Meal Diary How-To Guide

Why Keeping a Food Diary Helps You Lose Weight

how to keep a meal diary
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There are different ways to promote weight loss and long-term weight management, and the most effective strategy will often vary depending on the individual. One method that works well for some people is keeping track of their meals in a diary. A food diary helps you become more aware of what you eat and why you eat the way you do. While it's not a perfect solution for everyone, a food diary can be an effective road map to weight loss success for some. Here's how it works.

Meal Diary Methods

A meal diary can be a helpful tool in learning about your eating behavior. For some people, it can provide helpful insights to guide them toward food choices that are more satisfying and more nutritious. Keep in mind, however, that it is not a perfect fit for everyone. For instance, some evidence suggests that the use of digital food and diet apps can be detrimental to those who have an unhealthy relationship with food or a negative body image.

If you decide that a meal diary might be a good fit for you, there are different ways to keep a meal diary. You should use the method that is easiest for you. The key is consistency, so whatever method helps you to write in it often is the method that will bring you the greatest benefits.

Digital Meal Diary

If you always have your smartphone handy or if you spend a lot of time online, a digital meal diary works well. Use a website like Lose It! or MyFitnessPal and download the site's app on your smartphone. You can also use the food diary that comes with your activity tracker. For example, the Fitbit dashboard allows you to input foods by scanning a barcode.

As you input foods into the digital food database you'll assign them to a meal so that you can see how your meals compare to each other and also how snacks can impact your total calorie intake.

Notebook-Style Meal Diary

This back-to-basics approach is also a proven method for weight loss. Simply carry a small journal with you in your briefcase or handbag and jot down everything you eat. No tech skills required! You can even use online resources (like the ones listed above) to fill in the most accurate nutritional information.

Meal Diary How-To Guide

A basic meal diary should include a list of every food and drink you consume at meal time or between meals—even tiny nibbles count! You will also need to enter the amount of food that you ate.

Don't assume that you ate a single serving. Measure your food using measuring cups or a digital scale to get the most accurate data.

Along with the food name and portion size, you should also include basic nutritional facts. Jot down the total number of calories consumed for each food that you list. You may want to include the grams of protein, carbohydrate, fat, fiber and sugar. Some people also track their sodium intake and other nutrients. In addition, the following considerations can help you learn more about your eating behavior:

  • Your reason for eating. Were you hungry? Were you experiencing a food craving? Was it meal time? Were you bored? Were others around you eating? Were you feeling stressed?
  • Your level of hunger. Take a minute before you eat to decide how hungry you really are.
  • Your emotional state before and after eating. Make quick notes about your anxiety or stress level, boredom, stress, or any other emotion may help you determine if you are an emotional eater.
  • Your eating environment. Where were you when you ate? Who was with you? Was it a social occasion?

These extra notes are easier to keep in an old-fashioned pen and paper notebook, but some digital food diaries allow you to keep notes in blog form or as part of a weight loss forum.

How to Use Meal Diary Data

Make sure you keep a food diary for at least one full week before you evaluate the information you've collected. Then, analyze the total number of calories you typically consume each day. Make adjustments to your daily calorie intake to stay on track with your weight loss goals or maintain your current weight. You can also evaluate your eating behavior to learn how to eat less and make better food choices.

By looking at your emotions and the reasons why you were eating, who you were with, and what you were doing, you may be able to determine if you are giving in to binge eating, emotional eating, or if you have a habit of eating among certain people. Then, learn essential skills for eating less under stress or learn how to eat less around others to lose weight with success.

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