The Benefits of Keeping a Food Diary

Recording Everything You Eat Is Difficult, But It Is Worth The Effort

Does a notebook seem old school? Maybe it is, but it won't run out of batteries, it won't lose your data, and you can put whatever you want in it. Image © Daniel Grill / Tetra images / Getty Images

There are many reasons that you might want to keep a food diary, from dieting to lose weight to determining if foods are causing digestive symptoms. People with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) may find that keeping track of foods can be very helpful. Not only does a food diary help in figuring out what foods may cause symptoms, but it is also a way to keep track of nutrients. A nutritious diet is important to everyone, but it is especially important in the case of people with digestive conditions.


Should You Use Paper Or An App?

A food diary can be done with a pen and paper, or with any number of apps and websites. Apps can be really useful, but they may not be flexible enough for you to enter all the information that's needed for a comprehensive food diary. Using a notebook also means you won't have to be worried about batteries or connectivity, either. The advantage to an app is that you can email it to your health care providers or sort the data in a variety of ways. Some people might record in a small notebook and then put it into an app or a spreadsheet later.

The One Key To A Food Diary

Whatever method is used, the key to keeping a food diary is to record it consistently. Doing it at the end of the day is probably not going to be effective because it's very easy to forget exactly what you ate, or how much of what you ate. Making entries right after meals is going to give the best results.

You'll want to bring your food diary with you to your next doctor visit to discuss any problem foods that have come to light. Here's how to keep a food diary with just a notebook.

How to Keep a Food Diary

  1. Obtain a small notebook that you can carry with you and keep handy.
  2. Organize each page into columns. This can be done by using one page for each meal/snack, one page per day or whatever works best for you (and the size of your notebook!).
  1. The first column is "How Much." Estimate the size (inches), weight (ounces), volume (cups) or number (5) of the food you ate.
  2. The second column is "What." What kind of food did you eat? Be very specific, and be sure to remember seasonings, toppings, and condiments such as butter, salad dressings, and mayonnaise. How a food is prepared can be very important (such as baked versus fried).
  3. The third column is "Time." What time of day did you eat the food?
  4. The fourth column is "Where." Write down where you ate. In a restaurant, at the dining room table, at your desk, over the sink, in your car?
  5. The fifth column is for "Who." Fill in who you were eating with, or if you were alone. This might not seem important, but it really is. Who we eat with can have a significant effect on not only what we're eating, but how much we're eating.
  6. The sixth column is for "Activity." Write down what you were doing while you ate. Were you working, driving, watching TV, or doing homework?
  7. The seventh column is for your "Mood." Take notes on how you were feeling while you were eating. Were you happy, sad, angry, or stressed?
  8. The eighth, and probably the most important, column is for "Symptoms." Write down any symptoms you may have experienced after you ate. Some examples might be diarrhea, stomach upset, bloating, gas, or heartburn.
  1. Bring your food diary to your next doctor's appointment so you can review it together.


  1. Be honest! It's important to report everything (even those cookies you ate at 2AM!).
  2. Update your records as you eat during the day. It can be difficult to remember everything you ate if you only make entries once each day.
  3. Be specific. The way a food was prepared or what it was served with can be important. For example, glazed carrots is a better description than just carrots.
  4. Stick with it! You may be amazed at how a simple journal can help you and your doctor with your treatment.

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