How to Make a Food Journal, and Why

Woman with beer writing in journal at brewery
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Keeping a food journal is an exceptionally powerful practice that can transform your diet. Just by raising your level of awareness about food and your eating habits, a food journal can help you eat more healthfully, lose weight, and even change your relationship to food.

Why to Keep a Food Journal

Sometimes there is resistance to keeping a food journal because people worry that it will reveal that they eat too much, or badly.

It might. And you might need to see that. But it's not all about eating less. Sometimes people discover there are foods, or whole food groups, they need to eat more of! Not only that, but a food journal might also show you what habits actually are working for you. It's just a great way to get an overall picture of your diet -- one you don't see when you're "in it."

All you need to get started is a blank journal or notebook, and a serious helping of commitment. Your journal pages will need to be big enough for you to comfortably record your food and notes for each day. You will also want a journal that you can realistically have near you throughout your day. So if you are going to take it to work, for example, choose a journal size that will transport well. If you stay at home, you might have the luxury of a great big journal -- you can add drawings. The point is that you don't want to get in a position where you are trying to write from memory.

That rarely works.

The best food journals are diaries of not just what you eat, but also the emotional and environmental contexts in which you eat. Many people don't make the connection between what, why, and how they eat with how they feel until they see it as a pattern on paper. This is some of the very best information you can have.

What to Log in Your Food Journal:

  • The day
  • The time of day - morning, afternoon, evening
  • What you ate and drank - include everything
  • Where you ate - Sometimes we eat in places where we barely notice that we're eating, or how much -- in front of the T.V., in the car, sampling everything in the fridge...
  • Why you ate - Were you hungry or did you eat for other reasons such as to be social, because it was time, or because you were upset or nervous/ Don't judge; just notice and write it down.
  • How you felt - Notice how you felt immediately after eating, as well as a few hours later. Did you feel good or sluggish? Did your energy hold up until the next meal time?
  • Calories - This is a critical part for those who are dieting by calorie counting. It can also be very helpful in training your awareness of the calories in food and how they accumulate in the diet. However, calorie counting is extra work that you might not need to do if you are using your food journal to be more aware of your intake in general. 

You can do a food journal in list form, similar to what I have outlined above. If you can set up a table like the one below, that can make your log entries and their relationships to each other a little clearer.

Your table will need to be considerably larger. This is just an example. And feel free to personalize your journal. The most important thing is that it be functional for you.

Sample Food Journal

Day/DateWhat FoodsWhyHow I FeltCalories

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