Food Journaling 101: The Basics of How Writing What You're Eating Can Get Your to Your Goals

Why Use a Food Journal?

Whether your goal is weight loss, building muscle, or simply making healthier choices, journaling what you eat, instantly reflects if your actions align with your goals. Here are a few ways a food journal can help you make progress.

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Gives Hard Evidence

Our minds do a great job of overestimating the healthy things we eat and underestimating – or damn near forgetting! – the not so healthy. When you eat a burger after a strength training class, it may seem justified in the moment after working out intensely, but reading your journal that night after those endorphins wear off, “burger and fries” doesn’t look so justified.

Seeing a list of what you fuel your body with takes out the emotional aspect that easily clouds our food choices, and objectively frames your diet. You can’t argue that you don’t eat out that much when you routinely list restaurant meals, or that you feel you ate a lot of veggies that week when they’re missing from 3 out of 5 meals.

Identifies Main Food Sources

Maybe you aren’t over- or under-eating, but by journaling you can see where you’re getting your calories. Maintaining your weight on whole grains, fruits and veggies and protein is different from maintaining your weight with fried food and ice cream. In very general terms, the recommended breakdown of macronutrients (carbs, fat, protein) are 45%-65% carbohydrates, 20%-35% (healthy) fats and 10%-35% protein. While you don’t need to necessarily track percentages and grams – though some people do – a journal will allow you to see where the bulk of your food is coming from and where you can make adjustments.

Recognizes Emotional/Situational Trends

After tracking your intake for just a week, you’ll undoubtedly start to notice trends. Mindlessly snacking on filler foods between work and dinner or having an over-portioned lunch due to never eating breakfast, your food habits will emerge when you see them all together.

Different Ways to Journal

Pen and Paper

A blank journal and a pen is the bare bones approach to food journaling, and may be all you need. The advantage of this is the simplicity, You can toss a small notebook in your bag and not have to depend on battery life or cellular service like apps do, plus it’s faster to write, “1 container yogurt, 1 small banana” then to scroll through a database of options. If you are techphobic, this route is for you!

Digital Apps

There are so many apps to track your food intake, you’re sure to find one that fits your style. If you’re already using devices like Fitbit or MyFitnessPalto track your exercise, I suggest using the same for your food so everything is streamlined. If you’re app-independent, here are a few other apps dedicated to food logging:

My Food Diary
My Plate

Some have many bells and whistles, some do not. Start simply tracking and find which features benefit you at this time.

Read This: 15 Best Apps for Eating Healthy on a Budget


If you want a basic overview of what your diet consists of – especially if you’re a visual learner – take photos of everything you eat for a week. What you’re eating too much of or not enough of will jump out after scrolling through at the end of the week!

Go Above and Beyond

Look Past the Calories

Food journaling at it’s best is not simply about calories. Sure, that’s part of it; improving your portion control and discovering if you’re overeating or not eating enough, but if you only look at your total calories, you’re selling yourself short. This is a nice feature of the above mentioned apps, as they will breakdown your macros (carbs, fat, and protein), but even if you’re simply writing down what you eat, notice what food groups you frequent and those you skimp.

Note the Feels

Hunger is only one of the many reasons we eat. Boredom, stress, anger, social situations, and plain old habit are all triggers for opening the fridge. Make a little note before you munch, after you eat or both on how you’re feeling. Just one word, “stressed”, “starving!!”, “tired”, can give you insight into your eating habits. Do you go for sugar when you’re stressed? Do you overeat when you have a late lunch? Even noting a number can help. On a scale of 1-10 jot down how hungry you feel before a meal and how full you feel after. You may notice things like when you eat cereal in the morning, you’re starving well before lunch.

Take Action

Having all of this information is only beneficial if you do something with it! Don’t overwhelm yourself by thinking you need to “fix” everything you uncover. Pick one or two major trends and make one small change for the better. For example, if you notice you mindlessly snack on chips when you get home from work, pick up some pre-portioned healthy snacks to keep at the office and eat them before leaving or on your commute home.

There are as many ways to track your food as there are hours in a day, so try a few and find one that works for you. You don’t need to journal for the rest of your life, do it for enough time to identify trends – I recommend a week to get both weekdays and weekends – and keep it up as long as you find helpful. You may be surprised by how the small accountability of writing down what you eat will help you be a more mindful eater!

For more accountability and a guiding hand in making small changes, working with a coach is the way to go! Together we will look at your habits and work as a team to implement small changes that lead to lasting results, whatever your goals are. Shoot me an email and let’s talk!

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