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Diet Detective – Starting a Food Journal

|||Diet Detective – Starting a Food Journal

Diet Detective – Starting a Food Journal

Assess your Eating Habits

Adopting healthy eating habits is without a doubt a determining factor for the achievement and maintenance of a healthy weight.

It is common with our busy lives that people go on auto pilot when it comes to their eating habits. If you need to lose weight, chances are this may be an issue for you. This is where a little detective work is necessary to find out the truth behind your weight gain or lack of weight loss. Or even if you are just striving to eat a more healthy balanced diet.

Food diaries, online journals and apps. that track food intake are a great way to determining what habits are working and what habits need adjusting. It will take you out of auto pilot, and help you to become a more mindful about your choices and how they effect you.

First and foremost, for the journal to be effective, you must keep accurate account of what you eat and drink. Be honest about what you record. If you omit the handful of potato chips you grabbed or the two cookies you had with coffee just to keep your journal clean, it won’t tell you what your true habits are. A false record does nothing to help you solve this problem. We understand that you may want to hide the truth about certain aspects of your diet. This is very common among people that have been made to feel ashamed of what they eat and how much. It is also common to not record a food or habit that you are having a hard time letting go, or are not willing to change. There is no judgment here; we simply need all the facts to help you solve this problem.

Starting your food journal

There is a variety of ways you can track your food and beverage in take. From the simple spiral note book to the more detailed online tools and phone and tablet apps available. The important thing to remember when choosing a journal, is to find one you are comfortable with and will continue to use. You may want to keep it simple, or you may be a real detailed orientated person and prefer a online application that will record more information.

Which ever you choose, you should consider the following as a guideline to the information you want to track.









Track all foods you eat, every bite, nibble, handful and sip. Track when you ate them, Time between last meal, how you were feeling, hunger level, mood and what you were doing when you ate.

It sounds like quite a bit of information to keep track of. But part of the purpose for keeping the journal, is to slow you down a bit. This will take you out of auto pilot and help you to think about what you are eating and make you aware of patterns you may not be aware of that are keeping you from your goals. Most of the time you can get a clear assessment after seven days of accurate tracking. But we encourage you to continue tracking to help you stay the course and help you to instill a more mindful eating approach.

Review the diary after 7 days and look for patterns in your habits. Such as skipping breakfast and late night snacking. Or late afternoon hunger and large evening meals. These are all symptoms of poor planning and can easily be resolved once they are revealed.

Take note of factors such as how quickly you ate, how much you ate, any meals you skipped, when you ate dessert, and when you ate despite not being hungry.

Use your diary to figure out what causes you to eat when you aren’t hungry (factors such as stress, distracted while watching TV or being bored). Figure out of how to avoid eating in response to those triggers.

Think about why you have those eating habits, think about ways to can make changes.

Basic journal should include the following

Step 1

Head each page of your journal entries with the day/date . Divide your page into categories such as: breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks/desserts or simply list them as “Meal Eaten”.

Step 2

Record the time at which you eat each meal to help you track how often you are eating and to prevent skipping meals in the future. Also include the time since you had your last meal. This will help in determining if you are waiting too long between meals and consume a larger meal at the next opportunity. Four hours between main meals is idea. And snacks can be added to help prevent over eating at the next meal, such as latter in the day between lunch and dinner or after dinner.

Step 3

Write down the amount of all foods and beverages consumed throughout the day. This is very important. Try to give a detailed description such as “a cup of non-fat milk or 3oz of chicken. Make note of number of overall calories, fats, and sugars/carbohydrates as a priority. These are usually the areas were the most issues are found.

You can also track proteins vitamins and minerals for a more detailed assessment.

Depending on what you are eating, you may not have available all the information you wish to record. In that instance, just record what you ate and the quantity for a rough estimate. This will still help with patterns and other valuable information.

Step 4

Carry your journal with you everywhere you go so that you don’t forget to write something down. Track all condiments and any small bites of food you may take. If you are using an online source, you may need to write it down in a notebook and transfer it to your online log later.

Step 5

Continue to journal in your diary for seven days consistently. Review the past seven days and decide if you need to add or subtract certain foods. Determine if you should be increasing or decreasing your daily intake.

