cronometer.

These can all help maintain a healthy diet and achieve your nutrition goals, though they are quite basic in terms of the features they offer.

If you're looking for something that is more tailored to you and goes beyond just food tracking, Juniper's Weight Reset Programme gives you access to a health app that's different from most others.

From weight tracking and meal planning to health coaching, medical advice, and community support, the programme and app provide you with all the tools you need for successful weight loss.

With Juniper by your side, not only can you achieve your weight goal, but maintain it in the long run.

Physical food diaries

If you'd rather keep it old school, printable food diary templates provide a straightforward and offline way of logging food consumption, and you can easily search for free versions on websites like Pinterest.

Another option is to buy a physical food journal or even a regular notebook that you can personalise to work for you.

Image credit: Getty Images