So I mentioned the other day that I was going to try posting my meals in order to help curb snacking and keep me accountable. I thought this would be a good time to talk a little bit about food diaries and tracking your intake.
I’ve learned quite a bit about various ways to measure someones food intake through my nutrition classes and one of the most common methods is keeping a food diary. These can vary in intensity – some people just jot down the foods they eat while others keep a careful account of all macro and micronutrients.
Keeping a food diary can be a great way of tracking your intake, especially if you’re trying to increase or decrease your consumption of a certain nutrient.
An added bonus of recording your food is that writing it all down tends to make people mindful about what they’re eating and more careful with their choices.
I like to use food diaries every now and then to get a rough idea of what I’m eating. Generally, I do this when I’ve notice that I haven’t been eating as well as I would like to and I want a little nudge to help me make healthier choices.
Food diaries can be a great way to help achieve your goals but I think it’s important to remember not to live your life around the numbers. My worry with food diaries is that they can turn into an obsession. I think part of being healthy is having a healthy attitude toward food and for me, that means not worrying about every bite.
Additionally, I think many of us have experienced that when we place too many limitations on our diets, we are much less likely to stick with it. For a dietary change to be sustainable, it needs to be something we are willing and able to do long-term.
It’s important to remember that a food diary is just an approximation. Food diaries are helpful to give you a rough idea of what you’re eating but there is no food diary on earth that can give you a completely accurate measure of your intake. And even if they could, we can’t always get all of the nutrients out of the foods we eat.
Types of food diaries
As far as logistics go, you can record your food using a pencil and paper or an online program. Writing it down feels a little more low key to me, especially if you’re just keeping track of the amount and type of food consumed but not the nutrients.
Depending on what you would like to track with your food diary, some things that you can record include: time, food, amount, nutrients of interest, hunger before/after eating, emotions before/after eating, and location.
If you suspect you have an adverse reaction to a certain food, you can use a food diary to help you determine if eating that food has an effect. As always, make sure to check with a doctor regarding any intolerances or allergies though.
With online programs, it is very easy to calculate the nutrient breakdown of your diet. This can be incredibly useful, especially if you’re worried about your intake in a certain area, but it also makes it much easier to obsess about the numbers. The other benefit of using an online program is that if you have a smartphone, it’s very convenient to track your food.
Personally, I use Fitbit and MyFitnessPal.
I use my Fitbit (I have the Zip) to track my steps, so it’s nice to have everything in the same place. You can sign up for a free account without buying a tracker but I’m not sure if it includes all of the same features. I have the app on my phone, which just tracks calories, and it’s good to get a rough estimate of my energy intake.
MyFitnessPal is an extremely detailed and popular tracking tool. It allows you to track multiple nutrients, which is helpful if you’re trying to increase your dietary protein or cut down on the sugar. The interface is easy to use and there is an app for it as well.
If you’re looking to change up your diet, a food diary can be a useful tool – just make sure to keep it in perspective.