How to Use a Food Journal to Become Your Own Nutrition Expert

If you’ve ever tried keeping a food journal, you’ve probably been told to also track portion sizes and calorie counts. Unfortunately, these numbers only give you a very small piece of a much bigger picture when it comes to nutrition. If you’re looking for some guidance on how to make healthier eating choices, but you’re not sure where to start, consider keeping a food journal using the tips outlined below. You’ll glean important information about your habits, become more in touch with your body’s natural cues, and be able to become your own nutrition expert.

1. Don’t Just Write Down What You Eat.

The actual food we eat is just one small component of our overall relationship with food. In your food journal, make sure to also include these following key components.

  • When you eat. Include the time of each meal and snack you consume.

  • What you’re doing when you eat. Are you driving? Watching television? Sitting with your family? Eating alone?

  • How are you feeling? Include how you are feeling when you eat. Are you happy? Sad? Anxious? Stressed? Angry?

2. Keep in Touch

  • Use your food journal as a way to keep in touch with your hunger and fullness cues.
  • Before you eat, write down how hungry you are on a scale from 1-10; 1 being not hungry at all, and 10 being absolutely starving.

  • After you eat, write down how full you are on a scale from 1-10; 1 being not full at all; 10 being absolutely stuffed.

It’s also important to note that fullness and satisfaction are very different animals. You might experience a time where you are very full physically, but you are still looking for something else to eat. This might be out of boredom or sadness, but it might also be because you were not truly satisfied by the meal or snack you just ate. Make sure to leave some room in your journal to track your satisfaction.

3. Write in the Moment

Many times, keeping a journal can feel like a chore, so we wait until the end of the day, or the next day, to write down everything we’ve eaten retrospectively. We’re busy, it happens - but writing down what you’re doing in the moment, or shortly thereafter, will allow you to keep an accurate journal.

4. Be a Food Anthropologist

The goal of keeping a food journal is not to track calories, points, or grams of fat. The goal is to keep a gentle record so you can become a food anthropologist. This means looking back on the journal and looking through each moment with a sense of curiosity. You might notice that when you wait 6 hours between eating breakfast and lunch your hunger level is at a 10, and you often feel stuffed and unsatisfied after lunch. This might be a cue that you need to have a snack between breakfast and lunch to prevent hunger levels from going through the roof. Or, you might notice that at 3pm everyday, your stress levels are at an all time high and you’re quickly reaching for the nearest candy bar. While a standard food journal might prompt you to simply give up the candy bar, this type of food journal might make it clear that the candy bar isn’t really what you need to focus on, but that the stress is.  You might think about working on your stress by practicing deep breathing, taking a break, or listening to your favorite music.

Nutrition is more than just numbers and formulas. Our bodies are extremely complicated organisms. Using a food journal to review your diet with a sense of curiosity (and without judgement) can help you make more mindful choices when it comes to your health. This includes choosing nutritious foods, making time to eat at regular intervals throughout the day, eating more mindfully away from the television or computer, or enlisting the help of a friend, family member, or therapist to cope with difficult emotions.

Can you try keeping a food journal like this for one week? Let us know what you discovered in the comments below! We’d love to hear from you.

*While this food journal might get you on the right track, it’s important to seek out the help of a trained professional, like a registered dietitian, if you need more specific guidance  for your diet.