Food Journal: How to Keep One for Weight Loss

Tracking what you eat by keeping a food diary or logging your calories in an app can help you lose weight.

Woman logging her food in a food diary on her smart phone
by
Sabrina Tillman
— Signos
Health & Fitness Writer
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Reviewed by

Sabrina Tillman
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Updated by

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Science-based and reviewed

Published:
April 23, 2024
August 10, 2021
— Updated:
February 22, 2024

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways:

  • Most of us are prone to overeating, but food journaling can help us understand and adjust portion sizes and eating habits to favor healthier food choices.
  • To get the most out of food journaling, log food regularly as soon as you eat it and on a daily basis.

It seems almost too simple to be effective, but tracking daily food intake by keeping a diary or logging your calories in an app can help you lose weight. Journaling increases your awareness of the amount and type of food you consume on a daily basis. It also builds accountability for meeting your weight loss goals while optimizing your health. 

There are many different ways to keep a food journal. This article will explore the benefits of keeping a food journal for weight loss and tips and tricks for doing it effectively.

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What Is a Food Journal?

A food journal is a daily log of all the food and drinks you consume throughout the day. It also may include tracking your emotions before or after eating and portion sizes. Your journal can be as simple as a notebook or as detailed as a calorie-counting app that tracks macros.

Food journals can be an especially powerful tool to become more mindful of how much you eat throughout the day so you can adjust your eating habits. Some people use a food journal long-term, while others use it as a jumping-off point to make lasting changes.

Keeping a food log is most often used for weight loss or maintaining a healthy weight, but it can also help narrow down problematic foods for those on an elimination diet for food intolerances or food sensitivities. It’s also helpful for seeing patterns related to emotional eating or stress eating.

Benefits of Food Journaling

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Research suggests that those who use a food journal are more likely to lose weight than non-trackers. By tracking your food intake, you become more aware of what you eat, what causes overeating, and how it affects your body. 

One important note: if you’ve ever dealt with an eating disorder, it’s probably best to skip food journaling, as it can sometimes be triggering or promote an unhealthy focus on food. 

Let's look at the benefits in more detail:

Builds Awareness of Snacking

As you become aware of what, how much, and why you eat, there’s more chance that you’ll be able to note when you’re eating for reasons other than hunger or making choices that aren’t helping you lose weight. As an example, if you log a healthy, balanced lunch at 1 pm and reach for snacks at 2:30 pm, it may be a result of stress eating or habitual snacking rather than a response to actual hunger.

Targets Nutritional Improvement

Logging calories and macronutrients makes it easy to see if you’re not eating enough fiber or consuming too many refined carbs and overly processed foods. A food diary can promote mindful eating and help you proactively plan what food you need to eat to optimize your health.

Gets You Comfortable With Portion Sizes

Most of us don’t know what one serving of rice or noodles looks like (usually a half cup), so we tend to overeat without even realizing it. Tracking food and measuring portions helps you understand calorie intake at each meal to better calibrate serving sizes.

Helps to Pace Your Eating Throughout the Day

Keeping your glucose levels even throughout the day may require changing how often you eat or the timing of your meals. As an example, there are days when you might skip meals during the day, only to binge eat at night when hunger catches up with you. Healthy eating usually means smaller, balanced meals throughout the day to prevent excess glucose spikes that can spur insulin release, which can lead to weight gain.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Also Read: </strong><a href="gestational-diabetes-meal-plan">Diet and Meal Plan for Gestational Diabetes</a>.</p>

How to Keep a Food Journal: 5 Steps

1. Choose a Journaling Method 

Some people prefer to use a paper journal to jot down foods, while others may find it easier to track their food intake in an app or online tool. Pick a method that works best for you. Ideally, it’s something you can take with you on the go to track your meals in real time.

2. Don't Skip the Handfuls or Bites

That handful of almonds or a bite of your partner's dessert may seem insignificant, but these small bites and snacks can add up throughout the day. Track everything you eat, even if it seems like a small portion.

3. Consider Tracking More Than Just Food

Hunger levels, mood, cravings, or even intolerances can all play a role in your eating habits. Consider adding these details to your food journal to better understand any patterns or triggers that may be affecting your eating.

4. Be Honest and Non-Judgmental

A food journal is meant to help you understand your eating habits, not to make you feel guilty or ashamed. Be honest with yourself and skip the self-criticism in your journal entries (and if you become overly focused on tracking, this may not be the method for you, and that’s okay).

