The Power of Keeping a Food Journal

OK girls, it’s time to put last year’s dietary transgressions behind us.  Let’s not waste time feeling guilty about our indulgences.

Holidays, family, and tradition make for special occasions that are worth the extra calories. But we can’t feast all the time.  Let’s welcome the New Year with a new habit: keeping a food journal.

Recording what you eat each day is a powerful tool for healthy eating. You don’t need a fancy form or an online tracker. Any old notepad or piece of paper will do.
It works like this: Write down every single thing you eat, the amount, and when you eat it. That’s it.

Here are four good reasons to give food journaling a try.

It’s a wake up call. Realizing what you actually consume can be a revelation. Food journaling points out your habits, both good and bad. Try it for a few days. I bet you’ll be surprised by your eating patterns.

As my sample day shows (pictured) I start off eating healthfully—cereal and fruit for breakfast, turkey on whole wheat for lunch—but then indulge in junk food and treats at night. My journal made me realize that I get really hungry mid-morning and late afternoon and need to plan for energizing snacks.

Keeping a food journal allows you to understand when you get hungry, when you eat well and when you’re likely to make poor choices. Knowledge is power!

Shows what’s missing. We think eating well means cutting things out of our diet, but often we need to eat a lot more of certain things. Most of us don’t eat the FDA recommended minimum of 1.5 cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of vegetables each day.

On my sample day I ate 4 servings of fruit and no vegetables at all. Chances are you’re missing things in your diet too.  Are you eating enough whole grains? Dairy? A food journal gives you permission to eat more.

Tool for change. Once you understand your unique eating patterns and food choices, a food journal allows you to set goals, make changes for the better, and track your progress over time.  Incremental changes are more effective than crash diets, and you can structure your day so you don’t feel deprived.

If I’d only had one glass of wine with my friends and skipped the leftover pizza when I got home, I would have trimmed 500 calories from my sample day.  And if I’d had some cut-up veggies handy; I could have snacked on them instead of the malted milk balls.

Encourages mindful eating. Getting in the habit of keeping a journal makes you think about what you eat, which means you’ll make better choices.  If you know you’ve got to write it down, you might not go for those leftover mashed potatoes topped with cheese like I did. And if you do choose to indulge, you’ll do it consciously and enjoy it all the more.

Web resource:
Looking for actual recommended servings and advice on how to eat better? Check out the U.S. Department of Agriculture website: