People may start using a food journal for many reasons. Making accurate records in the journal each day may help someone make beneficial changes for their overall health.

A person may use a food journal to learn more about their eating habits or determine whether foods trigger symptoms of certain health conditions.

This article discusses what food journals are, tips for starting one, and their benefits and limitations.

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A food journal is a record of what someone eats each day. People may write down what they eat in a physical diary, take a photo of their meals, or use an app.

Food journals may include details about ingredients, portion sizes, the time a person ate, or calories per meal. Additionally, a person may use a food journal to track any gastrointestinal symptoms they experience.

Some people use a food journal to provide dietary information to a healthcare professional, such as a nutritionist, dietitian, or personal trainer, to help them with weight management or other health goals.

Learn about the difference between nutritionists and dietitians.

Experts advise that keeping a food journal may help improve someone’s eating habits.

People may develop habits over a number of years. For example, a person may always eat the same two vegetables at each meal. However, a person can always change their eating patterns.

A food journal may help people manage their weight, improve their macronutrient intake, or identify foods that may cause health issues.

A small 2019 study showed that participants who used a photo-based food journal became more aware of their eating habits and portion sizes in relation to their goals. They were also able to identify which foods triggered symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

One of the main benefits of a food journal is that people do not need to rely on memory if they need to talk with a healthcare professional about what they have eaten.

Additionally, people may have a preconceived idea about how nutritious their meals are or how much they eat. By accurately tracking what they eat, a person may find it easier to identify how to improve their diet.

Maintaining a balanced, nutritious diet may help prevent and manage chronic diseases, like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

The following tips may help a person begin using a food journal.

1. Establish goals

Before someone starts a food journal, they may think about any health goals they would like to reach and why. Then, they may decide what aspects of their diet to track, such as calories, macronutrients, or ingredients in a meal. A healthcare professional may help a person set goals.

A 2020 study involving participants with prediabetes suggests that setting goals is helpful for weight loss and improving diet. Setting a maximum of three goals may be beneficial.

Researchers noted that people should also be ready to commit to change and consider how they will overcome any setbacks.

2. Find the right journal

People prefer to work in different ways, so they should choose a food journal that suits them. Examples include a paper diary, an app on their phone, or a spreadsheet on their computer.

Some digital apps send reminders and motivating messages to help keep people on track with their goals. They may also offer quick methods for inputting nutritional information, such as scanning barcodes from food packaging.

3. Be consistent

For the best results, people should consistently maintain their food journal. Some researchers suggest that people aiming to lose weight should focus on early and frequent self-monitoring of their eating patterns and weight.

Forgetting to record food intake for 1 day may not make a huge difference, but regularly omitting entries may give someone a false representation of their dietary patterns.

4. Be honest and accurate

Studies suggest that when recording their diet, people tend to underestimate how much they eat and over-emphasize foods they perceive as healthy.

People should honestly record what they eat and in what amounts. Rather than relying on memory, someone can record this information immediately before or after a meal.

Additionally, a person can make sure to record any snacks they eat.

5. Try to be as detailed as possible

If someone provides more specific details about the foods they have eaten, healthcare professionals can assess their diet more accurately.

For example, recording a bowl of rice may be too vague. There can be a significant variation between bowl sizes and the nutrients in different types of rice.

A large bowl of fried white rice may be very different nutritionally from a large bowl of whole grain rice that a person boiled in plain water.

6. Reflect, replace, and reinforce

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides the following advice to help people keep a food journal and improve their eating habits:

  • Reflect: Using the food journal, a person can reflect on the positive and negative aspects of their diet. For example, recording any symptoms or emotions when they eat certain foods may help someone identify triggers.
  • Replace: Someone may look at their food journal and identify healthier swaps they can make, such as eating oatmeal instead of toaster pastries for breakfast.
  • Reinforce: Healthy eating habits take time to develop. People should be patient with themselves, take each day at a time, and remind themselves of their health goals.

While keeping a food journal can be a useful way to improve eating habits for some people, it may cause adverse effects for others.

People with an eating disorder or a history of disordered eating may find that using a food journal triggers unhelpful behaviors or thought patterns.

A person can speak with a doctor if they think they may be experiencing symptoms of an eating disorder or disordered eating. Support and treatment are available.

People can also find guidance and support with eating disorders from the National Eating Disorders Association.

Additionally, if someone aims to identify a food intolerance, they can speak with a healthcare professional for guidance before avoiding certain foods or food groups to prevent nutrient deficiencies.

People may use food journals to track their eating patterns and help improve their overall health. Someone may use them to manage weight, support fitness goals, or determine whether foods trigger symptoms of any health conditions, such as IBS.

A person can consider any health goals and commit to using the journal accurately and honestly each day. A doctor can help someone make and reach their goals, or use a person’s journal to help them identify foods that trigger symptoms of certain conditions.