Home Scholarly articles How to keep a food journal: instructions and tips

How to keep a food journal: instructions and tips


Whether you are looking to lose weight, improve your diet, or just gain a better understanding of your eating habits, keeping a food journal can be incredibly beneficial.

It can also be a great tool if you are trying to figure out which foods can cause negative symptoms for you. This is especially true if you have a food sensitivity or an illness like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or acid reflux.

While the idea of ​​writing down everything you eat might seem quite daunting, it could be a lot easier than it looks.

This article explains what a food journal is, how it can help you, and how to get started.

A food journal is a tool you can use to track what you eat and drink throughout the day.

In addition to recording specific foods and drinks, you may want to note:

  • how much you consumed
  • with whom you ate or if you ate alone
  • time and place
  • how you felt before, during and after each meal or snack

Food diaries are sometimes recommended by doctors and dietitians, who can use them to better understand your eating habits. In some cases, a healthcare professional will also use them to determine which foods or ingredients you may be sensitive to.

While many people keep a food diary for just a few days or weeks, others may find it helpful to track their intake for longer. For example, you may feel like it holds you accountable for your food choices or helps you in a weight loss process.


You can use food diaries to track what you eat and drink and to understand your eating habits and food sensitivities. They can include the type and amount of food you eat, when and where you eat, and how you feel with each meal.

Food journals have been linked to several potential benefits.

Helps develop healthy habits

Tracking your food and drink intake can help you become more aware of your eating habits. This can make it easier to identify unhealthy habits and replace them with healthier ones.

It can also be a great tool for making more mindful meal choices throughout the day and preventing you from mindlessly grazing between meals.

For example, until you start writing it down in your food journal, you might not realize how many high calorie foods you eat throughout the day.

After you take note of this, you’ll be more aware and better equipped to make more nutritious choices, like choosing nutrient-dense fresh or frozen fruit or unsweetened yogurt.

Plus, writing down what you eat can help you identify gaps in your eating habits and make sure you’re meeting your nutritional needs. This can be especially helpful if you have specific health goals or if you are trying to increase your intake of certain nutrients, such as fiber or protein.

Promotes weight control

If you’re trying to lose weight, keeping a food journal to monitor your food intake is a great option.

In fact, according to a review of 15 studies, using food self-monitoring methods – like keeping a paper or electronic food diary – is linked to significant weight loss (1).

Along with increasing your awareness of what you are eating, it can provide details about foods, feelings, or other external factors that might cause you to consume foods that are high in fat, sugar, or calories.

Food diaries can also be a great tool if you are trying to gain weight. Using one can help you figure out how much you’re eating and identify ways to increase your intake to support healthy weight gain.

For example, if your goal is to gain muscle, getting enough protein is important. Recording your daily food and drink intake can help you know if you are doing it (2).

Identifies food sensitivities

Often, food diaries are used to identify food sensitivities.

For example, if you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), certain foods could trigger digestive problems such as stomach pain, gas, bloating or diarrhea (3, 4, 5).

Likewise, other conditions like food allergies, acid reflux, or non-celiac gluten sensitivity can be made worse by specific foods or drinks.

Consider seeing a registered dietitian, if you can. This person can evaluate your food diary to help you determine if there are any ingredients that you cannot tolerate and that you should limit or avoid.


Food diaries can help you build healthy habits, identify food sensitivities, and reach your goals for weight loss or gain.

Keeping a food journal doesn’t have to be difficult or too long. Here are some quick tips to get you started.

1. Keep track as you go

If you wait until the end of the day to jot down your meals and drinks, there’s a good chance you’ve missed a few things here and there.

Additionally, it can be much more difficult to estimate portion sizes after you’ve already eaten your food (6).

As such, updating your food diary throughout the day is the best way to ensure that it is as accurate as possible.

If you aren’t able to keep your food journal with you, take notes on paper or on your smartphone after you eat and add them to your journal later in the day.

2. Write everything down

While a quick snack or bite during the day doesn’t seem like a big deal, it’s important to include it in your food journal.

This is essential if you are trying to detect any food allergies or sensitivities in your diet – even small amounts of certain foods can affect your symptoms.

Likewise, calories, carbohydrates, and sugar from snacks can add up quickly over the course of a full day. This is important to consider if you are trying to lose weight or monitor your macronutrient intake (7).

According to one review, snacking while distracted – such as when watching TV – can lead to overeating, reduced awareness of the quality and quantity of snacks consumed, and increased calorie intake (8).

3. Be specific

When tracking your consumption, it’s best to be as specific as possible and write down as many details as possible.

This not only involves writing down any ingredients, spices, or seasonings used in your meals, but it also requires you to specify your portion sizes.

Try using measuring cups or a food scale to get a better idea of ​​what you eat and drink.

You can also visually estimate your portion sizes or compare your food to other items, such as a deck of cards, a baseball, or a golf ball, to gauge how much you are eating.

4. Consider using an app

Smartphone food diary apps can be a convenient alternative to writing everything down with pen and paper.

Not only do most apps have a large library of foods and drinks, but they can also provide detailed information about their nutritional content and ingredients.

This can save you time, take the guesswork out of it, and allow you to see more accurate data about your daily intake of potential food sensitivity triggers, calories, macronutrients, and vitamins.

You do not know where to start ? Check out this article for a roundup of some of the best calorie counter websites and apps available.

5. Monitor your mood

While many people focus only on what they eat or drink when filling out a food journal, it can also be beneficial to keep track of your mood throughout the day and at each meal.

In fact, identifying how you feel before or after eating certain foods can make it easier to identify patterns and understand how your diet can affect your mental health.

If you’re having trouble eating emotionally, figuring out what factors are triggering you might also help address its root cause to avoid overeating.

In particular, studies show that negative emotions like anxiety, sadness, and perceived stress could increase food intake and contribute to overeating (9, ten).


Try using the tips outlined above to get started with your food journal.

While food diaries can be a useful tool for many, they may not be a good choice for everyone. For some people, they might even end up doing more harm than good.

In particular, food diaries can be triggering for people with a history of eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia (11, 12).

Some people may also find that keeping a food journal causes obsessive thoughts or negative feelings like guilt and shame.

Additionally, some people may obsess over specific details or numbers rather than using the data to improve the quality of their diets and make more informed, healthy choices.

If you find using a food journal to be triggering or unnecessary, other strategies like mindful eating may work better for you.


For some, keeping a food journal can be a trigger and cause obsessive thoughts or negative feelings. If this is the case for you, it may be best to try other practices such as mindful eating.

Food diaries are often used to track what you eat and drink throughout the day. You can also record when and where you eat, with whom you eat and how you feel before, during and after each meal.

While these diaries are not for everyone, they can help you build healthy habits, identify food sensitivities, and manage your weight.

Using the tips outlined above, keeping a food journal can be a great way to improve your diet and take control of your health.