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How to keep a food journal

Instructions and tips for food journaling

Food journals can help you build healthy habits, identify food sensitivities, and manage your weight. Here's how to get started with food journaling.

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How to keep a food journal: Instructions & tips
Last updated on January 13, 2023, and last reviewed by an expert on September 21, 2021.

Whether you’re looking to lose weight, improve your diet, or simply understand your eating habits a little better, keeping a food journal can be incredibly beneficial.

How to keep a food journal: Instructions & tips

It can also be a great tool if you’re trying to find out which foods may cause negative symptoms for you. This is especially true if you have a food sensitivity or a condition like irritable bowel syndrome or acid reflux.

While the idea of writing down everything that you eat can sound pretty daunting, it might be much easier than it seems.

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

In this article

What is a food journal?

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

In addition to logging specific foods and beverages, you can note down:

Food journals 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 journal for just a few days or weeks, others may find it useful to track their intake for longer. For example, you may feel that it keeps you accountable for your dietary choices or assists with a weight loss process.

Summary: You can use food journals 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 that you eat, when and where you eat, and how you feel during each meal.

Benefits of food journals

Food journals have been linked to several potential benefits.

Helps build 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 to make more conscious meal choices throughout the day and keep you from mindlessly grazing between meals.

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

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

Additionally, writing down what you eat can help you identify any gaps in your eating pattern and ensure that you meet your nutritional needs. This can be especially useful if you have specific health goals or are trying to increase your intakes of certain nutrients, like fiber or protein.

Promotes weight control

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

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

In addition to increasing your awareness of how much you’re eating, it can provide details about which foods, feelings, or other external factors might lead you to consume foods higher in fat, sugar, or calories.

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

For example, if your goal is to gain muscle, it’s important to consume enough protein. Logging your daily food and drink intake can help you find out whether you do.

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Identifies food sensitivities

Oftentimes, food journals are used to identify food sensitivities.

For example, if you have irritable bowel syndrome, certain foods could trigger digestive issues like stomach pain, gas, bloating, or diarrhea.

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

Consider consulting a registered dietitian, if you can. This person can evaluate your food journal to help determine whether there are ingredients you may not tolerate and should limit or avoid.

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

Tips to get started

Keeping a food journal doesn’t have to be difficult or overly time-consuming. Here are a few quick tips to help you get going.

1. Keep track as you go

If you wait until the end of the day to write down your meals and drinks, there’s a good chance you’ll forget a few items here and there.

Plus, it can be much trickier to estimate portion sizes once you’ve already eaten your food.

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

If you aren’t able to keep your food diary with you, jot down some notes on paper or in your smartphone after you eat and add them to your log later that same day.

2. Write everything down

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

This is essential if you’re trying to detect any food allergies or sensitivities in your diet — even small amounts of certain foods might affect your symptoms.

Similarly, calories, carbs, and sugar from snacking can add up quickly over a full day. This is important to consider if you’re trying to lose weight or monitor your macronutrient intake.

Suggested read: 15 helpful tips to overcome binge eating

According to one review, snacking while distracted — like when you’re watching television — can lead to overeating, reduced awareness of the quality and quantity of snacks consumed as well as increased calorie intake.

3. Be specific

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

Not only does this involve writing down any ingredients, spices, or seasonings used in your meals, but it also requires you to get specific regarding your portion sizes.

Try using measuring cups or a food scale to get a more accurate idea of how much you’re eating and drinking.

Alternatively, you can estimate your portion sizes visually or compare your food to other items — like a deck of cards, a baseball, or a golf ball — to gauge how much you’re eating.

4. Consider using an app

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

Not only do most apps have an extensive library of foods and drinks to choose from, but they may also provide detailed information about their nutritional content and ingredients.

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

5. Monitor your mood

Although many people focus solely on what they eat or drink when filling out a food journal, keeping track of how your mood changes throughout the day and with each meal can also be beneficial.

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

If you struggle with emotional eating, determining which factors trigger you could also help treat its root cause to prevent overeating.

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

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

Things to consider

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

In particular, food journals can be triggering for people with a history of eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia.

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

Additionally, some people may get fixated on specific details or numbers rather than using the data to improve their diet quality and make more informed healthy choices.

If you find that using a food journal is triggering or unhelpful, other strategies like mindful eating may be a better fit for you.

Summary: For some, keeping a food journal can be triggering and could cause obsessive thoughts or negative feelings. If this is the case for you, trying out other practices like mindful eating may be better.


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

While these journals may not be a good fit for everyone, they can help you built 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.

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