Whether you're trying to lose weight or attempting to eat healthier, a food journal can be a beneficial tool to help you understand your eating patterns.
According to Olga Hays, an American Council on Exercise-certified wellness promotion specialist, there is a large misconception that tracking your food only needs to be done if you are trying to lose weight.
“The reality is, many people can benefit from tracking their food regardless of what their health goals are or if they are working on one at all,” Hays explains. “Keeping a food journal can help you make desired behavior changes and develop awareness around eating to create a better mind-body connection.”
Hays shares the following four benefits of a food journal:
- Makes yourself more aware of what and when you eat. A piece of cake here, a bottle of soda there and a small snack in between —we eat without thinking sometimes. By keeping track, you take the time to think about what you consume daily. Logging what you eat helps keep you aware of your food choices and can help you maintain a balanced diet.
- Reveals your personal eating patterns and habits. Logging your meals sheds a light on your eating patterns. When do you skip meals? Do you mindlessly snack throughout the day? It also helps identify certain triggers of unhealthy eating. Are you grabbing that bag of chips when feeling stressed or bored? Do you eat a late-night bowl of ice cream because you’re feeling lonely? Thoroughly documenting your food can help you pinpoint issues that encourage you to over- or under-eat.
- Helps with weight management. If you are interested in reaching a healthier weight, the good news is that food journaling can help with that as well. By keeping tabs on everything you eat and drink, as well as the calories you consume, you can see where you can improve your diet to achieve a weight goal. In one weight loss study of nearly 1,700 participants, those who kept daily food records lost twice as much weight as those who kept no records.
- Helps identify intolerances. If you frequently feel bloated or have headaches, indigestion, constipation or diarrhea, your diet may be to blame. By documenting your food, you can look back and see a pattern. Whether it’s limiting gluten, avoiding dairy or lowering your salt intake, you can make sure your body feels good.
Importance of food journaling with care
While food journals can be useful for many, food journaling may not be right for everyone. For people with a history of an eating disorder or disordered eating behavior, it is better to skip food-specific journaling, unless working with a registered dietician. Additionally, you should stop food journaling if it becomes obsessive or makes your relationship with food stressful and out of balance.
“Food journals are most beneficial when you can review them,” Hays says. “Review your records often to uncover hidden eating patterns, enhance awareness and create a reality check surrounding food.”
Additionally, Hays points out that the point of a food journal isn’t to judge or police yourself, or even to grade yourself. “It is to learn about yourself, which is the first step toward adopting healthy changes that will support your wellness vision and last for the long-term,” she says.