Why Use a Food Log?
A food log is a record of everything you eat and drink during your day. It’s a kind of diary that can help you get a grasp of your eating habits. Given that most people consume more calories than they think they do, keeping a good food log can be invaluable in a person’s quest to lose weight. However, food logs are also helpful in understanding the nutritional value—or harm—our eating habits have. After all, it’s not the occasional double cheeseburger and large fries that harm a person’s health as much as it is the daily habits that a person lives with day in and out, year after year. Using a food log helps identify those habits.
First Steps in Using a Food Log
The first step in using a food log is to choose a log format you’ll really use. No matter how good a method might be, if you won’t stick with it, it simply won’t matter, so pick an approach—digital or paper-based—that you’ll use.
There are many apps available if you want to use a digital format. Your physician may advise you on an excellent choice if you choose a digital app for your food logging. You can also keep track of your caloric intake on a paper notebook, as long as it’s compact enough to carry with you throughout your day.
After deciding what type of diary you’re going to use, you’ll need to include several pieces of information for each entry:
- Which foods or drinks. Be as specific as you can, including condiments and toppings.
- How much. Record the amounts you eat. Provide as much information as you can. You might know the weight or volume of the items, or you might include the number of items.
- Time of day. Are you night snacking? Cramming in entire meals right before going to bed? Learning the times in which you usually eat will provide some valuable information about when you get your calories.
- Who you eat with and where. If you eat out, note the restaurant’s name. Notice if meeting up with certain people always entails eating—or overeating. Eating is an important part of social context for many people and realizing how you integrate food into socializing will help you get the big picture about your approach to food.
- Mood. How are you feeling when you’re eating? Stressed, bored, anxious, happy? Do you stress-eat often?
- Context. Are you doing anything while you’re eating, like watching tv, reading, listening to music?
When keeping a food journal, try the following tips to get the most out of it.
- Collect as much information as you reasonably can, while being as specific as possible.
- Write your entry immediately. It’s very easy to put it off until later and either misremember what you ate, how much, or to fail to write it down at all.
- Estimate amounts. It might be weight (a half-ounce of almonds) or number (2 medium apples).
- Snap a picture of your meal or snack with your phone camera if you’re having trouble estimating amounts.
The Benefits of Using a Food Log
A truthful, accurate food log is a useful tool in losing weight and in boosting your good health. The only time keeping a food log may not be a good idea is for people with eating disorders, unless they have been instructed to do so by a physician. Outside of this, there are many benefits to a food log including:
- Helps you lose weight. People tend to dramatically underestimate their daily calorie count. Having a record can help you more easily and mindfully draw a connection between your eating habits and your caloric intake.
- Learn what nutrients you are missing. It’s easier to get an idea about what nutrients you’re getting or failing to get in your diet when you have an accurate record of your intake. By keeping an accurate food journal, you capture your nutrient content during the day and can see where you’re doing a good job, and where you can make improvements on eating healthy foods.
- Discover your eating habits. Sometimes people get into a habit of overeating when emotionally stressed, upset, or bored. Eating produces an increase in the levels of dopamine released in the brain. Dopamine is a brain chemical responsible for many vital tasks, including feeling pleasure and suppressing pain. The more we eat, the more dopamine gets produced. Unfortunately, that means an increased likelihood of eating to control or avoid negative emotions. Acknowledging maladaptive habits, such as emotional eating, puts you on the path to change. Keeping a food journal is a great way to do it.
Once you accumulate data about your eating habits, you can make some goals. The SMART goal system is a great way to make sure you can meet those goals. SMART goals are
For example, if your log shows you’re not eating any fruit in a day, you can add servings of fruit, starting with one serving a day, adding more over a week until you are getting your recommended daily allowance of fruit. That’s a specific food group, a measurable amount to improve, relevant to good health, and based on a set amount of time (one week).