By Lillian Downey
Food diaries keep track of everything you eat or drink over the course of your day. They can also be used to keep track of physical activity and supplement use. Most people use food diaries to track calories or certain particular items such as saturated fat, dietary fiber or certain nutrients. Although food diaries are great for these purposes, they’re also powerful medical tools. Food diaries can track what you eat, as well as when and why–two factors that help create a more accurate picture of your relationship with food.
Choose between writing everything down in a notebook or recording everything in a spreadsheet or word processing document. These instructions are for creating your own paper diary, but the same basic principles apply to digital formats.
Determine what you’d like to monitor. According to the University of Michigan, you should not just monitor what you eat, but also factors such as when you eat, how much you eat, how you felt when you ate and what activity you were doing just before eating. If you have food allergies, keep track of how you felt before and after eating. List any nutritional components you want to track, such as fiber, potassium or saturated fat. List other variables you’ll be tracking, such as exercise, amount of water you drink or amount of sleep you get. Keep this list handy for the next step.
Across the top of your food diary, from left to right, create headings for each item you are recording. Create the first heading as a place to record the item and quantity of food you’ve eaten. Label the second column as the time you ate.
Create the remaining column heading using the list you created in Step 2. Sample column headings could include mood, whether you ate alone or with others, calories, fat grams or your reason for eating. Continue creating columns until you have listed each variable you want to track. Draw lines to separate your columns if you find your diary difficult to read.
Fill out your food diary daily. Be sure to include everything you eat, including any cooking oils or spices you used. As you begin to build your food history, look it over with your doctor to see if you notice any patterns or ways to improve your eating. Use the food diary as a tool to make better food choices.
Tips and Warnings
Make copies of your food diary so that you don’t have to re-create it each time you fill up a page. Try using a pre-prepared Internet template. You can also use computer programs designed to track your food intake.
Things You’ll Need