wikiHow to Keep a Food Diary

Three Parts:Tracking What You Eat and DrinkAnalyzing the DataTracking Additional Helpful Details

Keeping a food diary helps give you an accurate picture of what you eat every day. It may be a good way to gain more control over your diet and give you some insight into what you're eating and how it affects your health and lifestyle. For example, if you have indigestion or another medical issue, keeping a food diary may help you figure out what ingredient might be causing the problem. In addition, a food diary may help you manage or lose weight or help you eat healthier. Start jotting down a few notes about your diet and you may be surprised at what you learn.

Part 1
Tracking What You Eat and Drink

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    Set up your diary. The simplest way to track what you eat and drink is by setting up your diary in a notebook or downloading a food journal app on your phone. You'll need to be able to keep track of the date, time, place, item eaten, quantity consumed, and extra notes. [1]
    • If you like to write things down by hand, use a blank notebook or purchase a daily diary with enough space on each page to record your intake for the day. You can even search online for sample food dairy pages that you can print and use or copy into your notebook.
    • You can use an app or an online tracking device if you prefer. Since food journaling has become so popular, there are a variety of good apps to choose from.
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    Record everything you eat and drink. The most accurate food journal will most likely be the most helpful as well. Try to jot down or take note of everything that goes into your mouth. Include all meals, drinks, snacks and even nibbles of food you eat while you cook.[2]
    • Be very specific, and break complicated foods down by ingredient. For example, instead of writing down "turkey sandwich," write out the quantity of bread, turkey and condiments as separate entries. Handle other mixed foods, like casseroles and smoothies, in a similar way. This will help you remember what is in foods or the total amount of calories.
    • Don't forget to record snacks or random odds and ends you eat, like a cookie offered at work.[3]
    • Record all beverages. Don't forget to track your total water intake as well. Tracking how much water you drink will give you insight into whether or not you need to consume more water to help you stay hydrated.
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    Write down accurate quantities. If you're concerned about how many calories you consume, writing down the quantities you eat is important data to include in your diary. You might want to purchase a food scale or measuring cups to help ensure your quantities are correct.
    • Before making changes to how much you eat, start by measuring the food that you'd normally serve yourself at each meal. If the portions are too big or too small, make any necessary adjustments.
    • Keep measuring your foods or using cups, bowls, or other containers that are a specific measurement. This will help with the accuracy of your journal. Guesstimating or "eye-balling" is not accurate and generally leads to underestimating your total food and calorie intake.
    • You might have to estimate quantities when it comes to eating out at restaurants or purchasing food that's difficult to weigh. If you eat at a chain restaurant, check online to see if you can find information on the quantities of ingredients in their serving sizes. Also try to find household items that compare with common serving sizes. For example: a deck of cards is 3-4 oz or 1/2 cup or one egg is 2 oz or 1/4 cup.
    • Track calories. If you're trying to lose or gain weight, tracking your total calorie intake each day will be helpful. Some food journal apps provide calorie and nutrient information for you. If using a notebook or paper copy of a food journal, you may need to research your foods online to find the calorie is a great resource.
    • Start by tracking how many calories you'd normally consume in a day and then make any changes as needed.
    • Cutting out or adding 500 calories daily will result in about a one to two pound weight loss or weight gain.[4]
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    Write down the date, time and place you ate. This is an important part of finding patterns in your eating habits. If you're trying to make changes to your diet or lifestyle, this information may provide some insight into why you eat certain foods at certain times.
    • Try to write down the exact time, rather than just "afternoon snack" or "midnight snack."
    • If you want to get really specific, you can record the exact spot in your house where you ate. Were you in front of the TV? At your home desk? Sometimes certain places or activities will trigger you to eat. For example, you might eat out of boredom while you watch TV.
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    Record how you feel after eating each item. Whether you're keeping a food diary to help you lose weight or you're trying to pinpoint a potential food allergy, your mood matters. Jot down notes on how a food or meal makes you feel.[5]
    • Wait 10–20 minutes after eating to assess how you feel. It takes about 20 minutes for your body to know you're satisfied.[6] Record notes on how well foods satisfy you.
    • Also try jotting down notes on how you feel prior to eating a meal. This may give you insight into any issues you have with emotional eating. For example, you may notice you're stressed and eat larger portions or higher fat foods.
    • Take note of your hunger level before and after a meal as well. If you're starving prior to a meal you may notice you eat slightly bigger portions.[7]
    • Don't forget to include any physical symptoms or side effects after eating. For example, you might feel nauseous and have an upset stomach after eating dairy based foods.

