If keeping a journal has ever been recommended to you as a way to deal with stress and anxiety, but you’ve written off the idea (see what we did there?), then using a food journal to keep track of how certain foods make you feel or to aid in a health journey might seem completely crazy. But before you abandon the idea entirely, know that using a journal—whether it’s to identify a food sensitivity or merely to take a closer look at the items you put in your body day in and day out—isn’t as difficult, monotonous or as time-consuming as you might think.
Recording all of the food you consume in a day not only provides you with an accurate picture of your eating habits, but it also provides the framework for changing those habits if they aren’t healthy ones. In a weight loss study conducted by Kaiser Permanente, researchers found that of the 1,700 people in the study, those who kept a daily food journal lost twice as much weight over the course of six months as those who didn’t record any of their consumption habits into a journal.
If you’ve ever suspected you have a food allergy or gluten sensitivity, if you’ve attempted to diet but found that it’s never been easy to stick with, or if you just generally feel like your eating habits and the choices you make could be improved upon, starting a food diary is an easy way to begin identifying the nature of your relationship to food and how to make actionable changes to improve it.
Create a Schedule
If you’ve decided you’ll try keeping a food diary but you’re not sure where to begin, we recommend starting your entries at the beginning of a new month. Creating a firm schedule for when you’ll actually record what you ate and any other pertinent notes will help you develop a consistent routine so that you don’t miss entries. If you prefer an old school approach to journaling, get a pocket-sized notebook you can bring it with you wherever you go. Using notes in your phone is also an easy way to make sure you have the means to record what you ate at all times.
Try committing to entering every meal into your diary for two weeks, or, if you feel you can do a whole month, go for that! The key here is not to overwhelm yourself and abandon the journal entirely. Finding a rhythm that fits nicely into your routine also increases your chances of consistently writing down what you ate, so choosing specific times to record and keeping that schedule will start to create a habit. We recommend keeping your notes handy so that you can record directly after you finish eating anything, because you’re more likely to write an accurate description of what you ate and how you felt.
Determine What to Record
One of the biggest deterrents for people that are interested in starting a food journal is not being sure of what they should be recording. Sure, the basic structure is just to record everything you eat, but nutritionists and experts recommend including more than the basic three meals a day. Part of the purpose of keeping a food journal—especially for those who are using it as a weight-loss tool, is to also record how much you’re eating in terms of portion size, when you’re eating, how quickly you’re eating where you’re eating, and how you’re feeling while you’re eating.
Gathering all the details and recording them into your journal paints a far more accurate image of your overall health than if you were simply recording the main foods you eat throughout the day. If you’re interested in starting a food journal to lose weight or to identify a food allergy, being proactive about including the finite details down to the condiments or whether the chicken you ate was grilled or fried will guide you to clearer answers once you reach the end of your journaling stretch.
One of the most fascinating aspects of keeping a food diary is the emotional journey that can incidentally be woven throughout the entries as you record what you’re eating. Oftentimes we look to food as a source of comfort during periods of stress, sadness, loneliness, and anxiety. Frequently we eat out of boredom when we’re not hungry at all, which is actually the body’s attempt to increase dopamine neurons in order to feel awake, excited, or happy. As you list off the items you consume every day, try to record how you felt while you were eating, why you were eating during that particular moment, and the setting in which you ate to help reveal a more complete picture of your eating habits once you finish the journal.
Make Changes Based on Your Results
Keeping a consistent food journal not only aids in clarifying your relationship to food itself, but it can also answer questions about other aspects of your overall health, including the quality of your skin, how well you (or terribly) you sleep, the regularity of your bodily functions, how much stress or anxiety you experience on a daily basis, and how balanced your hormones are. Food directly affects so many other factors in our lifestyles, and pinpointing these relationships can have a positive effect on your quality of life.
Once you’ve reached the end of your designated journaling time, read through each entry and try to pinpoint patterns between what you ate and how you felt after eating. Perhaps you notice that you wake up feeling sluggish each morning, but you frequently didn’t sit down to dinner until 8 p.m. every night. Maybe you consistently hit a late afternoon snacking frenzy because most of the time you take your actual lunch while you’re working, and you don’t really end up eating a full meal at all. Tracking the patterns in the results of your journal should help you identify the places your diet or lifestyle could improve and can help you make a plan for changing unhealthy eating habits.
Keeping a food journal might just be an experiment to learn more about your relationship to food, but you might find that it becomes more of a meditative experience that enriches your life and helps you keep firmer tabs on the larger picture of your health. Journaling and understanding how food affects not only your body but your mental and emotional wellbeing too can be one of the most worthwhile steps you can take if you feel like your diet has negatively impacted your lifestyle, so grab a pen and pad and see where the journey takes you!
Emma Trevino is a freelance writer who splits her time between Los Angeles and Wimberley, a small town situated on the Blanco River just outside of Austin. She's combined her passion for wellness and beauty with her knack for telling stories to help brands communicate their narrative in an honest way. When she's not writing, you can find her swimming in the river, growing veggies in her garden, finding tasty natural wines, and reading on her porch.