food diary

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Keeping a Food Diary

Before I started keeping a food diary, I'd grab a handful of raisins whenever I wanted a healthy snack. But once I started keeping track of what I was eating, I found out I'd been scarfing down up to 520 calories a day in raisins alone!

I've been keeping a food diary for about a month now, and besides recognizing the calorie content of raisins, I've also learned that I can deduct the amount of calories I burn through exercise from my calorie intake for the day. So even on days when I splurge, if I sweat it off, the final count isn't so bad.

Reality Bites

Food diaries are often the first step dietitians recommend to individuals who want to lose weight, as they are a valuable way for people to recognize just what, and how much, they are eating. The discipline of writing down what you eat helps you determine if you are eating too much, or too little. It also helps you identify whether you are eating enough of each food group and getting your necessary nutrients.

"Keeping a food diary is a technique that works, and it's simple to do," says Sheah Rarback, RD, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. "It helps you learn to know yourself and your eating style. It's an inexpensive way to improve what you are eating."

Perhaps most importantly, a food diary can help you identify your eating "triggers". If you chart what and when you’re eating and your activities and moods surrounding meals and snacks, you may start seeing patterns. You may find that late night eating or boredom-induced snacking is the culprit of your weight gain. A review of your moods (happy, depressed) and events (a fancy dinner, watching TV) that accompany eating will help you identify your "triggers" and that can help you make important behavioral changes.

Weighing or estimating portion size can also be very enlightening—what I thought was a single portion of chicken weighed in at two. I also noticed that on the days that I did not keep the diary, I definitely ate more; comforting myself with the idea that if I didn't write it down, somehow it didn't count.

How To

The best way to keep a food diary varies for each person. Some people prefer to carry a booklet specifically designed for the purpose while others are happy using a small notepad from the drugstore. You can refer to food count books and online resources for nutritional information on specific foods. Try the FoodFit Plan's easy format, which includes a food and exercise diary. It's totally portable and can travel from home to your desk and out to restaurants with ease.

Keeping an exercise diary at the same time to monitor your level of physical activity helps you focus on how much exercise you are getting, as well as how much you need. It also takes the focus off food, as the calories added and calories burned complement each other and add up to a healthy lifestyle, Rarback says.

For a food diary to succeed, Rarback recommends the following:

  • Write down what you eat when you eat it, rather than relying on memory. Calorie amnesia is very common.
  • Use a convenient format, even if that means writing down calorie counts on napkins and taking them home to input. "The key to success is not the method, but consistency of use," Rarback says.
  • Be aware of portion size. Weigh, measure or estimate, but don't fool yourself, as you may be eating more than you think.

Write It Down, Keep It Off

At the Center for Human Nutrition's National Weight Control Registry, they call food diary users "successful losers". Over 2,000 participants have used food diaries to lose at least 30 pounds and keep the weight off for over a year, says Bonnie Jortberg, program director of Weight Management Services at the University of Colorado.

The Registry tracks volunteers in the program to learn the methods people use to lose weight and keep it off. All participants keep some sort of record, which can be a food diary, exercise diary or simply journaling, she says.

Keeping a food diary can be a real eye-opener! One woman reported that her food diary revealed that she was consuming between 1000 and 1500 calories—about a day's worth—each evening between the time she got home and the time she went to bed, Jortberg notes.

I've certainly had my dose of reality. I still enjoy raisins, but now if I choose to eat a cup of them throughout the day, at least I know how it adds up.

—Lisa Van Wagner


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