Food journaling is the daily logging or recording of what one eats. It has become increasingly popular in public health, medical practice, and for personal use. Food diaries or journals may focus on a specific aspect of food intake, such as vitamin C or overall calorie consumption, or portion size. There is no single method of food journaling, and the type of diary depends on the reason for using a food journal.

The History of Food Journaling

Food journaling may appear to be a recent fad, but the practice started as much as a century ago. Diaries have long been popular medical tools for identifying triggers of certain symptoms, such as migraines. There is academic research on food records dating back to the late 1940s and early 1950s. Researchers hoped to discover the best way for people with certain health conditions such as diabetes to measure and manage their illness by monitoring what they ate. Studies using food diaries have helped researches create public nutrition programs and learn about the development of medical conditions as a result of dietary intake. Recently there has been more interest and research into food journaling as an avenue to personal health and wellbeing.

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The Benefits of Food Journaling

Food records can help people become more aware of what they are eating. They can aid individuals in identifying possible food intolerances, such as gluten or dairy, highlighting links between the food a person eats and symptoms such as bowel issues, headaches, skin problems, and fatigue. Food journaling also allows people to link their food intake to their overall health by enabling them to track mood, energy levels, or sleep.

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More Benefits of Food Journaling

Various studies highlight the benefits of food journaling in weight loss. A large and long-running study on food journaling and weight loss at Kaiser Permanente's Center for Health Research found evidence that using a food diary can double the amount of weight a person can lose.

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The Drawbacks of Food Journaling

Some challenges arise when people use personal food journaling to help them draw links between triggers and symptoms such as their mood. First, many find it difficult to remain motivated when it comes to food journaling. Getting an accurate representation of what a patient is eating can be difficult for a doctor or nutritionist when the patient is keeping his or her own records. Some people overestimate or underestimate the amount that they have eaten, forget, or are not entirely truthful.

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More Drawbacks of Food Journaling

Food journaling can also become a negative behavior for people with eating disorders or conditions like obsessive-compulsive disorder. People with anorexia nervosa may use food diaries to reduce their caloric intake to an unhealthy level. One may also become obsessive about his or her food intake, focusing on calorie counting at the expense of other aspects of their lives.

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The Mindfulness Movement

Mindfulness was born out of ancient philosophies such as Buddhism. To be mindful is to focus on the present moment, becoming aware of everything that is happening in the here and now as opposed to getting caught up in thoughts about the past and future. Mindfulness has spread from the East to the rest of the world and is now applied across many aspects of life, including eating and health.

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Mindfulness and Food Journaling

Mindful eating is a significant aspect of mindfulness. Writing in a journal can help your overall mindfulness of what you eat, and practicing mindfulness can help you to become more aware of what you eat.  Mindfulness and food diaries have also been used in the treatment of eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia nervosa.

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Contents of a Food Diary

Some basic pieces of information are useful to record in a food diary:

  • What you eat (including measurements of how much)
  • When you eat
  • Where you eat
  • Who you eat with
  • What else you're doing when you eat

This will help identify any patterns that you might want to change, such as a tendency to overeat when out with friends. You might also want to include physical health symptoms, mood, and energy levels, to highlight any connections between food and general health.

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How to Stick to Food Journaling

One of the difficulties of food journaling is that it is easy to stop. You can increase your motivation in a few ways:

  • Decide on a reward for a full week of food journaling.
  • Create specific goals for using your journal and remind yourself of these through your calendar or sticky notes.
  • Use an app with built-in reminders.
  • Start food journaling with a friend and hold each other accountable.

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Technology and Food Journaling

Unsurprisingly, there are many apps available for food journaling, and they vary greatly in their functions. Consider your goals before you select one. MyFitnessPal, one of the most popular apps on the market, allows you to enter all the food you eat so that you can track how many calories you consume and obtain information on the percentage of fat, carbohydrates, protein, and other nutrients in your diet. See How You Eat lies at the other end of the spectrum, helping you keep a photo diary of all of the food you eat without requiring any complex input.

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