Sample Journal

Monday 1/1/2013
Time Hours betweenlast meal/snack Hunger level<1 – >5 MoodStressTrigger PlannedOr unplanned Fat containing food Where were you during meal
Alone or with dining companion
Breakfast½ c non-fat Greek yogurt½ c mixed fruit 10:00am 15hrs 3 good planned none At workDesk Other people present
LunchTuna(2oz) saladw/whole wheat crackers (4)tsp low-fat mayoMixed salad greens w/tbs dressing 2:00pm 4hrs 4 good planned Yes At work lunch roombreak lunch companions Susan and Joan
Snack1 c cucumbersw/ 2tbs hummus1 string cheese low-fat 5:00pm 3hrs 4 A little tired planned yes Home officechecking e-mail alone
DinnerBaked whitefish (3oz)1c broccoli w/tsp olive oil½ c brown rice 7:00pm 2hrs 3 good planned yes Homedinner table Husband and two children
SnackFruit smoothie4 oz non-fat yogurt 4 oz almond milk½ c mixed berries 9:00pm 2hrs 3 good planned no Homewatching TV with Husband
Beverages/water2 c Coffee w/ 4 tbs. non-fat ½ n ½ 6 8oz crystal light3 8oz water 8:00amAll day between meals
ExerciseWalk 30 min2 miles 8:30am-9am good planned

Calories= Protein = Carb/Sugars= Fats= Sat Fats= Goals (+ or -)=

Things That Can Affect How, When, Why and What You Eat

Meal Times

If possible, try to jot down the time you start eating and the time you finish eating. It will help you see if you are eating too fast (which many people do). You will also notice if you are eating too often and whether you tend to eat on a fairly consistent schedule rather than “grazing” all day long. Eating too often could be a sign that you are not eating balanced meals or not eating enough “filling foods ” like vegetables, fruit and protein; eating something about every four hours is ideal.

Location and Companions

Recording where you eat and with whom, can help you identify factors that may be influencing how you eat.

  • Do you often eat too much when watching TV?
  • When is the last time you actually ate at the kitchen or dining table?
  • Who was there when you ate too much?
  • Do you find you eat more when you’re socializing with friends?

You may find you eat less if you take the time to set the table and eat while doing nothing else. If you over-eat in social situations, you may need to find non-food activities to do with friends.

Hunger Scale

You may find it helpful to rate your hunger level before each meal. You should use a simple scale such as 1 to 5, with 1 being not hungry and 5 being the most hungry. Just jot down the number before you record what you eat. When you review your journal later, you will be able to see whether or not you often eat when you’re not very hungry (out of habit or emotion), or if you’re getting overly-hungry too often. If you find that you have a 5 before most meals or snacks, that could mean you’re allowing yourself to get too hungry by not eating within four hours of your last meal or snack, which often leads to over-eating. Again, eating something about every four hours can prevent this.


If you suspect that you tend to eat in response to emotions or stress, it is a good idea to make a note of your feelings in your food journal too. It’s important to write them down both before and after your meal. Doing so will help you to understand what emotions cause you to eat and what effect certain foods have on those emotions. You may wish to make a note of the specific situation that caused the emotional eating, such as “Argument today with boss” or “Missed deadline at school.” When you understand what leads you to emotional eating, you can work towards planning alternative coping strategies for the next time the same situation arises.

Questions Your Food Diary Can Help You Answer

Answer these questions while reviewing your food diary each day. Your food diary will prove invaluable in your quest to lose weight. This will help you identify eating habits that stand between you and long-term weight loss success.

  • Did you eat because you were hungry or because of habit?
  • Did you skip any meals today?
  • Did you go longer than four to five hours without eating a meal or snack?
  • Did you eat one large meal instead of individual meals? Would you consider it a binge?
  • Did you eat too often?
  • Did you eat too little in the morning?
  • Did you eat more at night than any other time?
  • Did you graze instead of actually sitting down for a meal today?
  • Did you eat a lot of high-fat foods, such as whole dairy, fried foods, and desserts?
  • Did you eat the same foods as you do every other day?
  • Did you eat according to mood rather than hunger today?

For example, if you tend to snack or “graze” all day instead of eating three meals, you may find planning meals the night before to be helpful. If you eat too much at night, eating a substantial breakfast and a healthful snack before dinner will help stave off nighttime hunger.

If you find you answer yes to a number of the above questions, it is important that you begin planning ways to change them. Continue to keep your food diary and ask these questions to identify lingering problem areas.

Overall remember this journal is for your benefit to improve your eating habits. It is not a judgement. It can be kept private or you can ask help from your Patient Facilitator or Patient Education Coordinator to help you analyze or make suggestions for change.