Part 2
Analyzing the Data

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    Look for patterns in the meals you eat. After a few weeks of keeping track of everything you eat and drink, you'll probably see some patterns emerge. Some patterns will be obvious, like having the same thing for breakfast every day, while others will be a bit more enlightening. Check your diary and think about these questions:
    • Are there patterns related to how foods affect your mood?
    • Which meals seem to leave you hungry, and which are more satisfying?
    • In what situations do you tend to overeat?
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    Count how many snacks you have daily. Many people are surprised at how many snacks they actually consume in a given day. A handful of almonds here, a cookie or two there, and a bag of chips while you watch TV at night can really add up in the end. Use your diary to assess whether your snacking habits are healthy or might need a little work.
    • Do you tend to choose healthy snacks, or grab whatever's nearby? If you tend to be on-the-go and don't have time to prepare fresh food every time you need a snack, try thinking ahead and bringing snacks along with you instead of heading for snack machines when you're hungry.
    • Do your snacks leave you satisfied or do they just make you hungrier? Review any notes on how you feel after your snacks to analyze whether or not your snacks should change.
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    Compare your weekdays and weekend days. For most people, work and school have a big effect on their eating habits. You might find it hard to make time for cooking on work days, but spend more time in the kitchen on your days off. See if you can find patterns that might influence your eating habits.[8]
    • Do you tend to eat out more on certain days? If you notice that you get takeout four times a week because you work late, that might signify you should do meal prep on the weekends to help support healthier meals during the week.
    • Use the information to help you plan out your meals. If you know you're not going to feel like cooking on a certain night, try planning ahead to have something healthy in the refrigerator.
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    Jot down notes regarding your emotional connection with food. Figure out what life situations might have influenced your eating for any given day or week. You might notice a pattern in the food choices you make during times that are stressful, lonely, or when you're bored. Maybe you can't sleep well so you eat a midnight snack, or you turn to comfort foods after a stressful workday. Knowing this about yourself can be useful when it comes to planning out your diet.[9]
    • See if there's an issue with overeating when you're upset. If so, try engaging in other more relaxing activities instead of turning to food when you're stressed.
    • On the flip side, if there are certain foods that seem responsible for negative emotions, you might want to try giving them up to see what happens. For example, you may feel anxious and jittery after drinking too much coffee.
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    Circle any food intolerances. Look for patterns in the way foods impact your body. You might notice that you have a lactose intolerance when your notes continually show nausea, upset stomach and bloating after you eat dairy rich foods.
    • See what foods make you feel bloated, gassy, have a headache, nauseous, or just generally too full. Keep these notes to share with a doctor or registered dietitian.
    • Celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and other illnesses can be greatly helped by altering your diet to completely eliminate certain ingredients. If you have symptoms that lead you to believe food might be making your problems worse, bring your food diary to the doctor to discuss the possibility that changing your diet could help.

Part 3
Tracking Additional Helpful Details

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    Record physical activity. If you're keeping your food diary as a way to track calories and get in shape, it makes sense to write down your physical activity, too.
    • Record the type of activity and time spent doing it. If you can, also add about how many calories you've burned during that particular exercise.
    • See how your level of exercise affects your hunger level and what you eat. Make notes whether you've noticed increased hunger overall or if you experience increased hunger immediately after a workout.
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    Record nutritional information. If you're keeping a food diary to make sure you're getting enough of a certain nutrient, you might want to record the nutrition information for each item. It's easy to find nutrition information for any type of food online and many food journal apps automatically provide this for you. Examples of nutrients to track include:
    • Fiber
    • Protein
    • Carbohydrates
    • Iron
    • Vitamin D
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    Track your progress toward a goal. A food diary can be a motivating tool when you have a goal you want to reach that's related to your diet. Whether you want to lose weight or you're just trying to eat more fruit and vegetables, tracking your progress will inspire you to keep going and show you where there's still room for improvement. Here are a few ways you can track it:
    • Record your weight. Write it down at the end of each week so you can see how it has fluctuated.
    • Note important milestones. If you successfully eliminated gluten from your diet for a month, note it in your diary.
    • Record how much exercise you can perform. For example, record your progress toward running a 5k.
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    Track food expenses. Since you're already writing down everything you eat, why not also write down how much it costs? It's a great way to stay within your food budget for each day, week, and month. You might be surprised when you find out where you tend to spend the most money.
    • Note how much you spent on each meal. Include meals you make at home as well as meals you eat out.
    • Look for patterns to determine how much you spend on food each week or month, and find places where you can cut back.
    • It might be helpful to tally up how much you spend on food purchased outside of the home. For example, you might spend money on an afternoon coffee or lunch out with coworkers. Over time, these little expenses can add up.


  • If you are keeping the food diary because you want to lose weight or because you have an eating disorder, it can sometimes help to have a "How I felt when I ate this" column. This will help you keep track of the reasons you eat.
  • You don't have to keep a detailed record of each day, however the more often you track the more information you'll get. If not recording each day, try to track at least a few weekdays and one weekend day.

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