5. Reflect and Adjust

Use your food journal as a tool to reflect on your eating habits and make adjustments as needed. If you notice patterns or triggers that lead to unhealthy choices, you can make a plan to address them or work with a healthcare provider, like a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN), to help you.

Food Journal Tips and Tricks

  • Log your food as soon as you eat it. It takes less effort to log fewer items than to log an entire day’s meals at the end of the day. And by the end of the day, it is difficult to remember exactly what and how much you’ve eaten.
  • As you develop the habit of logging what you eat, you may want to start using measuring cups, spoons, or weighing scales. People, in general, tend to underestimate portion sizes by as much as 46%, according to some research.
  • Cook at home. You’ll have more control over what you eat, the specific foods you use, and how much you put on your plate (hello, appropriate serving size!).
  • Meal plan daily and even weekly to set expectations for what you will be eating and also to create a buffer for planned snacking.
  • Don’t skip logging on your “cheat days,” and do include the extras that add up, like candy, chips, ice cream, and sweetened beverages.
  • Review your food journal so you can uncover your eating patterns.
  • The more you journal or self-monitor your diet, the more likely you will succeed in your weight loss journey. It’s science.

Food Journal Example

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Here's an example of one day in a detailed food journal with portion sizes that also keep tabs on hunger levels and mood. In this example, the person tracking also reviews and reflects at the end of the day.

Food Log:

Day 1: Monday

Time: 10:00 am

  • Breakfast: Greek yogurt (6 oz.) with granola (1/4 cup), blueberries (1/2 cup) and honey drizzle, coffee (12 oz.) with almond milk creamer (2 tbsp)
  • Hunger level: 6/10
  • Mood before eating: Neutral

Time: 1:00 pm

  • Lunch: Chicken breast (4 oz.), brown rice (1/2 cup), steamed vegetables (1 cup)
  • Hunger level: 3/10
  • Mood before eating: Satisfied

Time: 4:00 pm

  • Snack: Apple with almond butter (1 tbsp)
  • Hunger level: 4/10
  • Mood before eating: Hungry but not starving

Time: 7:00 pm

  • Dinner: Salmon (4 oz.), quinoa (1/2 cup), roasted asparagus (1 cup)
  • Dessert: Small slice of chocolate cake (1 slice)
  • Hunger level: 7/10
  • Mood before eating: Excited for dinner, craving something sweet

Time: 9:00 pm

  • Snack: Small handful of mixed nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts) (1/4 cup)
  • Hunger level: 2/10
  • Mood before eating: Satisfied, but still a bit snacky

Review and Reflection:

At the end of the day, I noticed that I ate a lot of healthy foods, my portions were pretty balanced, and I didn't feel deprived or too full. I did have some added sugar, but my hunger levels were generally under control except for dinner time, when I ate quickly and felt overly full. 

Learn More About How to Reach Your Goals With Signos’ Expert Advice

A food journal is one of many tools to help you make healthy choices daily to reach your goals. The Signos app, paired with a continuous food monitor (CGM), can help you track your food and keep tabs on how your body responds using real-time data.

You can learn more about the importance of food, weight, and metabolic health on the Signos blog, or find out if Signos is a good fit by taking a quick quiz.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn More: </strong><a href="elimination-diet-meal-plan">Elimination Diet Meal Plan: 18 Healthy Body-Healing Meal Ideas</a>.</p>

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References

  1. Ingels, J. S., Misra, R., Stewart, J., Lucke-Wold, B., & Shawley-Brzoska, S. (2017). The Effect of Adherence to Dietary Tracking on Weight Loss: Using HLM to Model Weight Loss over Time. Journal of diabetes research, 2017, 6951495. https://doi.org/10.1155/2017/6951495
  2. Almiron-Roig, E., Solis-Trapala, I., Dodd, J., & Jebb, S. A. (2013). Estimating food portions. Influence of unit number, meal type and energy density. Appetite, 71, 95–103. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2013.07.012

About the author

Sabrina has more than 20 years of experience writing, editing, and leading content teams in health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness. She is the former managing editor at MyFitnessPal.

View Author Bio

Please note: The Signos team is committed to sharing insightful and actionable health articles that are backed by scientific research, supported by expert reviews, and vetted by experienced health editors. The Signos blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider. Read more about our editorial process and content philosophy here.

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