Weight Loss Benefits of a Food Diary

Set Your Weight Loss Goals

Woman using laptop to keep food diary
Mosuno/Stocksy United

If you want to lose weight faster and keep the pounds off for good, you should keep a food diary. Keeping a food diary helps you understand not only what you eat, but also why you eat the way you do. A food diary is your road map to weight loss success.

The Best Way to Keep a Food Diary

There are different ways to keep a food diary. You should use the method that is easiest for you.

  • Digital food diary: If you always have your smartphone handy or if you spend a lot of time online, a digital food diary works well. Use a website like Lose It! or MyFitnessPal and download the site's app on your smartphone. Then, use the digital food database to find and enter foods as you eat them. Many of the apps also have barcode scanners that make entering nutritional information quick and easy.
  • Notebook-style food diary. This "back to basics" approach still works very well for many dieters. 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 USDA SuperTracker to fill in the most accurate nutritional information. Notebook-style food journals require a little more work, but they also offer more flexibility so that you can include different types of information.

What to Write in Your Food Diary

A basic food 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 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 also want to include the grams of protein, carbohydrate, fat, fiber and sugar. Some dieters also track sodium intake or other nutrients.

You may also wish to add some other helpful information to learn more about your eating behavior.

  • Your reason for eating. 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. Quick notes about your anxiety or stress level 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 Your Food Diary

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 lose weight faster or to 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 slim down with success.

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