Nutrition: Keeping a Food Diary

Nutrition: Keeping a Food Diary

A food diary is a log of what you consume each day. It can help you make changes to your diet and lose weight. You can use it to improve your health by tracking what you eat and drink. The diary helps you and your doctor understand your eating habits. Follow the instructions below to get the most out of your food diary.

Path to improved health

You should include several pieces of information in your daily food diary. These are:

  • How much: List the amount of the food/drink item. This might be measured in volume (1/2 cup), weight (2 ounces), or the number of items (12 chips).
  • What kind: Write down the type of food/drink. Be as specific as you can. Don’t forget to write down extras, such as toppings, sauces, or condiments. For example, butter, ketchup, or sugar.
  • When: Keep track of the time of day you eat.
  • Where: Make note of where you eat. If you are at home, write down the room. For instance, at the dining room table, in the kitchen, or on the sofa. If you are out, write down the name of the restaurant or if you are in the car.
  • Who with: If you eat by yourself, write “alone.” If you are with friends or family members, list them.
  • Activity: In this column, list any activities you do while you eat. You could be working, watching TV, or playing a game.
  • Mood: You also should include how you feel when you eat. Are you happy, sad, or bored? Your mood can relate to your eating habits and help you change them.
How muchWhat kindWhenWhereWho withActivityMood
3 minichocolate chip cookies3:25 p.m.officealoneworking on reportbored
1 8 oz.cheeseburger6:15 p.m.Burger KingClaire, Jackietalkinghappy
1 mediumfrench fries
1 mediumvanilla shake
1 cupHaagen Dazs strawberry ice cream10 p.m.kitchenalonewatching TVtired

When keeping a food diary, some basic rules to remember are:

  • Write everything down. Keep your diary with you all day. Write down everything you eat and drink, no matter how small it seems. Whether it’s a piece of candy, a small soda, or a big meal, the calories add up.
  • Do it now. Don’t rely on your memory at the end of the day. Record your eating details as you go.
  • Be specific. Record your food exactly how you eat it. If you have fried chicken strips, don’t just say chicken. Make sure you also include the extras. This could be gravy on your meat or dressing on your salad.
  • Estimate amounts. If you have a piece of cake, estimate the size (2″ x 1″ x 2″). If you have vegetables, record how much you eat (1/4 cup). When you eat meat, a 3-ounce cooked portion is about the size of a deck of cards.

Things to consider

In order to succeed, your diary needs to tell the truth. You don’t gain anything by cheating to look good. If you have questions, talk to your doctor or a dietician. Share your food diary with them to plan changes to your eating habits.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • How often or long should I keep a food diary?
  • What should my food diary tell me?
  • Should I list vitamins, supplements, or other medicines?

Resources

American Academy of Family Physicians, Aim to Change Food and Activity Journal

Some information adapted from Physicians Guide to Outpatient Nutrition, by Sylvia A. Moore, Ph.D., R.D., F.A.D.A. and John P. Nagle, M.P.A. American Academy of Family Physicians, Leawood, KS. 2001.